Auf der Trauminsel der Bibliotheken: Bibliothekskongress Leipzig

I’ll be at next month’s Bibliothekskongress in Leipzig, a gathering of German-speaking librarians and information professionals. If you’re attending, come say hello and talk Library Island – or catch me online.

Ändern sich Bibliotheken zu schnell oder nicht schnell genug?

Was bieten wir einer Welt, die sich schnell und radikal zu verändern scheint?

Wie sieht gute Führung in der Bibliothek des 21. Jahrhunderts aus?

Wie können wir für Zeiten der Veränderung planen?

Um antworten zu finden, besuchen Sie Library Island.

Library Island simuliert fünf Jahre im Leben von Bibliotheken in einem kleinen Land. Die Spieler übernehmen die Rolle von Bibliothekaren, Regierungs- und Gemeindemitgliedern.

Die Spieler verhandeln politische Konflikte und soziale Herausforderungen (oder sogar Naturkatastrophen!) und passen das Spiel dann an ihre eigenen lokalen Probleme.

Es ist ein einfaches Spiel, das nur mit Papier und Stiften gespielt wird, aber es ermöglicht den Spielern, komplexe Szenarien und unbequeme Themen zu besprechen.

Ich habe Library Island entwickelt, um Organisationen zu unterstützen, ihre Vision und Mission für die Zukunft zu definieren und umzusetzen. Library Island schafft Raum für die Erkundung einer ungewissen oder schwierigen Zukunft und hilft Mitarbeitern, Führungskräften und Trägern einen strategischen Standpunkt zu entwickeln.

Man kann Library Island als eigenständigen Workshop oder als Teil eines umfassenderen strategischen Prozesses nutzen. Es ist spielerisch, belebend, zum Nachdenken anregend und macht sogar Spaß!

Learn more about Library Island here.

Dreaming Spires, New Scenarios

I’m pleased to announce I’ll be joining the team at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School (SBS) as a facilitator on the upcoming Oxford Scenarios Programme.

'Dreaming Spires', by Flickr User JJBullock - Copyright JJ Bullock 2010
‘Dreaming Spires’, by Flickr User JJBullock – Copyright JJ Bullock 2010

The programme offers an intensive course in developing strategies which address multiple plausible futures. You can find out more about the programme at the SBS website.

Bandersnatch: Choosing a Future, Letting People Surprise You

Over at The Cultural Gutter, there’s a thoughtful piece about Netflix’s recent interactive film, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

The choose-your-own adventure film allowed viewers to shape the story of a young programmer trying to develop a computer game in 1984. Presented with either-or choices to make via their TV’s remote control, someone watching Bandersnatch can influence the outcome of the narrative – but as the story develops, the choices are increasingly unpalatable and the question of who is controlling whom becomes increasingly prominent.

The Cultural Gutter’s Alex Macfadyen writes:

What watching Bandersnatch felt like to me was entrapment. A choice between two terrible things is still a choice, but I often didn’t agree with any of the available options. There also seemed to be no way to avoid making some of the choices because you just got brought back to them after the other options resulted in a dead end. The writers clearly had a very specific moral direction they wanted the story to go, and the viewer is ultimately corralled into creating the narrative they want.

Part of that narrative was the construction of me, the viewer, as the person forcing the character to make bad choices and lose his mind, but the viewer also only has access to the paths that the writers dictated for them so it’s more an illusion of choice. There is no path that leads to a good outcome, but you have to follow them all to find that out. In the end, I think the only choice you could make that would resolve the ethical conflict they’ve posed would be to refuse to participate and stop watching altogether.

Playing Bandersnatch, and reading Macfadyen afterwards, reminded me of a British Library Labs event I attended a couple of years back.

Jon Ingold, who has made several great choose-your-own adventure games including the subtle and troubling World War 2 drama The Interceptspoke about the relationship between players and authors of such adventures.

