Civic Digest: new imaginings of libraries

  
Civic Digest is a new public library experiment in Newcastle, New South Wales. Their website bills the venue as “an Australian-first contemporary library… cutting edge library technology is combined with quality food and beverage services to create an ambient and creative space for culture consumers to meet”. 

I ventured in to try the coffee (pretty good) and to check out the library aspects of the operation. It is a space created in the Civic Theatre so it is ideal for a pre or post show drink. I visited on a cold winter’s morning. The sun was streaming in through the windows making it cosy and inviting and it wasn’t busy so I had my choice of seats.

  
The cafe has a focus on digital library content such as magazines, journals and ebooks that you can access either through the large touch tables or via an app which you can download. There is also high speed free wifi, web browsing, games and what’s on information for Newcastle.

   
  

I asked the barista about the staffing model and he told me that no library staff work in the space but they can call them in to trouble shoot technology problems on the odd occasion something goes awry.
Later that day at a gallery opening, I also asked a couple of Newcastle locals what they think of Civic Digest. My small sample of two, including one Newcastle City councillor, reported support for the concept and a willingness to experiment and adjust as they learn. It has only been open for two months.

Read more about it in the Newcastle Herald.

Newcastle always seems to have interesting cultural ideas popping up. If you are in town, check out Civic Digest and give your support to an innovative imagining of a regional public library.

   
   

Evangelising about libraries

  
Speaking at library conferences feels like preaching to the converted. Sure, it is great to get out there amongst the familiar faces to share our work and learn from each other but what other opportunities are there?

Reaching out to other sectors and industries through their conferences opens up a whole new world of learning and networking. It is also a chance to showcase the brilliant work of libraries, do a little evangelising and gather some new library fans.

I have spoken at two digital conferences this year and both were absolutely worthwhile experiences. 

The first was Pause Fest 2016 in Melbourne. Pause bills itself as “a catalyst for innovation, a uniter of industries, a platform for the future. Pause Fest stands for the content you can’t Google.” 

Sounds a bit like the mission of a library. So my colleague, Peter McMahon and I presented a TED-style talk called ‘So uncool it’s cool, the natural tension of the library’. Here’s the video.

The second conference was REMIX Sydney 2016, a culture, technology and entrepreneurship summit. At Remix I spoke on a panel titled ‘Incubating and scaling ideas: developing new innovation networks and spaces for the creative industries’ along with: 

  • Katrina Sedgwick, Director, ACMI
  • Peter McMahon, Director, Digital, Marketing and Communications, State Library Victoria
  • Anna Lise De Lorenzo, Founder, MakerSpace &company
  • Jon Holloway, Vice President and Managing Director, R/GA 

At both events I was able to bust some myths and speak about innovation and transformation in libraries. People sought me out after the talks and were genuinely surprised and impressed to hear about how libraries are evolving. Both events have led me to new contacts and exposed me to new ideas.

Get out there and evangelise about libraries! You never know who you might meet and what you might learn. As Steven Johnson says “chance favours the connected mind”.

My wrap on the Emerging Writers’ Festival Digital Masterclass

The Emerging Writers’ Festival Digital Masterclass was held on Friday 24th May at the City Library.

The full day workshop featured an inspiring range of speakers. The broad theme was creating digital content to support your writing and to build your profile, with a focus on blogs and social media.

The diversity of content and speakers made for an information-packed day. There was plenty to learn and take away, depending on your background and interests. The content ranged from the very practical (how to produce a video, podcast and ebook), to the more strategic (planning and goal setting).

I was impressed by the presenters’ expertise and their passion for their craft. What they all had in common was that they had a good idea, and had a go at executing it, even if they didn’t have the technical skills at first. They tried, they failed, they learned and they got better at it. They sought out advice and collaborated with others. They tapped into their community, or built a new one to support their work. They knew what they wanted to achieve, even if the path wasn’t clear. They found their niche. And the warm and fuzzy part is that they are now sharing what they learnt with others.

I love this video that Mark Welker showed us on the creative process. For me, it really summed up the overarching message I took away from the day. Don’t be scared to try new stuff. At first you won’t be so good at it, but if you keep trying and learning, you will get better at it, maybe even become great at it.

 

Here are a few of my personal highlights from each of the presenters.

