Over the last two days I’ve watched and noted a couple of great videos from a recent event in Aspen on Library Innovation. The two speakers were Michelle Ha Tucker from IDEO on Library Innovation By Design and John Seely Brown on Re-imagining Libraries for the C21st. I think they are both great talks and very relevant to what we are engaged in at UTS – designing a future library, its services and our future organisation. I recommend watching both videos, but for those too lazy to take notes, I’ve done that for you below, with a few of my own observations thrown in for good measure. So here we go, mind the step …
John Seely Brown (hereafter known as JSB) is talking about re-imagining public libraries in the C21st, but most of what he says can equally be applied within a university community.
He begins by saying that the challenge is not developing new ideas, but escaping old ideas. He says we face exponential advances in computational technologies that rapidly become almost irrelevant on what is now as short as an 18 month cycle. So how do we keep pace with that and plan a future library that can adapt quickly and transform as the eco-system changes?
I like the quote he uses from David Weinberger who says we live in a time of “Too big to know”. Knowledge is now in networks; topics have no boundaries and nobody agrees on anything. We must learn to deal with ambiguity in our daily lives and in learning.
We are moving from “stocks” (protected and fixed) to “flows” (tacit, created knowledge that flows and moves and this makes it much harder to capture).
Everyone now is embedded in vast networks with libraries already in or approaching a state of flux (certainly, we will be if we cannot adapt!).
So JSB sees libraries as:
- becoming hubs of communities
- making the most of digital technologies and creative media
- mentoring, connecting, guiding and curating
These are all the things we are saying about our role here in the UTS community.
We must move from “knowing” to creating and making. And the building of CONTEXT is now more important than CONTENT (collections). He says the basic architecting of context can result in amazing things. Learning how to read context is now as important as reading content. I think it comes with the environment of almost everything now being instantly available. The context helps you to navigate to what is most relevant and authentic. It also gives meaning.
He also talks about “reverse mentorship” – learning from the young(er) and I think we’ve done a fair bit of that over the last several years here, by empowering relatively junior staff and by hiring current or recently graduated students. They helped those of us who are not so young and who were trained and qualified well before this networked world understand the potential of new technologies and how these networks work best.
The importance of play is also stressed as this helps us to push boundaries and with the invention of things within spaces of rules. Play also helps us to unlearn and this too is critical.
He talks of the critical nature of IMAGINATION | CURIOSITY | AGENCY (or having some effect in the world). These are very important for libraries to understand. I’ve been saying for some time now that libraries need to understand discovery as well as search (they are quite different) and now I am suggesting that a major role for all libraries is in encouraging curiosity. Agency is something we’ve only just started to understand, but I’ve seen enough hints and mentions to realise that it too is important for us.
Now there is also networked imagination and JSB cites the example of communities playing WoW in which teams from across the world share their actions and plans in imagined connections. He also cites the example of Harry Potter fans doing amazing things with civic imagination behind the stories and achieving results in the less developed world accordingly.
Henry Jenkins talks of a global collective that students are used to creating (in their networks) that is intertwined within a networked imagination and asks us whether we are prepared for this? If not, we risk becoming irrelevant. Transmedia is very important in all of this.
The key challenges for us:
- Expanding the notion of literacy to include the visual, musical, procedural and cinematic
- Understanding that yesterday’s cutting edge is today’s dustbin – this is a big challenge for CAPEX and OPEX investment and also for staffing. He thinks we need a VISION that transforms and an evolving tool set.
- How to get our institutions on board with all of that? This is perhaps the biggest challenge, so he offers the following advice:
- “leverage the edge and let it pull you to the core” (don’t ask permission, take some risks & show results)
- show what you can do by “spiral” (as opposed to perfect) development
- gather metrics for you and others
- show rapid learning & results
- leverage open source and open
- engage a wide collection of beta-participants (especially skeptics)
- exploit cloud computing and social media
- THINK LIBRARY AS PLATFORM and a network of our patrons within an ecosystem (this I think becomes infrastructure)
I’ll cover Michelle’s talk in the next Part.
Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw partnered as the UTS Library Artist-in-Residence for 2014. Works from this Residency are now prominently displayed in the UTS Blake Library in Haymarket, Sydney.
Their brief was to provide an artistic interpretation of the UTS Library Retrieval System (LRS). Their resulting major work 11-808 is a live data visualisation that interprets the use of the LRS in real time. The purpose of the entirely underground system needed to be communicated to a wide audience, illustrating how the system was being used and demonstrating its value to the UTS community. The brief was extremely challenging, with a tight budget and deadline, but Elisa and Adam’s work has exceeded expectations.
