Sunday, 30 November 2014

Maker Article: Introduction As Intended

Earlier this month I was pleased to see an idea I'd been working on for months appear in CILIP Update. It was a feature on Makerspaces in libraries that had been co-authored by a number of individuals working on library / make projects around the country.

I'd originally come up with the idea for the feature after failing for the second time to secure a CILIP/ESU bursary to go and research them in the US. Commentary from that second interview included the words, "I just don't see what value these activities bring to libraries." At that point I knew I was never going to win the panel over. I also knew I wanted to prove them wrong. So far feedback around the article has been positive and while I'd think twice before embarking on a similar project again I do think the effort has been worth while.

With only 2000 odd words to play with a lot of interesting bits didn't make the final cut. I was especially harsh when editing the introduction because I wanted to make room to show case the projects that were the real stars. Therefore this post is an opportunity to post the introduction as I originally intended it.

Since the article was written the featured projects and libraries have continued their work and developed. Gateshead will be offering Code Clubs and Coderdojo from January in order to support schools in the delivery of the new curriculum while Common Libraries, a partner to the primary organisations behind The Waiting Room, (Creative Co-op and Colchester School of Art) is spreading it's arm beyond the UK. It is currently working with the Tunapanda Institute to create a wireless mesh network to create a new kind of library that will support communities in Kenya. It's an area of technology beyond my expertise but is worthy project in that it will be working with communities very much in need. More information on the Kibera Mesh Network project can be found on the Common Libraries website and you can contribute to the funding needed to get it off the ground here.
Dundee Libraries, mentioned briefly in the published introduction as the first UK library to utilise a 3D printer, also seems to be developing it's offer with it's twitter account indicating that they have been working with local schools and students as well as participating in the Dundee Science Festival that took place in November.

So here is the introduction as intended, opinions are most definitely all my own:

Makerspaces in libraries are about sharing resources and knowledge to create something new, be that an object, experience or a skill. They teach problem solving, encourage interest in STEM and allow both adults and children to learn through creativity. Most importantly they democratise access to skills and technology by putting both in the public domain, rather than within institutions or closed communities.

In America library makerspaces are well established and operate under several different models, from the large scale enterprises of Chattanooga's 4th Floor to the slightly smaller set up of the Tekventure makerspace - located in a converted shipping container in Fort Wayne. Marginally nearer to home, on the east coast, New Jersey State is subsidising a number of initiatives ranging from a handcrafting space in a public library to a mobile makerspace that will travel events and libraries around Somerset County.

Back in the UK there is a well established maker movement with meetups in many towns around the country. While several years behind activity in the US the movement is slowly taking hold in public libraries, materialising itself in different forms, not all associated with the 3d printing technology that so often appears to be the focus in this area. In many cases library/make spaces are growing up as joint ventures.

However not all in the maker community see libraries as natural partners. Mark Miodownik, of UCL and The Institute of Making, raised a number of eyebrows back in March when he shared the opinion that libraries as institutions were redundant and that councils should give over library buildings to maker organisations in order to better serve their communities. In just a few sentences he created an "us or them" mentality around libraries and makerspaces, while (in my opinion) also showing a fundamental lack of understanding around what libraries do and the ways in which libraries and makerspaces can compliment and grow from each other. He did however explain quite well the value of making in the modern world and why it is an activity that should be supported and developed. You can listen to that interview on the BBC website here.

The feature (Available in the November 2014 issue of CILIP Update) is intended to be a snapshot of activity of public library maker and hacker activity in the UK at the moment. It makes no claims to be comprehensive, maker activity has existed in some form in libraries for years and every week we see an new event or initiative come to fruition. The Oldham Hackspace Hack the Library event and the 3d printer demonstration at Upper Norwood Library are just two that I’ve been made aware of recently and there has been activity in academic libraries for years.

The articles explore the activity happening in public libraries at the moment, the work that has gone into bringing ideas to fruition and the challenges around creating spaces that meet the needs of communities. The work at The Waiting Room compliments the projects, in that it provides a toolkit for organisations seeking to start their own Makerspace.

Invariably any discussion around making in libraries attracts some uncomfortable questions including whether 3D printing has any place in libraries at all. Add in community run libraries, shared delivery models with private enterprises and a move towards income generation and you will naturally come across differences of opinion. Even the good practice in Exeter at the FabLab is not without controversy if you look at the wider situation in Devon Public Libraries. The central library may be a shining example but arguably it has come at the cost of local libraries around the county that have either been closed or are under threat. This model, increasingly seen across cities in the UK, favors centralised hubs over smaller libraries, often putting services, however good they are, beyond the geographic reach of the communities and individuals that need them. I understand the economic arguments behind this centralised model, yet still I find myself not entirely comfortable with the concept.


