Strength in curiosity

It is telling when you still pursue information about a field of interest even when you are not currently working in that field. Of course this is what a true career path is all about. It also applies to hobbies, and passions.

Over these past few months (when I haven’t been designing our new house) I have been spending my time reading, watching, and listening to information about libraries. It is an interesting time for libraries worldwide, with the vast amount of resources now available online. Add to this the prevalence of personal devices, wide connectivity, and the sophisticated ability of the user to find and access that resource, then it is no surprise that library professionals are scurrying to remain relevant and required.

The biennial VALA Conference was held in Melbourne in February and I was disappointed that I was not able to attend this year. However, I readied myself to read and review the presentations when they became available online. And now they are; but it is so satisfying to find the whole multi-media experience available online. The audio, video, slides, and twitter-feed all on the one screen. So thank you to the VALA team for providing this amazing resource. I have been able to bathe like a duck in rainwater enjoying the torrent of inspirational presentations.

The keynote speakers were: Johan Bollen; Christine Boroman; Joe Murphy; Mia Ridge; Gene Tan; and Matt Finch.

Johan Bollen spoke about big data and how to use twitter posts for data visualisation and to analyse for predicting social trends. He pointed out that not only can one see what is happening as it is happening, but it is possible to see how people are feeling about what is happening. And this information is valuable.

Christine Borgman also spoke about big data and open access to data repositories, explaining in detail what that means in reality, especially for academics and research.

Joe Murphy talked about the future of libraries; his main point being that libraries will have a robust future if we all encourage curiosity.

Mia Ridge talks about libraries as maker-spaces for cultural heritage; making the point that libraries have always provided this service opportunity. For example: people writing their family history using the library and resources is using the space for making something that has value for cultural heritage. 

Gene Tan talked about the Singapore Memory Project, and organising multiple perspectives of moments in life with a random approach. Of significance is the project that gave every Singaporian a personal account for their memories, from which the library would organise, and store for prosperity. “Giving your past a present”. Gene has a unique and endearing style that really gets to the heart of people. Don’t skip the Q&A session at the end.

Matt Finch took off his clothes and redressed in another outfit on stage, to make the point that libraries are not just for hipsters but for everyone – even those dressed in regulation fluoro stripes.

I was validated by the comments made by Joe Murphy; that the librarian who encourages curiosity in her self and others is strong and will persist and thrive into the unsure future of libraries. I am that person who always wants to discover new things, and I am as yet unsatisfied with the answers to my questions about life, the universe and everything in it.

Using SlideShare

I have been using SlideShare for many years now as it is a perfect tool for presentations, showing people how to do things, and explaining concepts – on the run. Of course this list is not a complete list of my presentations to date, as I have presented others for a purpose, but not for public access.

suesbent_on_slideshare_2014

Each presentation here served a specific purpose and was created at a particular moment in time. So you might notice that some of the online tools explained no longer exist or have developed into a slightly different version.

Here is a list of my presentations in order of date creation:

  1. How to create a wiki (2008). I created this ‘how-to’ guide to show school teachers how to create an online platform for collaborative class assignment work. To date: 112757 views; 928 downloads; 5 comments; and 34 likes.
  2. How to create a wiki using PBWiki2 (2008). I created this ‘how-to’ guide when changes were made by the PBWiki team. To date: 3337 views; 38 downloads.
  3. Blogs and RSS in 2009 (2009). Subscribing to RSS feeds is a perfect tool to assist people to refine their information needs from the Internet. It can be a little technical to describe and set up. I gave a talk on this topic back in 2005 to a group of librarians but the tool being used then was Bloglines. In 2009 it amazed me how few people still knew how to use this technique, so I created this presentation to explain why you would want to do it, and how to set it up. Unfortunately Google Reader ceased to exist in 2013, so other RSS readers are required. I now use Feedly and sync this with my mobile phone. To date: 978 views; 4 downloads.
  4. Photos by Susan Bentley (2009). I love taking photos and wanted to collate and share a few of my best shots. To date: 2255 views; 61 downloads.
  5. Social media considerations for local government (2013).  I was part of a team considering and creating a social media policy and procedure for the local government organisation where I was employed. This presentation I created to help explain the situation to other employees. To date: 442 views.
  6. Presentations in Second Life (2013). In 2013 as part of my Masters studies I studied the subject Social Media for Information Professionals. Part of this work requirement was that we visited the Charles Sturt University campus of Jokaydia in Second Life to meet others and watch some presentations of work by students from another subject. To date: 184 views.
  7. Social media for our organisation (2013). Again as part of the training roll-out of online social media use for the organisation where I worked, this presentation offered more information on the topic. To date: 139 views.
  8. Personal digitisation plan (2013). I studied the subject Creating and Preserving Digital Content for my Masters studies, and needed to formulate my own plan of attack for my own collection of photos. To date: 177 views.
  9. Daring greatly (2013). I enjoyed watching the inspirational talks by Brené Brown on TED, and used the words from her manifesto to inspire the team I led at Glenelg Libraries. I matched these words with some photos I had taken of the local area, then edited using Instagram. To date: 226 views; 2 downloads.
  10. Library Trek (2013). I was invited to give a talk about contemporary public libraries to the Red Cross Conference held in Casterton and these are the slides from that talk. I was well aware that the audience mainly consisted of elderly women who have very little experience or knowledge with technology, and yet I wanted to try to give them an idea about the possibilities for them in the online world – and how their local library could help them. Feedback from some of the people there said that it was the least boring talk of the day. Obviously without the speech notes these slides don’t tell you much. To date: 82 views.

