Our 2016 card, designed by Emily Gregory.
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.
These are the slides I used in a Skype presentation that I did recently for SCU Library. Just some random thoughts and observations about academic libraries from my perspective at UTS.
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
In this second part, I feature the talk by Michelle Ha Tucker, from IDEO. She deals with Library Innovation By Design.
Michelle’s talk is very easy to understand and quite inspiring for those thinking of taking this path. It is the path we’ve been on for some five or six years in developing a design mind-set with the aid of several design mentors and guides from UTS and elsewhere around Sydney. I’d agree with her observations and recommendations.
She described user centred design or design thinking as more of an approach than a process and then runs through a few different ways to describe the various stages that you tend to work through such as Inspiration > Ideation > Iteration > Scale, or Explore & Understand > Synthesize > Prototype > Refine & Scale, or simply moving from Research through a Concept Prototyping phase into Design. What I liked most is that she also said the best way to learn about it is to actually start doing it. There are a number of guides and toolkits around that can help. For example Design Thinking for Libraries, the Design With Intent Toolkit, and the (Social) Innovator’s Toolkit.
Michelle sees three reasons libraries should try design thinking:
- Libraries are the last great living lab (for designers?): we have dedicated spaces, a steady stream of users who can be observed and questioned on a day-to-day basis. And you can prototype, experiment and co-create with a diverse range of people.
- Librarians are great service designers. They really know their users best and the challenge is empowering front-line staff to create better solutions.
- Libraries are networked community infrastructure. We are at the centre of the communities strength and resilience connecting education and learning systems, public safety, economic development and civic engagement. MIchelle believes the best solutions are systemic, complex and cross institutional, so with libraries at the centre of all of this, we’re well positioned to connect and make those partnerships deliver. The partnerships must be activated.
Michelle also recognised some tensions or barriers such as moving from:
- just reflecting on data (historical benchmarking) to imagining a future or possibilities;
- research answers questions to (design) research opens up new questions (be comfortable with ambiguity);
- organisation structured around operational teams to an organisation driven by strategic teams; and
- failure is avoided (at all costs!) to failure is invited.
Some resolutions or thought starters: hiring T-shaped people with one depth but a broad affinity with others and also X-shaped people who have developed expertise in two different areas (like art and science). Those people will lead changes in libraries.
On Innovation, Michelle said it was a verb (not a noun), both process and outcome, something that can be taught and about thinking big and starting small. It is not always new and she encourages taking something you see and contextualising it for your needs.
Finally she said that change happens at a large scale not top-down, but by empowering people on your front-line to act.
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.