The result is an elegant and poetic display of data that shows how this system is being used and, via the catalogue of library metadata, the dynamic movement of collections around the Library ecosystem. Through their artists’ perspective, beauty and the interaction of colour, Elisa and Adam have conveyed meaning and understanding to an extent that I think Joseph Albers* would have approved.
They also provided a playful sound installation, Conversations, that explores the random nature of the ways books are stored within the 11,808 steel bins of the LRS, arranged only by spine height. Here they have provided audible “conversations” between the books in selected bins.
Their work is artistically beautiful, superbly designed and technically very clever. Both works are eloquent in conveying meaning as well as exploring and highlighting the nature of this system. In doing so they have provided attractive and engaging works that appeal to the curiosity of Library users and that speak to them in very contemporary language.
I read this earlier today via Zite, over breakfast at a cafe near our library:
It talks about the demise of Blockbuster and the rise of Netflix. Blockbuster made some dumb business decisions and ignored some possible ways to stay afloat, but the author Greg Satell talks about the importance of networks in Netflix’s rise. Blockbuster’s failure to understand the importance of networks also determined their fate. He says that those networks are very difficult to quantify or define, but that we’ve not really tried to understand their importance.
Even though we may work in a much smaller ecosystem (e.g. our library serves a University community), I really believe that our own future strongly depends on what we do within, and how we encourage and contribute to, our own networks. That is why I keep stressing the critical nature of engagement and the fact that everything we do is somehow connected to something else we do. Virtually nothing we do in libraries can actually be sustainably successful if we do it in isolation. I think the chase for efficiency in libraries has actually encouraged silos to develop and this works against those connections we must have within libraries. So far I think we* actually understand this and we actively seek to connect within and to those outside the library pretty well, but it is something we cannot ignore and that we must continue to invest in. The networks we participate in, encourage and contribute to have a positive effect on the development and relevance of our library and we should make them major considerations in all we do. To quote from Greg Satell @digitaltonto :
… we really haven’t scratched the surface on the networks we encounter in real life: The networks of consumers that make up our brands and industries as well as the organizational networks that determine how things get done—or don’t get done—in our enterprises.
And it’s imperative that we start thinking about them more seriously. We need to stop acting as if there is a recipe for business—like a cake or a casserole—and start thinking in terms of how factors are connected.
I am now going to take this analogy a little further… I think the focus of libraries should already be moving from being all about the collections we develop and provide access to, measured mostly in size of collections and numbers of visitors, to the unique collections (of both knowledge and culture) that we help to create and then share with our networks. That, as Greg said, is something that is harder to define and measure. Of course the other key advantage that all libraries have, even in universities, is that they are cultural institutions. Culture provides context for all knowledge, but flourishes within libraries only when it is kept alive.
* UTS Library
Before I came to UTS I was working at the Australian War Memorial. In late 2008 I visited Iraq and the Northern Arabian Gulf area for the Memorial, collecting and recording records of war before all Australian forces were withdrawn. This post from the AWM website explains:
Recently I was advised by a former colleague that some of the photos I took (including the image above) are now available on the AWM website (which means they’ve finally cleared security):
Hunt Library, NCSU, a set on Flickr.
Here is a large set of images from the new James B. Hunt Jr Library at North Carolina State University (NCSU).
I was fortunate enough to attend the second Designing Libraries Conference that was held this year in the Hunt Library. It was massively over-subscribed by librarians from all over North America and various parts of the rest of the world, such is its reputation already.
There are some duplicates in this set (high & low res versions) because I had uploaded many in low res format whilst travelling. I’ve tried to add some explanatory text to the most significant images as well as titles and tags. If you’re confused or really interested in something just leave a comment in Flickr.
Please have a decent look as I think they’ve really done a brilliant job.
The library is a credit to the vision of Susan K. Nutter (Vice Provost and Director) and her staff, the architects Snøhetta & Clark Nexsen and the design team.
