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.

   
   

Profile on Ash Davies: founder of publishing start-up, Tablo

Ash Davies is the 20 year old founder and CEO of publishing start-up, Tablo. Through his start-up, Ash is aiming to make writing and publishing a book easy and social. I first met Ash earlier this year when he presented at a session of the 2013 Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne. I later interviewed and wrote a profile piece on Ash. My article was published today in The Age. If you are interested in writing, ebooks and the publishing industry, or the technology start-up scene, have a read.

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?

The terrain and emotion of the written word

book

I recently read three pieces that coalesce around shared themes of the physicality and emotion of reading and writing. The first was Mal Booth’s (@malbooth) posts on his blog FromMelbin. These posts are digital photos of his handwritten journal entries. Mal reflects on his appreciation of handwriting as an expressive art, the emotion of committing writing to paper, and what handwriting can convey to the reader. I was scrolling through Twitter posts at the tram stop when I happened upon Mal’s blog entry. The tram arrived. I would otherwise have put my phone in my pocket and forgotten about the blog posts. It was Mal’s decision to post them as handwritten entries that caused me to return to them once I was settled in my seat on the tram. It was like receiving a handwritten letter. It felt personal. I wanted to linger. It reminded me of the pen pals I corresponded with as a young teenager. I was always so excited to open letters from the other side of the world. Each author with their own distinctive handwriting, writing style and tales to tell.

The second piece I read was a Meanjin blog post by Bethanie Blanchard (@beth_blanchard). In this post, she describes a favourite tumblr of hers, Together, as always. It is ‘a collection of images of the dedications and inscriptions on inside covers’ of books given as gifts. She describes the reading of these inscriptions as a voyeuristic pleasure. She writes also about the inscriptions on her own books. They are markers of her life’s journey. The inscriptions prompt memories of the givers. They personalise the books. Like in Mal’s blog entries, the handwriting conveys emotion. I reminisced on the books given to me by friends and lovers, holding their inscriptions, containing their secret messages.

The third piece was an article in Scientific American which examines how technology changes the way we read and how reading on the screen affects our comprehension of the text. The article evokes the tactile experience of reading on paper. Reading on paper engages the senses and creates a topography. According to the article, we recognise words on paper like a mental map of terrain, much like we do with physical landscapes, our cities, our houses, a walking trail, a mountain incline.  We experience the thickness and smell of paper, the sound of turning pages, the weight of the book, the placement of text on the relative space of a page. This textual landscape orients us and helps us navigate.

This piece draws an interesting distinction between reading on paper and on screen. The experience of reading on paper is more emotional. The suggestion is that this aids our comprehension of the text. The reading experience helps integrate our understanding.

Re-reading the three pieces together builds an appreciation of the different ways we engage with the written word, whether in handwriting, or otherwise in print. We lose some of this by reading on the screen.

It made me reflect on why I have resisted reading ebooks. I am not technology-averse, quite the opposite. As the Scientific American article points out, ebooks and other screen formats are a poor simulation of the aesthetic of paper books, so why bother trying to replicate the experience? The challenge for publishers and content creators is to seize the opportunities for the new reading possibilities and experiences offered by these technologies.

Given the poor simulation of paper, it seems inevitable that there will be a shift away from text-based content for reading on the screen in favour of visual formats such as video. This infographic predicts the volume of video in 2015.

I am excited by the possibilities promised by digital content and new ways of reading on the screen. Meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed my trip into nostalgia for handwritten letters and journals, book inscriptions and dog-eared paper books marked with my reading journeys.

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.

Libraries of the future?

future-469x375What will the library of the future look like? Will it be physical or virtual? Will it be a service or a space? What will the role of the librarian be? Who will use the library and what will they use it for? Who will pay for it? Will it even exist?

All of these questions are being passionately debated with a range of different conclusions. These are questions I’ve been pondering too as I help shape the future of a significant Victorian library, and as I write an upcoming article for a library journal about the future of libraries.

In my online meanderings, I have discovered many perspectives and insights that have helped shape my thinking on this topic. I thought I’d share a selection of the best ones here so you can discover them for yourself. Some of them are specific to libraries, others are more broadly on the future of work and society. Even if you don’t work in libraries, many of the ideas are interesting, as they reflect cultural, societal and technological shifts that affect us all.

If you would like to share any other links on this topic please include them in the comments section below.

On libraries

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) (2012) Digital White Paper The New Librarian

Arts Council England, Envisioning the library of the future

Association of Research Libraries (2010) Envisioning research library futures: a scenario thinking project

JISC Libraries of the Future (video).

