Co-Creating Experiences of The Book

Or … event planning at public libraries.

The Cause

Participatory learning is not a new concept, but becoming widely adopted as a valid way to engage with communities. Public libraries have used this approach in recent years to highlight their value and to support literacy development in our diverse local populations.

Libraries have great books and so much more, but there is a prevalent need to let people know this. One great method is to extend the power of the book by inviting authors to come along to provide further explanation, context, ideas, and personal story. This enriches the experience of the book for the library users and hopefully actively supports the IFLA credos about intellectual freedom, inclusion, fostering creative and critical thinking.

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Kylie Ladd and Liane Moriarty at Frankston Library 2015 (photo by me)

The Sponsor

The sponsor is the governing organisation that provides the required funds to deliver these events, with a mandate towards social inclusion, public wellbeing, and community participation. The process can be upheld through regular checks and balances,  reporting, and goodwill and integrity.

The Organiser

In this description, that would be me, and I have a process, a small team, venues, a budget, and no shortage of ideas. I am naturally organised and with project planning experience from my Industrial Design background, I love a good project plan. The main tool for my process is a spread-sheet in a multitude of variations. I can be juggling anywhere from 5 to 15 events and promotions simultaneously, all at varying stages in the process. I love a good Gantt chart but have simplified to a simple timeline. I prepare a communication plan for my team and other essential documents such as a media release.

The Speaker

Booked Out Agency serves as a perfect partner as a provider of authors as speakers. What a wonderful and empowering mechanism for authors to be able to extend their work! They are my first resource when I am planning to fill my events calendar.

Having found a speaker and agreed to the time, fees, etc. it is up to the speaker to engage with the audience.

Authors who are not well-known or just launching their first book can try to jump onto the speakers route through public libraries. This does require a bit of self-promotion and leg-work by the author to make the connection and pitch their worth to the library events organiser (me). Fees for speaking will be much less depending on what is expected and agreed. Sometimes free use of space in exchange for the speaking event can be a viable way for an unknown author to get into this field.

Once ‘on stage’ it is entirely up to the speaker/author to engage the audience. Not every speaker fully realises this opportunity provided to them. It is a special and unique platform to have the spotlight, to speak their truths, to say their piece. Some waste it. Some don’t inspire. Some are self-indulgent. Some are just inexperienced. Some can write eloquently but not be able to speak to an audience well at all. It is a performance to some degree. Expert speakers can talk underwater – for hours. Great speakers inspire, are humble, and authentic. Some just have one great idea that can hold an audience spellbound for an hour. 

The Audience

People have to feel inspired into action to come along to a hear a speaker. Sometimes popularity or notoriety is all it takes to fill a space with eager attendees. They come with expectations, wanting to get ‘something’ from their investment of time and/or ticket price.

It is a serendipitous outcome. My attitude is based on the idea that whoever is in the room was meant to be there. Any particular mix of people will shape the event into the unique experience that it is. Any messages shared by the speaker or the attendees are expressed for all to hear and learn from.

The Results

This past year I have been successful in attracting people into the library who are not our regulars, or even library users. Does this translate into new memberships and more loans? Probably not. That is part of the aim but not in an overt or pushy manner. The hope is they will see the benefits and come back soon.

The results are dynamic, unique and engaging. Hopefully it reflects the objective: that we engage with the people in our community to inspire learning, support literacy development, encourage freedom of thought with the ability to think critically. We hope to instil this love of libraries into everyone of us.

Other Explanations

While researching the topic to see what others say about this ‘occupation’, I came across two descriptions that I particularly like:

#glamblogweekly

Tell me

A realization struck me as I sat in the audience listening to Doctor Bruce Wells talk about happiness: I am living my life aligned to my passions and values. My employed work is to plan and organize library related events for the interest and benefit of our local community. It is a privileged position and while, in general, library work does align with my values associated with ethics, morals, and liberty, Dr. Wells made me realize that for me there is something deeper.