And for those of you too lazy to look through all those images on Flickr, here is a slide show set to the Cillo remix of Bon Iver’s Calgary:
A comment on my work blog asked for information about how spaces in the Hunt Library (or our own future library) relate to teaching, learning and research strategies. Rather than just reply directly I thought I would put some additional information in this blog post along those lines. Thanks to my colleagues Belinda, Sally and Beth who provided comment and suggestions on all of this. So here it is, mind the step …
One of the most impressive aspects of the Hunt Library is how it has been planned with the broader university mission in mind, and encapsulates the aspirations of NCSU. As a research-intensive, technology University, NCSU’s mission and goal statement is not so different to ours at UTS:
As a research-extensive land-grant university, North Carolina State University is dedicated to excellent teaching, the creation and application of knowledge, and engagement with public and private partners. By uniting our strength in science and technology with a commitment to excellence in a comprehensive range of disciplines, NC State promotes an integrated approach to problem solving that transforms lives and provides leadership for social, economic, and technological development across North Carolina and around the world.
Its aspirational vision statement is also similar to ours:
NC State University will emerge as a preeminent technological research university recognized around the globe for its innovative education and research addressing the grand challenges of society.
As the gateway to knowledge for NCSU and its partners, the NCSU’s libraries play an important role in achieving this vision.
Hunt Library is one of two main libraries on campus, and is described as the face of NCSU in the 21st century, a space that expands the frontiers of learning and research. To enhance innovative learning and teaching practices, Hunt provides a place for students to connect to peers, faculty and researchers across disciplines, work with tools that erase distance and promote collaboration, access world-class research collections, showcase their work in digital and physical displays, and explore new technologies that encourage and enable the creation of games, films and music, and working with “big data”, 3D models or prototypes. It is also a space designed to inspire and elevate; encouraging creativity, curiosity and the pursuit of new knowledge through the quality of the building’s design and finish, the ubiquity of accessible technology, the thoughtful inclusion of collections, scholarly reading rooms and exhibition spaces throughout the building, and a program of cultural events and displays.
For other members of the NCSU community, including faculty, researchers and industry partners, purpose-designed, technology-enriched spaces enhance their teaching, research and scholarly activities in line with the NCSU vision to be a leading technological research university and an innovation centre for their region driving economic and social benefits.
These are achievements we think our future library should aspire to in order to support our own strategies for learning and research.
Fortunately we have a strong basis to build a library that furthers the UTS vision to be a world-leading university of technology and provides a competitive advantage for UTS. Like Hunt Library, our Library Retrieval System (LRS), will free library space from housing our entire collection of print material, enabling expanded spaces for a full range of scholarly activities, while keeping the collection easily accessible. Looking to the successful example of Hunt, the types of spaces we will provide should include:
- a variety of individual and group study spaces from quiet individual study to group study spaces that account for different learning needs and individual preferences;
- ample power, data and wifi to cater for current and future technology;
- incubator spaces for exploring new technologies;
- digital media editing and production facilities;
- sophisticated areas for creating simulations and virtual environments;
- gaming spaces for the scholarly study of games;
- panoramic (digital) displays to showcase academic and student work;
- makerspaces for model making; and
- spaces for special collections and exhibitions that provide exposure to culture and inspiration.
Importantly and in addition to the spaces and technologies in their libraries, both NCSU and UTS libraries provide services that enable the success of their students and support researchers including:
- improved information discovery through online catalogue search and discovery tools;
- online reference, interlibrary loan, access to 7.2 million shared books available on request through Bonus+;
- open and closed reserve services for all required textbooks and 24 hour access to electronic reserves;
- online guides to library resources for all faculties;
- lending services for technologies such as laptops, tablets and e-readers;
- Copyright and eScholarship services, collaborating with scholars on digital publications, our digital repository, IP/Copyright issues and our Open Access press – UTS ePress;
- extensive data support services providing advice (via training sessions and consultations) on data management planning, discovery, description, sharing and preservation;
- research support services from specialist librarians who have experience in searching for resources in particular fields;
- training and instructional support, from literature review to navigating subject specific databases and also advice on how to find, use and attribute unrestricted resources such as images, film and media; and
- tailored information literacy programs from orienting new students to expert researchers, – including workshops, video tutorials or games such as treasure or scavenger hunts.
We see that a future library like Hunt can create a new heart for our redeveloped campus that helps form a hub of creative collaboration between students, academic staff, researchers and industry partners. Just as Hunt Library has done, our future library could become the University’s intellectual, cultural and social centre. The future library should promote learning and knowledge creation, enable experimentation, support innovative projects and partnerships and showcase UTS research and scholarship, providing inspiration for our current and future students. It should complement other campus redevelopment projects that breathe life into the aspirations of our University.