Rejecting the language of “empowering players” or “co-creating game narratives together”, Ingold described adventure games as puzzles where the author attempts to lure the player into a trap of their own choosing – a trap to which the player must then find a brilliant escape. The player is never in control of the story, any more than the rat who turns left or right at a given corner is in control of the maze.

These problems of choice and control lie at the heart of the workshops I’ve been running over the past couple of years. To what extent can we allow participants in an event to surprise us?

I’ve devised participatory sessions for literary festivals, conferences, and training events; run live-action games where players must battle zombies and solve practical problems; I’ve even written a book review in the form of an online choose-your-own adventure for Australian literary magazine The Lifted Brow.

The challenge for me has always been – how can you let people surprise you?

Choose-your-own adventures, from Bandersnatch to Ingold’s more sophisticated offerings, are ultimately more like mazes which one can only choose to run or not run. (The promo art for Bandersnatch helps to make this clear).

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In activities like Library Island, I’ve been trying to devise opportunities for people to tell their own stories and genuinely shape the outcome of a collective narrative – the benchmark for this being whether the players were able to do something the author didn’t see coming.

Library Island players have brought fraud, civil unrest, and workers’ rights issues to sessions – helping us to address the most serious challenges to a community within the safer space of a playful, fictional setting. In the very first pilot for the game, a character stole a plane which they had illegally bought using government funds – something I definitely hadn’t accounted for – and an event which led on to serious discussion of scrutiny, oversight, and accountability for the use of public money.

Since then, players have only made the problem worse — delightfully worse.

Games which genuinely let people contribute to the outcome of a story also have the potential to change the way we look at the future.

Too often, when planning for the months and years to come, we see our options as constrained, like the forking but pre-written paths of Bandersnatch and its kin, railroading us towards a limited number of possible futures.

This can sap our ability to imagine a better world than the one we expect, but it can also make us vulnerable to harmful futures we didn’t see coming; financial crises, political upsets, and environmental disasters, for example.

In a turbulent era, finding ways to allow many voices to offer their story and participate in constructing plausible future scenarios help us to prepare for the world which is to come – a world which has not been pre-written by a game designer, and which therefore denies us both the safety and constraint of someone else’s narrative.

Read more about Library Island here.

Play The Lifted Brow‘s “choose-your-own adventure book review” here.

Four (or more) reads from 2018

I got through a lot of books this year, so I just want to pick out a few that were especially important to my work in 2018.

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Wayne & Shirley Wiegand’s The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South was recommended by librarians in Mississippi, when I visited the state to run Library Island in April.

The Wiegands’ book is a useful historical study in how public institutions comply with, mitigate, abet, or resist an abusive regime. To really get to grips with this issue, you should follow it with Margaret Stieg’s 1992 article on how public libraries transformed in the Germany of the 1930s.

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My Mississippi trip also allowed me to visit the state’s Civil Rights Museum in Jackson. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. You can read more about the place in this New York Times article.

the enemy

Collaborating with the Enemy, by Adam Kahane, looks at peacemaking and negotiation work, drawing on examples from Thailand, South Africa, and Colombia. Kahane is remarkably honest about his frustrations and failures, as well as his successes, in projects intended to promote collaboration under the most difficult conditions. It’s well worth a read, to challenge and inspire you.

kottler

I read Jeffrey Kottler and Jon Carlson’s Bad Therapy as part of a Kottler binge earlier this year, seeking insights to borrow from other relationship-focussed disciplines.

For Bad Therapy, the authors interviewed a number of leading practitioners on the topic of their greatest failures. The resulting discussions are brave, humbling, and food for thought in any profession.

What would it mean to focus on one’s failures in this way? What do bad librarianship, bad journalism, bad teaching or curation or medicine or design look like when the practitioner themselves admits to a job done poorly? This book is excellent for anyone interested in professional learning and growth, whatever field they work in.

