It starts with me.

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Our lives are complex, made up of connections and choices. With the ever-increasing movement of people around the world, both documented and undocumented, what trails are we leaving our future generations to follow?

The future starts with me: genetic me, documented me, social me, connected me.

Genetics isn’t the defining feature of our lives, but the growth of genetic data has greatly impacted the field of genealogy. In today’s world, we can access our genetic markers more readily than ever before, with the rise of companies such as FamilyTreeDNA and 23andme. Despite the fraught history of genetics research, as the ethical and cultural implications demonstrated in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the more of us that contribute to collective projects, such as the National Geographic Genographic Project, the larger the pool of collective data that contributes to projects looking to understand human migration patterns and genetic connections across the globe. Are we in fact all related anyway? AJ Jacobs is convinced that we are all cousins, just many times removed. He’s planning to throw the world’s largest Family Reunion, and we are all invited.

With the shift from paper to electronic records, increased levels of global migration and social mobility, as well as non-existent data lost through unanticipated events of war and destruction, it is likely that ancestral and societal connections that family historians previously gleaned from Census data, local newspapers and religious records will no longer be a way to trace our family connections. The number of refugees without identity papers, sometimes also without any documented evidence of their actual existence, continues to grow exponentially, so what does it mean for their descendants to trace their history? The photographic evidence collected by Save the Children during the Rwandan genocide powerfully shows the importance that photographs can have, especially in the absence of official documentation.

I doubt that it will be easy for any of my future descendants to track down all the addresses where I have lived, all the movies I have watched, and all the people I have loved. I don’t know that there is lot of evidence in an official capacity, but it may not really matter. Instead, the fascination of the future could be making sense of seemingly random connections between people, such as Twin Strangers, One City, One Book and Life in a Day, or unravelling how powerful connections between people were created in reaction against the rapid growth of everything to a global scale, creating connected, small, slow and intentional communities.

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Touching the jellyfish.

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Jellyfish are unusual and beautiful, but also potentially dangerous, creatures. And yet, jellyfish can be touched gently without causing harm to the jellyfish or the human being. Indeed, they are friendly and social creatures, just as humans are. It is all in the way that they are approached.

As the use of library spaces transforms from collection-heavy print warehouses, to technology-rich collaborative creation spaces, we invite our communities to unleash their beautiful and dangerous ideas. We are fascinated by what we see appearing before us, new ideas emerging from the depths of public creative artistic endeavours, and yet, we are often scared of what this represents.

Are we ready?

In transforming our libraries to participate in the makerspace movement, to create a public space where our communities are welcome to create, engage, develop, encourage, make, are we wilfully ignoring the ongoing reality that for many in our community, these makerspaces are not accessible, not welcoming, not inviting, not safe? Instead, without broader discussions about art, privacy, community, democracy, the library space continues to be an intimidating and unknown place to enter, just as it was for previous communities.

It is not enough to provide a neutral space where people can create their own makerspace reality. The boldest, bravest and noisiest community members may claim the space, and this potentially alienates and disengages the quiet, vulnerable and smaller voices in our communities. In contrast, the makerspace may become so neutral that no one feels they can engage with the space, even on a temporary rather than permanent basis. Providing the space alone is not enough. We must engage with our communities to develop, participate and own the space. We must do so by providing spaces that are flexible, participatory, open and safe.

We also should not open up these makerspaces, without also providing ways and places to explore, develop, question, understand the meaning and implications of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, copyright, privacy, intellectual freedom, creative commons and intellectual property. Library staff need to have the skills, knowledge and tools to respond to and engage with these concepts alongside their communities.

Are we truly ready?

While we strive to ensure that everyone is welcome in a community space, and that all ideas are permissible and welcome, how do we work with those activities and groups that make us uncomfortable? Making is an artistic endeavour, and yet, making is not the same for everyone.

For some, the act of creation is a solo, personal and private activity. These community members may want to access the makerspace on an individual level, instead of in a group way.

For some, the act of creation is a collaborative, collective and public activity. These community members may want to access the makerspace on a group level, instead of in an individual way.

Be clear about which creative endeavours your space is open to.

Can you find a way to walk the artistic tightrope of both public and private, individual and collective activities? If not, then drop the neutrality act, be clear and transparent about what is encouraged and permissible in the makerspace. We cannot be perfect at the outset, we must continually review and reflect on the makerspace with our communities. Use of the makerspace and community engagement should continue to evolve, and our organisational policies, programmes and staffing also need to adapt and be updated.

If you acknowledge that your makerspace is primarily focused on public artistic activities, find other ways for your community to privately and individually create, make and do. You could instead establish a collection of tools and resources for them to borrow, from musical instruments to paint brushes, from sewing machines to garden tools.