Libraries of the future (2010)

Local Government Information Unit (2012) What the library of the future could and should look like

Manuell, Naomi (2012) ‘Libraries of Babel’ in Meanjin.

Ministerial Advisory Council on Public Libraries (2012) Review of Victorian Public Libraries Stage 1 Report.

New York Times (2012) Do We Still Need Libraries? Room for debate series.

Palfrey, John (2012) Do We Still Need Libraries?

Radio National, ‘The future of libraries’ The Book Show (podcast), 30 June 2010

Radio National, ‘Future of libraries’ Australia Talks (podcast), 19 October 2011

State Library of New South Wales (2009) The bookends scenarios: alternative futures for the Public Library Network in NSW in 2030.

On the future of work and society more broadly

Intel (2012) The Future of Knowledge Work: An outlook on the changing nature of the work environment

Solis, Brian (2011) The End of Business as Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution

Dawson, Ross (2012) Map of the 14 major trends driving this decade

How can publishers survive? By connecting with communities

I’m interested in the idea of creating communities, whether it is virtual or physical and a recent article by Stephen S. Power got my attention. In the article Power suggests 3 ways that book publishers can avoid extinction: publish the e-book first, create communities, and engage more with libraries.

The publishing success of Fifty Shades, which originally appeared as an e-book, supports Power’s first suggestion. Now, I know not every e-book goes on to become a blockbuster, but I’m sure we’ll see other examples in the future of mainstream publishers picking up self published e-books, editing them and turning them into viable hardcopy best sellers. In fact, a recent Guardian article details the acquisition of Author Solutions, a grassroots e-book publisher, by Pearson, the owners of Penguin Books. So publishers may as well compete head-to-head with self-publishers and publish their own titles as e-books before waiting for the long production cycle of hardcopy to hit the shelves.

Then there’s the phenomenon of blogs leaping off the screen to become real-life books, Julie & Julia probably being the best know example, which also managed to cut a film deal. These days, there are even step-by-step guides on how to blog a book and become a self-published author with a (somewhat hopeful) view to being discovered by mainstream publishers.

An online self-publishing community I’ve been watching is Wattpad. I can’t speak to the success of content from this site being picked up by mainstream publishers, but I can say it’s potential exponentially increased recently. Why? Because Booker Prize winning author Margaret Atwood has jumped on board, taking the Twittersphere along with her. A prolific tweeter, Atwood posts regular references to the site. Given she has over 330,000 followers, that’s a pretty good plug for Wattpad. She even has her own poetry competition running on the site, creating more social media buzz.

This leads to Power’s second suggestion for publishers to avoid extinction – create communities. He points out that authors are household names while publishers aren’t but says this need not be the case in the future. To his point, publishers could learn a lot from – guess who – Margaret Atwood. The author has just run a successful crowd-funding campaign to launch Fanado, a mobile app which allows artists and fans to interact and for the author to sign paper books, e-books, etc over the internet. While it’s hard to imagine a publisher having the same pulling power as a star author, they do have 2 very tangible assets – books and market/sales data. If they can’t find a way to build community by translating their sales data into customer insights in the social media space and leverage off their products, which have a high emotional connection to the consumer, then they’re not trying hard enough.

Speaking of community, this brings us to Power’s third suggestion – engaging more with public libraries. It wasn’t that long ago that pundits were heralding the death of libraries, but they are now successfully recreating themselves as community and cultural hubs, with events, exhibitions, bookshops (handy for publishers!) and cafes. Importantly, many are now also doing a great job of engaging with their communities via social media and are working towards being digital hubs. Did I mention e-books before?

Power’s tips for publishers include more library outreach, sponsorship, collection development advice, and marketing collateral. These tips are reasonable and most likely already happen to varying degrees, but they focus on the products – books. A more innovative approach for publishers would be to try to tap into the community which libraries foster – physical and digital. Books need not be central to this approach, but an author’s pulling power could be.

How about virtual book-signings, creative writing classes and readings featuring well-loved authors hosted in the library, sponsored by the publisher, and using technology like Fanado, with the opportunity for interaction and participation from the community? Or publishers as guest-bloggers/ tweeters on the library’s social media spaces, giving self-publishing advice to aspiring writers? That’s got to earn the publishers some street cred with punters.

I’m sure there are many more creative and innovative possibilities for how publishers can connect with communities, but there’s a starting point and some food for thought…