Category: Cultural institutions

Talk on Battle of Coral prior to ANZAC Day 2017

Nearly 50 years ago, in May/June 1968 Australian soldiers fought their largest, most sustained and arguably most hazardous battles of the Vietnam War. Units of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) confronted regimental-sized formations of the North Vietnamese regular army in fierce actions around Fire Support Patrol Bases (FSPB) Coral and Balmoral in what was then known as Bien Hoa province. The location of FSPBs Coral and Balmoral are marked by blue symbols on this satellite map.

The first of the battles occurred at FSPB Coral when massed enemy units attacked the base in the early hours of 13 May 1968. Australian units withstood heavy enemy attacks against their hastily prepared position during which a mortar platoon and two gun positions were partly over-run.

P01770.010

The Australians drove off the enemy after fierce close-quarter actions. The battle lasted over two hours. The task force suffered 11 killed in action and 28 wounded. In one mortar platoon five soldiers were killed and eight were wounded from a total strength of 18 men. One howitzer and two mortars were damaged. The enemy left 52 dead strewn throughout and around the fire support base.

On the Friday before ANZAC Day UTS Library will host a lunchtime presentation by two participants from that battle Ian “Scrubber” Ahearn  who as a young Lieutenant was the Gun Position Officer for 102 Field Battery, and Tony Jensen, also a Lieutenant at the time, who was the second-in-command of the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Mortar Platoon. This is a unique chance to hear from two real participants in this battle. They will use sound (music from the time) and visual imagery to tell their story. Both men have now retired from active duty in the Australian Army and are great raconteurs. Tony and Scrubber did some oral history interviews with some of those involved in this battle, such as this one with Lieutenant General Sir Donald Beaumont Dunstan (from 2007) who was in 1968 the Deputy Commander, 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF), South Vietnam.

Tony and Scrubber were classmates from RMC Duntroon, graduating only 16 months before this battle in 1966, so at the time they were not much older than many of our undergraduate students at UTS. The youngest soldier on the gun position that night was Bombardier Andy Forsdike (pictured below) who was just 19 years old.

andy forsdike

If you’d like to attend this talk, but you are not a member of the UTS community, just let me know.

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On new and not so new librarians

Winter in Melbin 1

I think “librarian” now means many different things in contemporary libraries and that outstanding future libraries will be full of a mix of professionally qualified people who bring an increasingly diverse range of skills to libraries. So, who are these additional or relatively new folk and what skills do they bring? Here are my thoughts.

  • ICT programming & development skills* – needed to manage repositories of research outputs and data; data archives; discovery interfaces; many large systems peculiar to libraries (e.g. RFID, ASRS, library catalogues, search and discovery layers & so many vendors’ products – databases).
  • Legal or para-legal skills** – to advise on the increasingly complex IP and Copyright environment and on the mixing/creation/reuse of licensed material by students and academics.
  • UX* – to make sure we get user interfaces and services right and iterating in the right direction.
  • New media skills** – to better understand its creation and to assist students and academics with its creation and this will become only more and more important, so that means people comfortable with the creation and editing of sound, film, images, games, online publications, social media, etc.
  • New (online) publication skills** – for OERs, ebooks & texts, OA pubs, print-on-demand, etc.
  • Design skills* – in-house as they help with all of the above; they also help with the development of a design mindset (as opposed to just plonking “good ideas” on unsuspecting punters).
  • Marketing & Comms skills* – in-house as they also help market our services to our community.
  • Curators & archivists* – to assist with “special” collection development, exhibitions and the very important cultural aspects of libraries.
  • Conservators# – depending on scale and collection needs.
  • Data Scientists (or the like) or Analysts, or “Wranglers”** (probably the most apt description) – as I think we will need a few librarians who really do understand this field and who can hold their own in environments with various data gatherers or generators like academics, students and researchers.

* Those we have already at UTS Library.

** Those we are growing or developing in-house.

# Those we don’t have or need here.

Anyone else I’ve missed or badly described?

GLAM Sector Conferences in Australia

Here are my thoughts on GLAM sector collaboration and conferences in Australia. Firstly, we should stop having so many library “conferences” every six months. There just isn’t enough interesting, new or relevant material to justify participation.

Maybe we should consider having one major library conference (run by either VALA or ALIA, or both) every second year and on the other years we get the whole GLAM sector together and ALIA, MA, ASA and anyone else (like CAUL, NSLA, etc.) cooperate to run the one Australian GLAM conference. I’ve said this for years and nobody listens. It would be a useful first step in learning from each other, collaborating and maybe even starting to have one united voice for the impact of culture in our society. Who knows, perhaps we could even make major progress on a digital strategy for the whole sector?

Great Videos from the Aspen Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation (Pt. 1 of 2)

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.

11-808 & Conversations : Artist-in-Residence, 2014

11-808: Visualising the Library's Retrieval System (screen) 1

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.

* See also https://www.lib.uts.edu.au/news/304412/colour-on-concrete-exhibition

Are libraries Blockbuster in a Netflix world?

I read this earlier today via Zite, over breakfast at a cafe near our library:

http://www.digitaltonto.com/2014/a-look-back-at-why-blockbuster-really-failed-and-why-it-didnt-have-to/

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

Photos from Iraq (2008)

HMAS Parramatta

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:

http://www.awm.gov.au/blog/2009/11/04/proactive-collecting-with-hmas-parramatta/?query=HMAS+Parramatta

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):

http://www.awm.gov.au/search/all/?query=Mal+Booth&op=Search&format=list&relatedFilter=related_events&filter%5Btype%5D=Photograph&section%5B0%5D=collections