Some thoughts on Public Library Design
These are the slides I used for a talk I did for UTS undergraduate architecture students who were working on a public library project.
Public Library Design
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.
Aaron Swartz, by me
Aaron Swartz, drawn by me, a photo by Mal Booth on Flickr.
“Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence boils down to curiosity.” Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013