Without doubt the role of volunteers in delivering these services also raises questions at a time when local communities are effectively being blackmailed into running libraries on a volunteer basis. However, as the volunteers from the Fablab in Devon demonstrate, many of the skills needed in a maker space are very different to traditional library skills. Activities around making and hacking demonstrate the value of volunteers when they operate in a mutually beneficial arrangement that adds value to library services. In this sense community involvement in library makerspaces is essential. This appears as a key theme throughout the libraries appearing in the feature, as does the equally vital element of developing partnerships with organisations such as schools, universities and the maker community in order to create a sustainable service, rather than just jumping aboard the 3d printing band wagon because there is a bit of money left to spend at the end of the year.

So there you are. The introduction as intended it, complete with my personal opinions that I removed from the published article - more due to lack of space than any political motive.  Make of it what you will, if you'll excuse the terrible pun.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Give the Words Wings

So it's been a while since I posted anything, mainly because once again I have upped sticks and made another big move. I'm now into month 3 of my new job at University of Southampton, working as their Client Services and Support Manager.

The move has been tough. As when I moved to Bath I know (knew) no one in Southampton and although I gave myself a few days to settle in before starting, work has been pretty full on since day one. I'm enjoying it, but there are days I doubt myself, and certainly doubt the wisdom of a move that has taken me even further away from home.

I've also been in the final stages of pulling together a feature for CILIP Update, eating into what little free time I had. Couple that with training for a 16 mile off roader in December and I haven't exactly been idle. But once that article got submitted I promised myself some time to do some work and create.

The first piece I did was nothing more than a spur of the moment idea. I had maps, I had my knives, I'd been playing with some bird stickers I had recently bought to decorate a lampshade and this inspired the bird theme. The results were nice, if not really very stand out. I didn't really feel there was much behind it, even if plenty of people commented on it when I posted it on Facebook. 


(Apologies for all the bad photographs here, I wasn't originally intending of blogging this work so the snaps were meant purely for Twitter and Facebook)

Fairly soon afterwards we started clearing out what was to be become my old office at work. Amidst the years of accumulated cataloguing material, the floppy disks and the magnetic tape was a load of old Microfiche, including authority files for the Library of Congress and 1980/1990s version of Books in English. I of course saved these from the bin and started plotting. 

First off I needed to find out how easy it was to work with. And when I say work with, I mean cut. And it turns out it's not the easiest. It's slippery and tough and needs a really shape knife. However it does cut cleanly and doesn't split. All positives. 


The thing I love about the Microfiche, apart from it's properties, is that it holds so much content, so much information, all utterly unreadable to the naked eye. Those words could be anything, without a machine you would never know. You know there's something there, something more. But not what. 

I'm still working out what I want to do with the larger collections. (There are hundreds of films with the Books in English Collection) However with the Library of Congress Headings I cut individual birds in flight. What I really need to now is find a window or light box to place them against. But in the meantime here are the results:



Hopefully more to come. I have a lot Microfiche to work with!!




Saturday, 5 July 2014

SW Library Camp 2014

So I'm going to be honest. Despite booking my ticket weeks ago I wasn't really sure about library camp. After helping to organise the SW one last year I had found that I really hadn't enjoyed the event. Part of this could be put down to the stress of running the schedule on the day. However a lot of it was down to the lack of focus during sessions. Library Camp, by it's nature, is more like a conversation than a training session and for some reason I find this aspect slightly unsettling, and certainly unsatisfying. 

Couple this with the fact that, after recently going through the selection process for a new job, I am exhausted. And by this I mean achy in the morning, bone weary, struggling to string sentences together, tired. So the last thing I wanted to do on my first free Saturday for weeks was get up early and head into the depths of Devon. Especially carrying a bag full of CILIP portfolios for the professional qualifications session I had pitched. 


But I had pitched it, and therefore committed myself, at least in my mind. There was also the added incentive of seeing the Devon Fablab in operation along with a working 3d printer. If I'm honest, it was this which got me out of bed in the morning and nothing else. And this aspect at least was worth the trip. 

At the end of today I'm afraid I don't feel very different about Library Camps. I'm glad I went. I think those people who attended my session on CILIP Qualifications got something out of it and I enjoyed leading the session. I also sort of enjoyed the discussion around Libraries as Community Hubs. But it was all a bit...... unsatisfying. In some ways covering the same ground, with the same problems and sticking points raising their heads. Maybe I expect too much of these events but I always feel that we should be challenging the status quo a little more. Certainly I don't like the lack of direction or conclusion to the discussions..