 

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Dr Bruce Wells at Frankston Library 16 April 2016

I love reading and books. I love being exposed to new ideas. I love to imagine other worlds and lives that exist between the pages. I love being told a good story. I love feeding my hunger for exploration and discovery. I love sitting at home in a comfortable chair absorbed in the latest good read. Working in a library, invites, supports and encourages others to read a good book and learn new things.

But it is my work that takes this one step further. What good are books full of treasured stories if they sit idly waiting on shelves gathering dust? What makes people pick it off the shelf and open the cover? It relies too heavily on serendipity. Library staff create displays and programs to highlight and celebrate books and themes in order to help people see what they don’t always know is there. (I read ebooks too and I am well aware of the new consumer habits associated with obtaining ebooks, but for this post I am focussing on our public libraries and print books. Many people don’t know that you can borrow an ebook for free from a public library; but that’s a whole other post).

But I go one step further. I invite authors to come along and speak at our library. What better way to bring books to life than to have the author there before you, in the flesh, to tell you more about their ideas?

Being told stories is a cherished human activity that goes back before books. Campfire stories are still a favourite thing to do when we can. The popularity of TED Talks is no surprise. We all love to hear something interesting. Then we might follow up this interest by exploring more on the topic.

So my realization was that I am able to share my own love of reading, books, and storytelling, by inviting authors to come and speak in person at our library. Local people can enjoy hearing stories told, and the writing craft explained, by the authors themselves. Books are thus brought to life. It is a true privilege for me to be in this position to be able to bring about this unique alchemy.

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Ali MC and Abe Nouk at Frankston Library 19 March 2016

These are the authors that I have organized speaking events for over the past year:

And these are the events that are coming up soon:

Women leading change

The Wake Up Project provided an event at the Melbourne Convention Centre: Women Leading Change that I was fortunate to attend with a friend.

We joined 500 women who listened to some remarkable and inspiring women talk about change. Seane Corn; Janine Shepherd; Tara Moss; Lucy Perry; Clare Bowditch; and Tami Simon were each introduced by Jo Wagstaff.

Seane Corn is a yoga teacher and activist who created the movement, Off the Mat and Into the World. She began the day talking about “Beauty, Bravery, & Living Your Truth”. She shared her personal story explaining how that has led her to where she is today. Advising us all to accept our “shadow” as well as our “light”, she explained that only then could we be truly authentic with others and ourselves.

Our wounds become our wisdom.” ~ Seane Corn

Janine Shepherd followed to talk about “The Power of Acceptance”. She is living proof of this as someone who was hit by a truck while cycling in the Blue Mountains, almost dying, being told she would never walk again or have children; and yet there she stood and walked unaided, vibrant, mother of three adult children, and a commercial pilot. You can hear her story in her TED Talk.

“Life is not about having it all. Life is about loving it all.” ~ Janine Shepherd

The gorgeous Tara Moss followed to talk “On Courage, Self-Care, and Why Women’s Voices Matter”. She says that first you must prioritise your own health before you are in a position to help others. She provided some interesting statistics to illustrate how women’s voices are not represented in government, business and organisations. Important decision making about women’s issues such as abortion, domestic violence, child care, etc are being discussed and decided by male voices, as they make up the significant majority of representatives present at the discussion tables.

Lucy Perry talked amusingly about “Fearless Living: How Fun, Forgiveness, and Fearlessness Can Change the World.” She says that ordinary women can do extraordinary things and she is proof of this through her work alongside Australian obstetrician Dr Catherine Hamlin as the former CEO of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia in Australia.

Clare Bowditch entertained us after lunch with “Oh F**k, I Don’t Know What To Call This Talk”. She had 500 women singing in two-part harmony. And she talked about how we are not perfect, all of us are works-in-progress, and how we must “learn to sit in the uncomfortable now.” She says her most commonly asked question is “Why did Patrick have to die?

Tami Simon is the founder of Sounds True and she talked next about “Being True: Showing Up Fully in Your Work, Life and Love.” Her main principles are: individuality, being true, and heeding the call.