Rose Powell (@rosepowell) took us through practical exercises on strategic planning, risk identification, asset mapping and goal setting for establishing a successful website/blog. The take away message from Rose’s presentation was to be strategic about what you want to achieve, make the most of your networks, have clear goals, and find your niche.

Jo Case (@jocaseau) took us through a case study of The Wheeler Centre Dailies site, with a focus on how they both generate and commission content. She included a practical exercise on pitch writing. The content model Jo presented included a wide range of different formats and sources including feature articles, curation of content from other sources, reviews, news, entertainment, events and book extracts. Her model was really useful in thinking about how to keep a website’s content dynamic, interesting, and fresh with limited resources.

Thang Ngo (@ThangNgo) is Australia’s #1 video food blogger. He talked about finding your niche, producing unique content, creating an online community, supporting others, and building your profile. Like Rose, he emphasised the importance of having clear goals.

Johannes Jakob (@jojojakob) gave us the low-down on creating podcasts, based on his experience creating the JOMAD podcast.

Mark Welker (@mwelker) from Commoner Films spoke about moving from one medium (writing) to another (video) and the parallels for story telling in both mediums. He stepped us through the video-making process and shared his tips including: capturing natural light, using a controlled camera, getting up close to your subject, and focussing on texture and detail.

Ash Davies (@PhotoGuides) from Tablo Publishing gave us a crash course on creating, marketing and distributing ebooks. He showed us a demo of his new product Bookmaker. If only every 20 year old had Ash’s creativity, initiative and drive. We would have solved the world’s problems by now.

And so, that wraps up my summary of the digital masterclass. Did you go to the workshop? What did you learn?

Getting the boss on board with social and digital

Dionne Kasian-Lew

Dionne Kasian-Lew

It can be difficult to convince risk-averse business leaders of the value of social and digital. Meanwhile their organisations miss out on the rewards offered by the digital economy and fail to connect with social savvy consumers.

I spoke to Dionne Kasian-Lew about how marketing and communications professionals can lead the social and digital agenda in their organisations and get the boss on board.

Dionne Kasian-Lew is the CEO of The Social Executive™. She is also the author of The Social Executive: the multi-trillion social economy and an advisor to boards and executives on leadership, innovation and corporate and communications strategy.

Justine Hyde: Business leaders often worry about the risks of engaging in digital and social. What are the risks of not engaging?

Dionne Kasian-Lew: The digital economy is growing while many other areas are in decline. The IDC says global ecommerce is worth 16 trillion and Boston Global Consulting predicts for G20 nations social will be worth $4.2 trillion by 2016. Companies that are online and engaging are outperforming others. Businesses need to think about the fact that eight new people come online every second and most are using social or mobile to connect.

Some executives think social media is a fad but look at two examples. LinkedIn was established in 2003 and now has 200 million users, most of whom are professionals. Facebook is about to turn nine and has a billion users. This is not a fad.

JH: How does a business leader become digitally literate?

DKL: Literacy is having enough knowledge about an issue to make good decisions about it. Boards and c-suites need to know the difference between ICT, digital and social media and how they contribute to the success of a business.

Given the opportunities and risks presented by digital and social media, boards should be asking their CEO: what’s our online marketing/engagement strategy? It’s time for social and digital bootcamp for boards and c-suites.

JH: How can communications professionals influence their CEOs to see the social and digital ‘light’?

DKL: Executives are lagging when it comes to adopting social media. The most common question I am asked is: how do I influence the boss?

My response is to ask communications professionals what social media channels they are using and what they are doing to position social media in their organisation. I ask them what their competitors in this space are doing and who they look to as benchmarks for practice in their industry. I ask how they are leading the change in their organisation. Finally, I question them about what game-changing technologies could blow their company out of the water.

It stuns me that few people can answer these questions, since with their analytical and creative strengths communicators are in the best position to lead this change.

Communicators need to know the business case for social media, be digitally literate and understand the impact of digital on productivity.

This means using the various platforms, learning how people connect and share and figuring out which of those platforms is best for you and your business. We must be sure to have our own house in order before we can attempt to influence the boss.

JH: How do organisations become strategic with digital and ‘social era’ ready?

DKL: A good start is to understand the digital and social lay of the land and to know what is happening in their industry specifically. Organisations need to know who their customers are, what they want, and how they want it.