What today felt like was a string of showcases, first for the library itself, and then for a series of ideas and projects being led by individuals. I also felt that some of the community aspect of the camp was lost, that it was little too organised, a little too formulaic. For example, I had pitched two ideas briefly on the wiki. I wasn't given the opportunity, as I had expected, to explain these brief descriptions or pitch them myself. And to be honest, I found this slightly odd. But Library Camp is like that, anything goes. And I know from experience that you can't please everyone and that logistically the day is a nightmare. So, you, know. Whatever works.  Just because it doesn't suit me doesn't mean that everyone else didn't have a great time. Or that it didn't have value. One thing I did enjoy was reconnecting with my Public Library roots and finding out about what is happening in that sector, beyond the dire situation around 'community' libraries and volunteers.

What was brilliant about the day was seeing the refurbished Exeter Library. And most of all the Fablab and the Raspberry Pi Jam that was happening in the adjourning meeting room in the morning. Because I'm pulling together information on Making in Libraries I nipped down and had a chat before the organised tours. It was lovely to be made welcome and taken into the fold. I had no doubt that had I decided to stay one of the guys there would have happily walked me through what was going on and let me have a try myself. This, more than anything is what stayed with me. That as a complete novice I felt welcome, and if I had had the time, the opportunity to give things a go. Later I was told that they would be running workshops that would take complete beginners through the process of working with the 3d printers. 

During the formal tour we learnt more about plans for the space, the ethos behind it, the plans to make it sustainable and efforts to tie it into the libraries' business development work. It's an exciting concept linking to the existing Makers and coders in the area as well as the college and university. There are even plans to get the local embroiderers guild involved to help use the high tech stitching machine they have bought.  
I should be clear, this will not be a totally free space, like many Makerspaces it will work on a gym like subscription service with prices dependent on the type and need of the user. Although funding has been provided to buy equipment it has to become self sustaining. 

To help run the space volunteers get time on machines in return for their contributions and there is a commitment to make the space available on an open access, pay as you go, basis at least one day per week.  A completely free Makerspace is probably not sustaiable in this climate and even if charging does seem against the grain in public libraries there certainly  seems to be a commitment to making the technology and tools as accessible as possible. 

Volunteers will also help run ongoing Raspberry Pi events and the planned coding events for kids - not replacing existing staff but sharing their knowledge and adding real value to the service. It's a form of volunteering that, given the often negative connotations in public libraries nowadays, should really be highlighted as good practice. Volunteering that allows the offer of a service that would not otherwise be possible and which  everyone, the volunteer, the user and the service, will benefit from in some way or another. 

I especially liked hearing about the basic 3d printer they have bought, as opposed to the larger Makerbots that made my bracelet.  This is easy to transport and set up and the aim is that it can be taken out and about - into schools and branch libraries, to do events and workshops. Exactly the sort of accessible and adaptable 'Making' that gets me excited.


So, if nothing else the Fablab made my trip to Devon worth it. Especially as I got a wee momentum in the form of a 3d printed bracelet (Pictured above) during my visit. I've also got a few more leads for my research and learnt a lot about the smaller events going on around coding and Raspberry Pi. So while it would have been nice to spend the day in bed, it was in fact a Saturday well spent. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

I Don't Love You (and other street art from my travels)

I've recently returned from a trip of a lifetime - visiting my twin sister in Melbourne Australia, followed by a few days in Sydney and quick stop off in Singapore. 

These three cities offered very different approaches to street art. In Melbourne graffiti is legal on certain buildings and artists can be seen at all times of the day practicing their work and creating unique pieces. In Sydney they are not quite so liberal but with the 2014 Biennial ongoing there was plenty of temporary works around the city. Singapore, renowned for its clean and sanitised appearance, is a place where street art or graffiti is almost unheard of, yet I still managed to find one piece that intrigued me. 

Melbourne Laneways:


 



While some pieces are complex, sometimes huge realistic portraits sprayed directly onto walls, some work, including many of those above, are obviously created elsewhere and pasted into position. The laneway below is used purely as a practice area and you could see half finished pieces, viewable in their entirity close by in adjacent laneways, scattered around the walls. 



Melbourne, Crown Casino:


Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria:


Melbourne, St. Kilda: 



I didn't have as much time in Sydney, although I did enjoy my visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art and was lucky enough to stumble across a sculpture trail while visiting Scenic World while in the Blue Mountains.  However on the streets I saw just two pieces that I thought were exceptional, although I know little about them apart from what their visual appearance suggests. 