Her findings from her interviews “Insights At The Edge” are these:

  • The spiritual journey is a journey of subtraction. What can I let go of?
  • The disciplines of spiritual life are about the shedding process not self-improvement.
  • There is no end to the spiritual journey.
  • Every teacher is partial.
  • There is no escaping loss and sorrow.
  • Everything depends on how much you trust.
  • The most important thing is to know what the most important thing is to you. “Can I give myself to the love and connectedness of my life?

Seane Corn closed the day challenging us to find our voice and speak out. “Start Where You Are: It’s Time to Rise”. She says to celebrate an authentic human experience, be able to say ‘sorry’, self-care, own your ‘shadow’, and don’t be an arsehole.

Thank you to The Wake Up Project for organising this day. And thank you to Alana for inviting me to spend this special day with you, and being inspired by these amazing women.

Choose Your Own Library Adventure

In this exciting politically incorrect episode you get to Choose Your Own Library Adventure based on two possible scenarios:

Scenario 1 – The Community Lounge Room

The automatic doors open on time and in you hustle with the crowd of others from the community: seniors; pensioners of all ages; those needing care and their carers; the unemployed; homeless people; parents; children; babies; toddlers; teens; students; the aimless; business people; travellers; visitors; group members attending meetings; and the curious.

The people carry bags, phones, backpacks, coffee, water, food, shopping, books, DVD’s, CD’s, coats, laptops, hats, toys, and not a pen amongst them.

Many arrive on wheels: strollers; walkers; motorized scooters; shopping trolleys; wheel chairs; and skateboards.

This community library is inclusive, caters for all, is paid for by taxpayers, and welcomes everyone without obstacles, barriers, judgment or discretion.

Everyone makes themselves at home settling in for a few hours or the day. There is shelter, warmth, comfort, food, hot and cold drinks, and others to interact with. Everyone is free to eat, drink, talk, read, play games, surf the Internet, laugh, gamble online, shout, scream, run, dance, play music, run a business, study, research, argue, and put their feet up without concern or bother. Indeed they are entitled to do so.

This is The Community Third Place; the lounge room for the town; a makerspace; the library of the present, hopefully morphing into some similar version of the Library of the Future where community wellbeing predominates.

Personal hygiene in this community lounge room differs notably and is commented upon by customers and staff. What to do about this while remaining ‘pc’?

Random screams punctuate the day with too much frequency. These erupt from over excited children, and unfortunate adults forever anchored with the minds of toddlers.

Derelict and homeless people shuffle to their daily corner, rummage through their plastic bags for snacks, before sleeping the day away.

Damaged and disappointed people approach the library staff for assistance with a mixture of fear, bravado, entitlement, envy, and try to persuade or bully their opinions, complaints, and excuses, to further bend the flimsy policies to suit themselves. The “SHUSH” disappeared and the avalanche of guidelines for good behavior followed. Do what you want – make this space.

Custodial protection of our precious printed and digital words and knowledge is deemed to be of no real worth or value. Come take it – it is yours afterall.

Scenario 2 – The Quiet Study

This unassuming small shop/office has small quaint signs to let you know this is a “Library”. It is unapologetic in the retro feel that values books, ideas, and knowledge. It requires a membership application to join; beyond the usual personal ID with current address, a questionnaire is filled in, a deposit for the annual membership payment is made, and then the potential member must wait until the application is successful on approval by the management. A typical question might be: Name the title of your favourite book when you were a child. And: Name ten of the books you read in the past year, and please provide a short review of each. Etc.

Once approved, paid-up, signed the agreement to the terms and conditions, and have your library membership card, you are free to use the services. So you enter, sign in at the front desk, leave your bag, phone, and all belongings in a locker-room. There is water available in the foyer, but no drink or food is allowed in the Library. You are allowed to bring in a notepad (print or digital) and that is all.

The inner library has shelves full of books. There is no WiFi. There is not Internet access, other than pc’s with the digital resources provided by the library. There are no DVD’s, no music CD’s. There are pc’s for the library catalogue. There is a separate room for the printer, photocopier, fax machines available for the usual fees to library members. There are desks and seats scattered around for research, reading, writing, and study purposes.