Being_Mortal

Finally, I was four years late to an encounter with Atul Gawande’s Being Mortala 2014 reflection on the decisions and dilemmas associated with end-of-life care.

The challenges faced in caring for those who are close to death emphasise and highlight problems which we confront in any healthcare setting. These include the limits of the patient’s right to choose, the authority of the physician over those in their care, and quality of life versus the drive to preserve life at all costs.

Gawande’s typically sensitive and personal discussion of these topics reminded me of Sherwin Nuland’s 1992 National Book Award winner How We Die. The challenge that faces us in healthcare is that the same issues Nuland identified more than twenty-five years ago still plague our health systems today.

Gawande – who more recently wrote for the New Yorker about the frustrations of medical software – is a humane and articulate guide to this territory. I’ll return to this topic in the new year.

These were my best reads of 2018. They’ll stay with me, joined by new writers and new volumes, in the year to come.

What were your best reads from the year just gone?

Stopping to Start: Allowing for Creation

I visited Vienna’s superlative Jewish Museum on my recent trip to the city. Their exhibitions and programmes are always sharp, relevant, and thoughtfully curated.

Currently, they’re hosting an exhibition on Kabbalah, the esoteric branch of Judaism which has been popularised by various celebrities from David Bowie to Madonna.

I wandered round, learned a little, and made some unexpected connections as well.

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Read more

Napkins in Copenhagen: Starting Strategic Conversations

Copenhagen was the last stop on my workshop tour of the Nordic countries. I ran two sessions – a full day for librarians from across Denmark and Germany, plus a half day for Danish library managers. My hosts were Bibliotekarforbundet – the Danish Union of Librarians.

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We used a range of methods and techniques, including the Library Island activity, to explore issues of advocacy, strategy, inclusion, innovation, and coping with a turbulent political environment.

Participants discussed the possibilities of an uncertain future with their peers, then began to design practical responses to the challenges they had identified.

At the managers’ workshop, it became clear that tools were needed to support quick, credible internal and external conversations about libraries’ changing role in Danish society. These would be used to build stakeholder understanding of Danish libraries’ mission, and help staff members to see how their work fit into the larger priorities of their organisation. Read more

A New Vision for Queensland’s Public Libraries

The new vision for public libraries in Queensland, Australia has been published by the State Library of Queensland.

The vision, which takes the form of a poster co-designed with Meld Studios, is based on research I conducted with the University of Southern Queensland’s Dr. Kate Davis lat year.

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You can download the poster for the new vision as a PDF here and read the research on which it was based as a PDF download here.

Tell us your story: Libraries’ global storytelling manual

The International Federation of Library Associations, IFLA, has released a new guide designed to help librarians and library advocates to tell compelling stories about library activities, projects and programmes, showing their impact on communities and people’s lives.

sdg-storytelling-manual

Libraries and the Sustainable Development Goals” is a practical document and storytelling tool, linked to the United Nations goals which IFLA uses to demonstrate libraries’ global relevance.

You can check out the manual at the IFLA website.

#NotEnoughScifi: John M. Ford & the Funny Business / Part 1

I’ve been thinking about where we go next.

It’s a big part of my job, which essentially has two sides.

One of them is connecting and coaching people to bring their own bright ideas to fruition: finding resources, partners, and opportunities for them to realise marvellous initiatives.

Another part is scouting out the unmarked territory, the unknown spaces beyond service models and strategic visions, the opportunities we hadn’t even considered yet.

That includes using speculative fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy as a way of thinking about how things could be different…and what comes next.

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A new strategic vision for Queensland public libraries

My University of Southern Queensland colleague Kate Davis and I have won the tender to review the strategic vision for public libraries in Queensland, Australia.

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We’ll be drafting a successor to the existing VISION 2017 document after a season of consultation, workshops, surveys, and interviews with library staff, managers, and key stakeholders from across the state.

Find out more at the State Library of Queensland’s PLConnect blog.