Sydney Habour Bridge Steps:



Potts Point:

In Singapore, I came across only one piece, although if you looked hard enough there were plenty of regular tags and graffiti scattered about. I suspect these stickers are related to this exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum, somewhere I didn't get chance to visit during my brief visit to the city. 




Finally I wanted to include something that isn't really street art, but simply a banner used in The Library of New South Wales. However it's use throughout the galleries is artistic in itself and deserves to be included: 



Maker Fair UK and Traveling Librarian

One of the things on my list for this year was to attend the Maker Fair UK 2014, partly because I've recently resubmitted my application for the Traveling Librarian award and partly for my own curiosity.  Unfortunately it turned out I was other wise engaged, specifically traveling on a 12 hour flight back from Singapore, so I missed out once again. 

However as always I followed the tweets and for my own satisfaction put together a brief Storify of some of the highlights. Okay, I've been selective, but I wanted to show the range of creating that happened at Maker Fair, both low and high tech. There were daleks, robots, vintage game consoles and automatic artists but also badge making and shadow puppets. I suppose I have my own agenda, looking as I am at 'Making' in libraries, but certainly many of the activities wouldn't be out of place on a young reader or childrens engagement program, if an authority had the resources and inclination.

Link to Maker Fair 2014 Storify (Selected Tweets)

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Safari :An exhibition to observe or hunt animals in their natural habitat, especially in East Africa.

Being a good librarian I'd be amiss if I didn't start a post like this with a good old fashioned Dictionary definition. However, it was the famous Bear Hunt book that really came to mind when the idea of a Library Safari was broached, swiftly followed by the line  "Lions and Tigers and Bears..."

The name meant I'd heard it all by the time the day of the CILIP SW Library Safaris came round. Whether we were taking nets? If the library could expect a new Zebra print rug afterwards? Did I have a good pair of binoculars? 

But the fact is that these Safaris, an opportunity to  find out how libraries work and about the teams and people that work in and run them, were inspired. With five running across the region the attendees were given an unrivaled insight to what it means to work in information and library environments. 

On paper the Bath Safari was fairly traditional. More so than some of the other safaris.  Two HE libraries, a FE college and Bath Central. Academic and public, maybe the most obvious of the many information roles available. Certainly the roles that I was most familiar with when I first considered librarianship. After all, how many of us have been influenced by positive experiences in public libraries as children before recognising the value of academic libraries to our studies as young adults. 


Because the visits were so traditional I wanted to make sure my presentation (due to be delivered at the start of the day)  covered a wide range of routes into the profession.  If you are interested in this, a slightly edited version, (minus a slide with career history from my team) can be found on this Prezi : http://prezi.com/usguh8shdujz/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

In reality the Bath Safari turned out to be far from traditional. Starting at the heritage site of Bath Spa University the tourists got to visit what I consider to be one of the greenest and most creative of university campuses. It is also, in contrast to the site at the University of Bath, one of the smallest universities in the country.  This meant that the participants saw how, despite operating on a much smaller scale, the library provides 24/7 access to IT and study resources for students. With the safari coinciding with a CLA visit it was also a chance to broach the subject of ethical and legal use of information within the profession, something that for the newcomer can often be a minefield

At the opposite end of the spectrum the safari next made the trip over to larger University of BAth where STEM research is paramount and the explorers met with individuals in both non traditional and traditional roles. This included the team working on a project that will ensure  research data is safeguarded and preserved for our future researches and students. Also, they gave us Licorice Allsorts, demonstrating that all good meetings should involve cake or sweets of some sorts. 



From University of Bath we travelled to Bath Central Library, a city centre location that I had used personally while completing my Chartership portfolio. Highlights here included items such as a human skin bound copy of Machiavelli's The Prince as well as the extensive Juvenile collection in the stacks. Much of this collection, while not particularly rare or valuable, represents an insight into the book both as an object of desire and as a piece of literature, reflecting past social norms. More importantly the safari participants were introduced to the range of services offered by public libraries, including story time, children's services, archives, volunteering, audio books, book clubs and access to free wifi and computers. It was also here that, for the second time during the day, they were shown that the most obvious route into the profession, that is the post graduate qualification, isn't the only option available.  

Leaving Central Library we made a dash across a very soggy Bath (pun intended) to City of Bath College to meet with Naomi Elliot, Head of Library and Learning Resources, our final stop of the day. Here we all had our eyes opened to the range of services offered by an FE library including literacy support, in the form of the Six Book Challenge, learner support, through the provision of a  traditional library service, (books, magazines, IT, enquiry services) and technical support, including a IT support desk provided by students training in IT. We also had a demonstration of their online streaming system that includes the recording and storage of student performances and presentations.