Next, they need to develop a strategy that accounts for future capabilities required in the business. Once they understand these capabilities they can begin to build these capabilities by training existing staff and recruiting new talent.

JH: What are the digital and social trends to watch for 2013/14?

DKL: We will see increased convergence and integration of digital and social into our lives, bodies and beings. Google Glass has arrived, digital clothing sensitive to body heat already exists, as do technologies that allow us to self-diagnose medical conditions. We have digital pacemakers and 3D printed kidneys.

In social we are moving from using individual platforms to working across channels (like email) through Google+.

This article originally appeared on the SMK blog.

Ebooks and libraries: the digital disruption

Ebook publication and use has grown exponentially over the last few years. Libraries, publishers and rights holders are all struggling to adapt to the new digital landscape, and to find a workable commercial model which preserves rights and revenue, but also meets the information needs and preferences of library users.

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) held a think tank (#aliathinktank) in Melbourne today to explore some of the issues for libraries related to ebooks and elending. Similar sessions are being held around the country. From these think tanks, ALIA hopes to develop a sector response to assist libraries to navigate the challenges associated with collecting and lending ebooks. ALIA has developed an issues paper on the topic.

We heard from several speakers who presented from the perspectives of different types of libraries, including public, academic, state and special libraries. Panel sessions invited audience participation and dissected the issues raised in the presentations.

While ebooks promise many advantages such as reducing shelf space, and meeting user preferences for digital content and 24/7 access, there are also many challenges facing libraries in relation to ebooks. Libraries account for around 12% of book sales in Australia, so they don’t have great market power. There are difficulties negotiating reasonable contractual terms with publishers and ebook aggregators. Costs are high and escalating. There are a lack of consistent ereader devices and ebook formats. Technologies for searching and discovery do not integrate well. Ebooks are not being developed to offer the functionality promised by the digital content experience. There are licencing and lending restrictions. Libraries perceive a lack of engagement by publishers to understand their role. It is a bleak picture.

Publishers are also facing uncertain times in the wake of ebook popularity. The presenters raised thoughtful points on the opportunities for libraries in this environment. Library associations around the world are increasing their advocacy efforts to raise the public awareness of the role of libraries. Libraries hold library usage data that is of value to publishers. They meet a market demand for those who want free access to ebooks. Libraries create new audiences for buying books. They build spaces to encourage interaction with ereading. Libraries train and educate the public in ereader technologies. They provide a nexus between print and digital content. Libraries can influence publishers to produce content that meets the information needs and preferences of readers.

These are all positive and interesting points but they are not ground breaking. After 600 years of print as the dominant technology for reading, ebooks are part of a digital content revolution. As the think tank progressed it became clear that the response needed by libraries is to break and rebuild the library business model. The music industry, magazines, newspapers and publishing are all seeing their old business models disintegrate and be reimagined. Libraries are no different.

Ebooks are merely containers for content. The containers will be replaced by new ones. Just think of VHS, floppy discs and CDs. Libraries should focus on their role in facilitating access to content. Maybe this means self-publishing, forming direct relationships with authors, and curation of content. Perhaps it means becoming co-producers in partnership with publishers or others. Or it might be facilitating access to content through education, training and integration into the workflows of users. It is probably a combination of these depending on the library and the context in which it operates.

At a fundamental level libraries need to ask: what is their core purpose? Who are they serving? Who are they competing with? What is their role?

Whatever the future, it is disruptive. Ebooks are the thin end of the digital wedge. It will be fascinating to see how ALIA and the library sector responds to the challenge.

Presentations from the think tank will be available on the ALIA website.

Creating serendipity in the digital world

We’ve all enjoyed browsing the web or the shelves of a library, and stumbling upon an unexpected writer or subject. This type of serendipity is a happy accident, as are many of life’s most memorable experiences. How does serendipity play out as libraries move into the digital landscape, and are we losing serendipity on the web?

A recent article explores whether personalisation of the web will ultimately destroy discovery. As the content we see is personalised through the use of cookies and algorithms we begin to lose the opportunity to discover interesting but unrelated content. I balk at the idea of the web being tamed and already feel sentimental for the days of the wild digital frontier. On the flipside, I’m as time poor as the next person, and can see the benefits of being directed towards content similar to that which I’ve explored and enjoyed before. I’d much rather be directed to this content through content curation than computed algorithms.