There is no talking allowed. SHUSH reigns supreme. Talk and you are out. Repeat offenders have their memberships cancelled with no refund. Conversations with Master Librarians are done in whispers at the front desk.

The Library closes at lunch-time for everyone to go and have an unhurried meal. The Library reopens in the afternoon and then again in the evenings.

Although just offering books for browsing and borrowing, these include fiction, the classics, non-fiction, beautiful coffee-table books, books in a variety of languages as well as English, journals in print and digital format, and small collections for children and teens.

This is a place for quiet study and reflective practice. It is for personal enquiry and discovery. The resources are cared-for and protected. If you run, destroy property, speak loudly, act with entitlement, not pay your dues, or interfere with others, your membership will be cancelled for the year with no refund.

Choose Your Own Adventure Library

So do you want the maker-space, community lounge room complete with screaming people, for random, multi-purpose, entertaining, every person, public library/asylum?

Or are there some quiet unassuming people out there who want to return to the days of library shush, for a quiet space to study, learn, read great literature, and formulate new knowledge? And you would happily pay the annual membership?

Perhaps there is another alternative that I have not considered, apart from our excellent Academic libraries where students are the members.

What do you think?

Reading fiction

Reading fiction is not my preference. I prefer true stories; epic adventures; personal quests; travel, and description of place. Fiction has to grab me in the first ten pages; otherwise I become bored and abandon the book. After all, life is too short and there are too many books to read.

For me, a good fiction story is a page-turner that makes me keen to know what happens next. I hate reverse chronology. Often I find a story has hooked me in the first chapter, and then the following chapter takes me back to some point in the past. And that’s where I usually abandon the book.

I like a good story, told from the beginning to end with some unobvious point of focus that gradually unfolds to a satisfactory close. It is disappointing to say, “ I liked the story, but I didn’t like the ending.” I loathe nihilistic tales of woe with hopeless and detestable characters that seems to be a current popular theme.

But is reading fiction a waste of time, as some people suggest? After all it is just someone’s imaginary tale. And why bother when our world is full of amazing and interesting real people, lives, places and situations?

Research provides interesting reasons that support reading fiction as a valuable activity. Not only does this pursuit provide insight into situations and ideas outside of our everyday life, but there is evidence to suggest that it has positive effects on our brains by making new neurological connections that remain activated long after the reading activity is over. This heightened activity called a ‘shadow activity’, similar to muscle memory, by scientists working on the Emory study.

We reiterate the idea that there are only seven basic plots:

  1. Overcoming the monster.
  2. Rags to riches.
  3. The quest.
  4. Voyage and return.
  5. Comedy.
  6. Tragedy.
  7. Rebirth

Typically though our bookstores and libraries arrange fiction into genres of:

  • Romance
  • Relationship
  • Humour
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Adventure
  • Historical
  • Classic
  • Western
  • Chick Lit
  • Paranormal romance
  • General
  • And others.

My fiction reading sometimes follows a typical pattern of author trails. I discover an author I like, then I am keen to read more by that person; until I am satiated with their voice, style, and ideas. Elizabeth Gilbert and Joanne Harris are two authors I enjoy reading. I loved The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is stunning with its unique story and intelligent prose. I like to follow a trail of reading that is unique to my interests at that time.

Many librarians use website tools such as Fantastic Fiction, Literature Map, LibraryThing, GoodReads, and others to find the next great read for ourselves and our customers.

But there is more to be said and understood about the activity of reading fiction and how it impacts and influences our community and society. Librarians get a very real sense of this phenomenon when working with library users. Some book titles seem to grab hold of the attention of the populace and there is a groundswell of interest that seems to defy understanding. The Slap by Christos Tsolkias is an example that comes to mind. It was an uncomfortable book to read. Not everyone liked it. One incident provides the focus for a masterful portrayal of multi-cultural suburban Melbourne in current times. The slap itself – right or wrong – receives attention and opinions from different generations and cultures, and ultimately judged in politically correct times. This resonates with a culture where this experience is known, shared, and debated. We all have an opinion and all are valid.

“Texts affect readers on many levels – emotional, ethical, intellectual, sensual, spiritual. Consequently, two readers can respond very differently to the same text.” ~ Robert Beardwood

But this book had its time and that groundswell of attention is past. Did we learn anything? How has the experience of reading this book of fiction influenced our society? You will still find this title in the bookstores, libraries, and on Book Club lists, but it has been read, discussed, made into a TV series. Why have we gone past that particular book when there would still be many people who haven’t read it? We could apply the analysis of this phenomenon to many new and popular fiction titles. It would be an interesting study.

Fiction of this type leads our collective conscience. We read, we think, we learn, we discuss, we grow, we evolve. I think that this is key to the function and popularity of Book Clubs in our communities. But we know that.

Now relieved of my requirement to read bureaucratic reports and academic articles, I have been trying to catch up with some fiction reading. I have just read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. And now, like so many others at present, I am immersed in the book The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I am thoroughly enjoying the voice, the story, the situation, and the intelligence.

Library recipes

Combine books, libraries, design, art, and architecture and you have a recipe to feed me well.

This week I attended a conference at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne – Libraries as Catalysts for Placemaking.

As a Librarian and Industrial Designer, this experience was a real treat for me. Listening to people talk about, and show pictures of, current library design projects is my idea of a great day. It ignites my desires to design. Sigh!

In a past blog post I recalled how as a five year old entering the domed reading room on the State Library of Victoria inspired my desire to be an architect (and ironically, not a Librarian).

So let me tell you a little about the conference. First to present was Ethan Kent from Project for Public Spaces in New York He spoke very fast and still had to fly through half of his slides because of time constraints. He could have filled the whole day’s agenda with his relevant and interesting content. He said that libraries are important “community anchors”. He spoke of the Power of Ten, meaning ten things to do in a place. He pointed us to his website for more information on these ideas and concepts that he didn’t have time to explain more fully.

Next to present was Dan Hill, Senior Consultant from Arup. He spoke about new cultural spaces and how technology can enhance our use of public spaces from a visual and a practical perspective. His ideas included screening text onto the outside of buildings as light displays that represent the immediate and changing measurement of what is happening in a digital sense. For example, light displays as a word cloud of the names of the countries that the URL’s being accessed from the internet devices in the area that are accessing the wifi service in operation. Hmmmm. He also showed us The Cloud, project in London that is not going to be built apparently.

Several public Librarians from Victoria spoke about their experiences in recent library designs. Suzanne Gately spoke about the new Altona North Community Library. Roslyn Cousins talked about the new Colac Community Library and Learning Centre that incorporates the Colac Secondary School. Genimaree Panozzo from Moreland City Library spoke about the recent librarian’s tour of the District of Columbia Library Building Project. Sally Jones of Moonee Valley Library spoke about her trip to the USA looking at how libraries devote spaces to teenagers.

Cecilia Kugler of CK Design International spoke specifically about interior design and fit outs of public libraries and in particular the makeover of Randwick Library in NSW. Peter Moeck of the Brown Falconer Group presented his report about the new Mount Gambier Library in South Australia.

One factor that is continually repeated is the importance of using community art projects in libraries as means to effective “placemaking”. Our library service has a fantastic community art exhibition program that continues due to the continual hard work of people behind the scenes. It is already in place, valued, and effective.

After these presentations I sorted through my thoughts and impressions and began to think about the library designs that I have seen and experienced. What is it about the Mount Gambier Library that I like so much? What works and why? Because in my view it stands apart from the other library redesigns I saw presented and that I have experienced firsthand. And what makes the Mornington Library design so poor?

I recall the poor design of the brand new Mornington Library where I worked as a Librarian for many years. It was state-of-the-art, looked great, applauded, etc, etc. The colour scheme, inspired by local seaside colours of lime green, warm tones of grey/brown, looks great, the shelving and fixtures are nice and well positioned. It is an attractive and comfortable place to visit as a customer. But it was not a practical space to work in at all.