As coordinator of the Bath Safari the only awkward part of the day was at the beginning. That period when people are arriving, drinking tea and coffee, and generally NOT TALKING AT ALL. It's so rare for me to go to an event nowadays, even as a relative new comer to the south, that I'd forgotten how difficult these situations can be. As such if I was involved in this  event again I would certainly find some way to break the ice at the initial meet up, possibly by the option to create name badges, such as is often used at Library Camps, or, conversely by a more structured meet and greet that would take us straight into the formal part of the day. 



With hindsight I would also factor in a break in the afternoon. I should have realised that anyone aspiring to work in the information and library sector would need regular access to tea. As a consequence by the time we reached City of Bath College everyone was desperate for a sit down and ready for a brew from the college cafe. Luckily this was something we were able to accommodate due to the fortunate timing of buses earlier in the day. I would have hated to impact on Naomi's enthusiastic tour due to the lack of tea!

I've yet to receive comprehensive feedback from the overall event coordinator. However for me, all the work and effort that had gone into the day was made worth while by a comment made as we left City of Bath College. It is this comment that I will leave you with, in the hope you will either be inspired to run your own Safari, or consider a career as an information and library professional.....  

"I am so excited about becoming a librarian now"


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Online chat in Libraries - the Practicalities

In the last post I wrote I'd got up to the point where we'd purchased our chosen chat service and had the web development team scratching their heads over how best to get it into the CMS. 

My role at this point was to work out how we going to get from a working system to a fully functioning service. The problems I had to solve can be summed up fairly succinctly by the 5 W's 
  • Why we were introducing the service?
  • What would be it's purpose?
  • Where would the service be provided?
  • When would we would provide the service?
  • Who would staff the service?
I should add that for the sake of simplicity I'm going to talk about this process in a linear, singular manner. The reality was actually that this process started months ago, back when we were talking to other services about chat. It has been the subject of much discussion, project reports and team work between myself, the E-Resources Librarian, and the wider Librarian team.  We knew from the beginning that the chat service needed to be owned by the service, rather than individuals and as such decisions were discussed at Librarian Forums with ultimate decisions being made by LMT. The wider teams were kept informed and involved through the trails and other communication throughout. 

The why and what had been answered months previously. We were introducing chat to improve customer services, it's purpose was to provide an additional communication channel through which our users could contact us. This was vital for me. We weren't replacing anything with chat, not would we ever force anyone to communicate with us in this way. Chat was simply going to be another option, a way for students to contact us at time and place of need.

Where we were providing the service was really done to the web team. We knew where we wanted it - we'd been told to make it as high profile as possible. However  the logistics of embedding the chat widget into the University CMS without it standing out like a sore thumb was tricky. In the end we launched with chat visible on the side bar of our Discovery service and on our 'Contact Us' page. We've had to wait for the customised web button for the library home page but that is in the pipeline.  

By far the most difficult decision was deciding who would staff the service. Talking to other services had shown that staffing levels varied with some using front library assistants, others only using librarians and several variations including mixed staffing levels depending on level and interest from staff. 
Based on our current enquiry handling we made the decision to start the service staffed only by our librarian team. The knowledge (although not the skills) to troubleshoot problems with our eresources just didn't exist consistently across the Library Assistant team. Training and development was needed to address this, not just for chat but as a service development need. However with the launch of chat already delayed once and our second deadline approaching, the time to put this in place just wasn't available. Nor did we have time to create the knowledge base and example answers that would ensure consistency across the service, regardless of who was staffing it. So we opened our chat staffed only by our qualified team, understanding that this needed to be reviewed. 

The when, or the opening hours was the next big decision and was largely influenced by resourcing. We had already decided that we didn't want to go down the route of consortium cover, such as is available through QuestionPoint.  We would staff the service ourselves. However as a relatively small service (actually, for a university, a very small service) staffing was a key concern. In fact it hadn't gone unnoticed by myself that the additional workload seemed to be a primary concern. We needed to find a balance between sufficient chat hours to create impact and not over reaching the Librarian team. Through examining our busy periods and looking at what others provided we decided on  core hours of 10am - 2pm and a further evening service between 5pm-7pm when a librarian was available. It was agreed that whenever possible we would log into chat outside these hours and that, most importantly, chat would be treated like any other opening times in that it must be available as advertised. 

So we launched, back at the beginning of January. Since then we have been working out the Hs that normally accompanies the 5 W's. This was h
ow we would monitor the service and ensure quality and consistency? And how we would use this information to take the service forward and ensure that it is both used and sustainable. That will be my last post on the the chat service, but one that will have to wait a month or two when we are in a better to make decisions.