This post is just a collection of examples that relate to the visualisation of collections. It saves me sending a number of tweets back to two colleagues in the US who started a conversation about this over the weekend: @sjwilder100 (from UNC Charlotte Library) & @lorcanD (from OCLC)
Several researchers are doing some interesting work in this space and I think it is pretty important. Adding some kind of visual layer to catalogues, search or discovery tools provides us with a capabilty that is largely missing in the cultural sector at present. Most searches focus solely on text-based initiators or they provide text-based lists of search results. Open data, the encouragement to collaborate in coding and the need to either search visually or to visualise search results is leading towards much improved collection discovery. This makes the collections we provide more easily found, used, explored, enjoyed, linked and shared. So here are a few examples that I’m aware of, in no particular order, mind the step:
Marian Dörk is a postdoc researcher at Newcastle University. You can see several examples of his visualisations here http://mariandoerk.de/ I like the PivotPaths and you can even demonstrate them for yourself on his site http://mariandoerk.de/pivotpaths/
Mitchell Whitelaw does some fascinating research relating to collection visualisation and has worked with archival, photographic and art collections. You can see an example relating the the exploration of Australian Prints here (a research project with Ben Ennis Butler) http://mtchl.net/explore-australian-prints-printmaking/ What I like about Mitchell’s work is that he crafts in some great design that entices the user to explore because the interfaces are both generous and beautiful.
Tim Wray is still undertaking his PhD at Wollongong, but he has already done some interesting work with art collections that provides navigable pathways for collection exploration: http://timwray.net/2012/12/create-pathways-at-your-fingertips/
Mr Chris Gaul was UTS Library’s first Artist-in-Residence in 2012 and you can see some of his conceptual ideas for collection discovery here: http://www.chrisgaul.net/utslibrary/ His Library Spectogram is shown in the image above and was the inspiration for our colourful collection ribbon that allows you to browse our monograph collection or see your search results presented visually http://find.lib.uts.edu.au/
Paul Hagon is a friend and former colleague who is the Web Developer at the National Library of Australia. He has done some interesting experiments relating to colour and search results in visual collections. Here is a search by colour experiment: http://ll04.nla.gov.au/ and here is a concept that visualises the colours of tags used in Flickr http://www.paulhagon.com/2010/05/14/colours-of-a-tag/
Over the last few days Serendip-o-matic was released. It is a collaborative project by a team of twelve people from academia, libraries and museums and I know of researchers here aut UTS who have already found it very intriguing. What is really great about this is the serendipity it provides. So go on, give it a whirl!
I know that I’ll have left out some other great examples from people working in this space including Georgina Hibberd, a researcher at UTS who has some really wonderful ideas about visualisation and the discovery of library collections. So, if you know of someone worthwhile, just let me know and I’ll add them to this little collection.
Since I first posted this Marian Dork has reminded me of the very beautiful and playful interfaces created at the University of Calgary in their Bohemian Bookshelf http://www.alicethudt.de/BohemianBookshelf/ My apologies for forgetting to add them to the list above earlier.
This a podcast of an interview that I did with Corin the Librarian (@corinh) in Auckland. It was done a while back and I’ve only just had a listen to it. I’m amazed at how coherent it is. Maybe it is all due to Corin’s editing, or maybe it was someone else impersonating me!
This morning I sat down and watched this video about the art of visualisation. http://www.openculture.com/2013/05/the_art_of_data_visualization_.html It is introduced and rounded up by Edward Tufte. There are some excellent tips on how good design can help to tell complex stories. My apologies if this all looks a bit like teaching someone how to suck eggs. Those points made that rang a bell with me:
It isn’t a new art form. It probably started with mapping, centuries ago.
It is at least in part about pattern recognition as this is easier in the visual sense because our brains quickly recognise patterns. (I know some people who can easily do this in a sheet of numbers too, but that is another story. My Dad died recently and he was one of these people.)
It is important to recognise that it is also about emotions and that is where aesthetics play a big part.
Visual storytelling aids in comprehension.
Like any form of design, you must start by understanding deeply.
I liked the guy who said that clever and aesthetic design can “invite people in”.
There are important links between art and culture. Currently our former artist-in-residence (Chris Gaul) and I are busy agreeing with each other that there is really no difference between some great design and great art.
Good visualisation is about revelation; revealing things not seen or not easily seen.
Remember your audience, they are smarter than you think, so treat them with respect.
Know your content.
Finally I think Tufte himself makes the point that sometimes ambiguity is a good thing. It can also be about “unknowing”.
Cultural institutions should do more of this. It is far more effective than dull annual reports.
And below you can see one of my favourite examples of data visualisation by Irene Wellington: