What is Inevitable about UTS Library (Pt 3 of 3)
In The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly discusses every surface becoming a screen in the Screening chapter, but this technological force isn’t just about converting surfaces into screens. He also discusses the possibility for libraries to become platforms for cultural life within their communities and he writes of the importance of encouraging contemplation and how online activities can provoke action. I think we’ve done some of this with our Artist-in-Residence and Curations programs. They’ve both led to ongoing actions and we think they inspire contemplation and further thought with at least some of our users. These programs have certainly had Interactive elements, with the current Artist Timo Rissanen actually creating his work in the central library stairwell over several weeks. Our Artists have asked questions of us and what we do that we’d not have asked of ourselves. This has enabled some reflection on our part and led to improved services, including with our search and discovery platform and our way finding signage.
At UTS Library the influence of Chris Gaul (our first Artist) cannot be overstated. He has had a significant impact on how we view our collections and this has led to ongoing improvements to discovery as well as search interfaces. His pioneering Spectogram has been recognised and reflected upon by several of our subsequent artists. He played a significant part in establishing a design-led visual identity for UTS Library.
Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw were asked to artistically interpret the use of our new Library Retrieval System in 2014. This ambitious project resulted in a truly amazing live data visualisation of the requests and returns to this huge robotically served underground storage system. Their work was inspirational and playful. It also added an important dimension to our identity as experts in data at a time when UTS was focussing itself on the importance of data and data analysis.
Zoë Sadokierski followed Elisa and Adam in 2015. She has been a long time collaborator with the Library through her design work on various experimental formats for ePRESS, in her artistic installations within the Library and by sharing her research on the intersection of print and screen technology (as opposed to the myth that circulates about these two being competitors). Her Residency explored the very nature of the book through research and by producing artist’s books. She also conducted a very interactive and collaborative production of a book live at the 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival. Like previous artists her work has had a very significant impact on our visual and physical identity as a library.
Starting in late 2016, we added digital literacy kits to our collection. Including low cost technology like Sphero, Makey-Makey and basic VR, these kits have been incorporated into both our own staff development and our educational programs for academics and students. They represent a playful way to introduce technology literacies, expanding on our traditional role in developing information literacy skills.
Our Artist-in-Residence Program 2012-2016 & Beyond
I gave a talk to the VALA AGM earlier this week on our Artist-in-Residence Program: the thinking behind it, who has been involved, what has been produced and why we think it is a good thing. Below are the slides I used (29 MB PDF) and in many of the images there are links that take you much deeper into the works created by those artists.
I think my talk was very well summarised in one tweet by @StevenPChang (who is a Senior Research Advisor from La Trobe University Library). He said that I was “lauding the value of intuition, ambiguity, and aesthetics in a world obsessed with metrics and efficiency.” That is exactly what I was trying to do.
11-808 & Conversations : Artist-in-Residence, 2014
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