And what of digital library collections? Can you arrange a digital library to replicate the experience of browsing the shelves? Another recent article looks at the Prelinger Library in San Francisco where the physical collection is arranged on geographic principles to simulate the experience of the library ‘as a map’. The library’s founders discuss the complementary nature of analog and digital library collections. They explain how the two formats can dovetail together to enhance the browsing and discovery experience.

These two articles raise interesting ideas about serendipity in the digital world from quite different perspectives. Let’s hope we never lose the chance to have happy accidents.

Local government use of social media: laggers or leading-edge?

Why aren’t local councils in Australia leading the way in the use of social media to engage with their communities? Does this question keep you awake at night? Read on.

Two recent reports do an excellent job of analysing social media use in the Australian local government sector.

Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, Using Social Media in Local Government: 2011 Survey Report

Dialogue Consulting: Use of Social Media by Local Governments Report

Read these reports and you’ll get a picture of the current use of social media and best practice examples, as well as the perceived (but mostly unrealised) benefits of social media. These benefits include engaging with hard to reach communities, more transparent community governance, increased citizen collaboration, improved 2-way communication and information exchange, and enhanced reputation and relationship management.

The benefits seem pretty compelling for a sector whose core business is engaging with the community. You only need to have a look at the legislation governing the sector to get some pointers. Taking the Local Government Act (Victoria) as an example, you’ll see a slew of areas in the statutory objectives, role and functions of councils that could be enhanced through social media use. These include providing accessible and equitable services, transparent decision-making, fostering community cohesion, encouraging participation in civic life, and planning for and providing services and facilities for the local community.  Take accessibility as an example. A recent report by COTA Victoria showed that social media encourages social participation and reduces the isolation of older people. With an increasingly ageing population, this group is a key focus for local government. Social media could help to reach them more effectively.

According to the above reports, these significant potential benefits are being stymied by barriers such as lack of resources, lack of knowledge, and councils being risk averse. I don’t want to seem to be putting the boot into the sector, but the barriers appear surmountable to me, and are the same tired excuses you hear for any initiative not getting off the ground in any sector – a bit lame really.

To be fair, there are other sectors equally deserving of criticism for their slow uptake of social media, for example, the tertiary sector and publishing. But what sets local government apart is that they already own very visible physical spaces and infrastructure for community building and engagement. They have libraries, community health centres, council shop fronts, pedestrian malls, and public parks. They should be reinforcing these community hubs with digital real estate. It’s an incredibly powerful nexus to have both. Most companies would salivate over this level of ‘brand exposure’.

The reports above are the beginning of steps towards developing a social media index for local government. I think it’s only a matter of time until we see quality of life surveys and city livability indices including some measure of online/ social media citizen engagement to assess a city’s desirability as a place to live. Think about that and what it means to local government…

Don’t despair, there are remedies for the social media ills affecting local councils. The reports I’ve referenced suggest a number of practical and achievable steps to getting on board the social media express. I’ll leave you to explore these for yourself.

I’d like to stir the pot by adding a few of my own suggestions that are slightly more contentious.

•    Give all staff access to all social media platforms for personal and professional use. Currently only around 50% have access. Crazy! Reminds me of the days when email and internet were first around and only the librarians were allowed to have access. Yay for being a librarian.

•    Train ALL local council staff in the use of social media. Not just the communications staff, ALL staff, even the mayor and CEO. That solves your lack of knowledge barrier.

•    Decentralise social media responsibilities across the council. It’s never going to succeed if only 1 or 2 staff have responsibility. That solves your under-resourced barrier.

•    Start evaluating your social media efforts. There’s no point doing social media if you can’t measure its impact.

•    And for my most radical suggestion – reposition the communications team as a front of house service. Strategic communications and community engagement are core business to local government and should be managed as a client service, rather than a support function. Communications should sit alongside libraries in the management structure to reap the joint skills and knowledge of these two groups of staff when it comes to social media.

Food for thought… I’d love to hear your comments.

I’m attending CoM Connect – Melbourne’s Digital Strategy unconference  on the weekend. It will be fascinating to hear what comes out of this innovative event for the world’s most liveable city #comconnect