On your soapbox

Have you got a message that you are just dying for the world to know, get, embrace, and love? Do you think it is original, clever, valuable, and its time is NOW? Is your voice, your expression, your style, the best way for this incredible message to be heard? Have you got a box to stand on, a platform, a medium, from which to deliver this amazing message?

You think? Sure? Why not? May as well have a go hey? Go for it!

After-all blogging is so 2000’s. “Everyone” has a blog now. So to stand above the crowd you have to find a way to be noticed. And setting up your own podcast seems to be a great way to do this. Just think you can talk and talk to your heart’s content saying all you need to say without interruptions.

So what have you got to say? Got an idea? A theme? A revelation? A message? A set of instructions to share?

And what’s your motivation? Fame? Fortune? Freedom? Notoriety?

And what’s your format? Interviewing others? Off the cuff? Following a framework or schedule of planned passages?

Will you use advertising? Employ Brand “You”? Offer sincerity and appreciation? Will you repeat your message? What about using music breaks? Will you tell stories in order to catch the listener’s attention?

Podcasts are cropping up like mould in a damp bathroom. Some are more successful than others. Some are much more listenable than most.

There are the DIY models such as Podcast Answer Man, This Is Your Life, Circulating Ideas, Man vs Debt, and others.

There are those that spring from reputable sources such as The Midday Interview with Margaret Throsby, TED Talks, Hamish and Andy, and more, and more.

And there are many more in between and this field is growing fast.

In recent times I have had the privilege to attend quite a few sessions where people get up in front of an audience to speak on a topic. Sometimes there is a theme, sometimes not. It really is a special experience and there is no doubt that the personal live experience does stand out and above what the average podcast can deliver.

Recently I attended the LGPro Women in Local Government development forum in Melbourne.

Of particular note was the opening talk given by Rachael Robertson who led the 58th Australian Antarctic Research Expedition to Davis Station. Her message, her story, and her delivery were spellbinding.

The closing speaker was Emma Gee who is an Occupational Therapist and a stroke survivor. Facing far more obstacles and challenges than the average speaker, her presentation was funny, clever, sad, practical and inspirational. Emma’s message is “that it is not what happens to you that matters, it is how you choose to deal with it.” Her clever use of video segments in her presentation that depicted some of life’s challenges from her perspective was poignant.

So have you got a message? You never know, yours might just be the one that captures the imagination of the masses and brings you fame, fortune and freedom.

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.

What is social networking

I recently gave a talk about social networking. It was at the public library where I work. We offered a free information session to the locals residents. The presentation was to inform people in the community about the social networking trend. The intended audience were those people who don’t know what it is all about, and are curious to know more.

We advertised the event well through local media. There was interest prior to the event. I had prepared a worthwhile presentation and had practice runs with library staff and family. I had a back-up plan in case of IT glitches. I knew the material. I had no bullet points and had put together a relevant and interesting presentation I thought.

I began with a video The Machine is Us/Using us by Professor Michael Wesch. I had asked for his permission trying to honour copyright and do the “right” thing. I explained the difference between Web 1.0 (the static web) and Web 2.0 (the interactive web). I gave a quick glimpse of the huge number of Web 2.0 websites online then went on to talk about the more popular ones: Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube, LibraryThing, and blogging with RSS.

Of course, like any self-respecting librarian, I spoke about security, privacy, copyright, and phishing scams.

I finished my talk with a story about Gary Vaynerchuck and how he has mastered the online social networking tools making them work for him in his work as a wine merchant and now an author of Crush It and perhaps a motivational speaker. This description highlighted how the social networking tools work together: we switch seamlessly from one to the other.

So what went wrong? I had only two people in the audience. Two older people seemingly from the same demographic, but one was knowledgeable and a skilled user of these technologies while the other was still reluctant to dive in. They appeared to be interested and focused during my talk. We had a discussion afterwards that was positive and engaging.

It was a cold rainy evening. It is tuna fishing season. This community seems to be active, involved, and maybe busy enough. Maybe they all know about social networking already and don’t need to hear anything else. Somehow we missed the mark with this. This community here is very much oriented to the outdoors. Maybe that is the reason. They don’t need to go online to network socially because the life here is so present in the real world – something I value and appreciate immensely.

I must confess that I am over Facebook myself. This medium manages to have an unsettling ability to make me feel disconnected. It is not authentic. It robs me of the ability to use my bull-shit detectors to capacity. Something feels not quite right to me. Comments are misinterpreted. Harsh judgements are made by total strangers. It is unkind and shallow. We miss out on the essential communication messages read from body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and more. Our written messages lack these. Most of us lack the mastery that the wordsmiths have in illustrating our points with precision and correct grammar. Personally I feel that unless I actually know the person who I am communicating with, then any attempt at “connecting” is a pathetic waste of time; and reeks of desperation. I don’t need it. My life is full enough without this added emotional discord.

I like reading the blogs people write because the longer discourse allows a far better insight into the person and their ideas. And I can pick and choose the ones that are of real interest to me. It is an expansive learning experience, by contrast to Facebook that has a reductionist and limiting social experience. In my talk I tried to explain the benefit of using an RSS reader like Google Reader as the convenient place to gather the blogs that you like to read – but this may have gone over their heads. Not everyone understands the powerful element of this aspect of the Web 2.0 world. And I guess not everyone is interested.

I don’t mind admitting my apparent failure here. I don’t pretend to be a motivational speaker and nor do I aspire to be one. I also feel no need to hide behind a mask of pretence by not confessing the reality of the situation. I am confident that the material was sound and my message clear. I think the audience is there but I can’t begin to guess why they stayed away in droves. I don’t take it personally. It remains a mystery.