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.

   
   

Advertisements

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.