I heard the architect describe how she arrived at the inspiration for placing the first line for the plan of the building and it was by transcribing the line of the perceived route of the ship of Matthew Flinders as he explored the waters off Mornington all those years ago. This gave her a starting point that was not a straight line and forms the profile of the front elevation for the building. To my practical mind this sounded irrelevant and whimsical and even negligent. I much prefer the process being used now that begins with the people and how they want to use the place/space. This was totally ignored I think in this instance and the impractical result reflects this.

The interior of the space has placed the robust and busy children’s area next to the busy information service desk and telephones and the internet access computers. The cute colourful round padded cushions on the curved seating/shelving are perfect stepping stones for toddlers who precariously negotiate with toddler hops at chair height from the floor. The space is poorly thought out. In the afternoons the sun streams in through the immovable louvered windows straight into the eyes of the library staff who squint to see their computer screens and the faces of the customers before them. The spacious open entry forms a wind tunnel that allows cold air in winter and warm air in summer to stream through onto staff at the main service desk. The groovy cafe tendered to a local restaurant is only open for short hours that suit them and not the library customers. The staff work areas are small and don’t allow for storage, expansion or sensible work flows.

I was fortunate to visit the Mount Gambier Library last year before it opened in December and I was immediately impressed. I had seen the old Mount Gambier Library in the small dungeon of the Council offices and this new building was a huge improvement in every way. It is a lovely space to enter and be in. The central area is rectangular with high ceilings that give the feeling of being in a cathedral and light fills the space from above.

It is an intelligent design that treats its customers as intelligent. There is no “dumbing-down” in terms of signage or attitude. The minimal use of primary colours serves a practical purpose in terms of signage for easy identification of collections and zones. Overall the colours used are rich with extensive use of natural timbers and a warm patterned carpet. All the desks, shelving, display units, are custom designed and built with warm timber. This colour scheme gives the interior a feeling of tradition and permanence that many new libraries seem to be moving away from.

The children’s area is a separate area and uniquely fitted out as an underwater cave. It is surely a real drawcard for children and practical for library staff, children’s programs, and the consideration of other library users. The cafe is generous and well used. The work room also is generous with all of the latest technology implemented to make the library work the best possible, so fully-implemented RFID with a “smart” returns chute, that only opens to allow item returns by customers. Extensive use of local artists added much to the building for signage, identification, and decoration. Peter Moeck is justifiably proud of this project.

With lots to think about, I return to my little country library intent on bringing whatever small changes we can accommodate in order to make some improvements and expand our library services and facilities to be a place that continues to surprise and delight our community.

The Village Well

It was a long way to the Village Well. I took the early morning flight that rose out of fog and darkness in Portland, bound for Melbourne. Then a taxi ride through workday congested traffic to the old Abbotsford Convent.

Gilbert (pronounced with French accent “Jillbear”) Rochecouste greeted me warmly. He wore black and white plaid pants, pink shirt and a purple sweater draped around his shoulders. Jac (Jacque) was the other presenter.

The group of about 40 people were mainly from urban local government and a few were from housing development companies.

This Village Well Masterclass was titled Place Making & the Art of Authentic Engagement. They began by using one of their engagement methods; a conversation cafe. With fresh coffee or tea, and a couple of questions to prompt discussion, we immediately embarked on conversations with some new found colleagues, while ambient music played in the background.

The concept of place-making takes us away from using planning and design to solve community problems and instead focuses on people power as the means to tackling and enriching community living. It embraces history, culture, diversity, story, enjoyment, environment, and more and favours a fluid approach to achieving this.

We danced to “Staying Alive”. We sang as a choir “Amazing Grace”. We sat in the courtyard enjoying a healthy lunch. We listened intently to the colourful Gilbert and the practical Jac. We shared our stories.

All in all it was a positive, hopeful experience but I am left wondering how to translate this information into practical solutions at work and in our community. It is food for thought I guess.

Be an organisation, but act like a movement.” ~Gilbert Rochecouste

Read more about this at Urban Ecology Australia