Are we really, truly ready?

Our role is to work alongside our communities to develop and transform our communities’ lives, yet for many of us, we haven’t openly defined our measures of success and measures of failure for makerspaces. Find ways to define measures that are meaningful for both organisational and communities’ needs.

Are we ready to engage and accept the reality of radical and challenging artistic ideas made accessible and visible in a public setting? By not encouraging discourse about art, privacy, piracy, copyright and democracy, are we actually hiding from these difficult questions for our communities?

Are we ready for the challenge of community activism, the radical sharing of art and ideas?

Maintaining a façade of a neutral space, we do our individual selves, our profession and our communities a disservice. Let’s not provide blank, faceless, bland space. Let’s cultivate an environment of honesty, engagement, creation and questioning.

Let’s learn to touch the jellyfish with our communities.

Let’s welcome in beauty amidst danger.

Yes. We are ready.

The perfect sky in your consensus reality is ripped

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By Zapata

In which Zapata! the people’s book bandito, rides again! But only until some little girl starts bawling and wants her My Little Pony back.

Warning. Choking Hazard. May include minor outtakes and other small parts from human frailties causing anxiety and irregular breathing patterns. Adults: seek children’s permission first before recognising yourself in these doomed vignettes and swapping hope for some kind of fear and self-loathing in Los Bibliotheca. If symptoms persist, consult your local guardian spirit.

Intro

Once upon a time.

There was you.

And then there wasn’t.

You.

The end.

 

Chapter 1. Tequila Sunrise or Sunset
(I can’t tell the difference much anymore)

Sweet Country Jesus Almighty! Who the $#@k let Leonard Cohen script the prologue?!?!?!

Oh, such a sad opening. So let’s put some cheer into our chit-chat. You get the tequila, I’ll get the glasses and then we can talk about that middle bit, that thing about “there was you”. Yes, let’s do that, because these ruminations can become a lonely path which is better walked by two. Don’t you agree amigo?

My, my, the things these World Wide Weary eyes have seen, the knowledge of lies I’ve accumulated by the ‘truths’ I’ve been told, all lead me to ask you to consider not waiting any longer to be bloody cordially invited to intentionally re-design your life.

So, yeah, I said, ‘Intentionally re-design’.

Cause all you’re doing at the moment is playing Survivor: Corporatocracy Island’ and it’s a pyramid scheme (quite literally if you take a peek at your library’s organisational chart, go on, I’ll wait) which is purposely designed (there’s that ‘D’ word again) to give illusions to the limited aspirations that your life has been pre-set to.

Better times ahead? You bet.

But first, you’re going to have to love yourself a whole lot more than you do now (because why bother saving a wretched soul, right?) And all God’s people said, ‘Amen’.

 

Chapter 2. ‘Octo’ Reduxo

When the Pony Express delivered the mystery envelope containing your old amigo Zapata’s instructions for his next Weve instalment, the Mingling Heroes wrote that they wanted something that related to the kinetic art, ‘Octo’ by Anthony Howe.

So this is the way I seez it.

The structure exudes design…fit for purpose (most definitely)…some might say outwardly attractive and even temporarily mesmerising… but ultimately… repetitive…whose joyfulness fades as it forever remains at the mercy of a force beyond its control.

WHAT WAS THAT?!?! Did I just hear someone scream from the darkest corner of this cantina ‘Ouch Zapata, you’re killing me! That’s my library career you’re describing!’

Sad but true amigo, although such despondency is simply your own life’s resignation writ large and it need not be so comrade.

Your design began with an explosive burst billions of years ago (“We are all star dust” Carl Sagan reminded us, ’Imaginauts’ travelling on a spaceship of imagination rushing around at 67,000 miles per hour) and your own grand designs need not be surrendered so meekly to a library cabal run under the auspices of a fading gentry infected with passive recidivism.

You.

Amazing, wonderful, ‘You’.

The only ‘You’ that this Universe will ever get to see.

Oh, the wonders ‘You’ could perform as a librarian.

And what about your purposeful design of those wonders?

What forces are you going to let close down all the possibilities of those design choices?

A ‘Job Description’?

An organisational disaster zone which still enforces the diktats of a failed business model introduced by short white men in suits over  a hundred years ago and is still in vogue, orchestrated by a largely meandering matriarchy?

Or maybe forgoing your star quality for anonymity instead, in the hope that you will be accepted into the ranks of mediocrity as a jolly good ‘team player’?*

*Hey baby, I know who’s wearing ‘False Positivism’ in the office today, the sensational new fragrance from FCUK EVRYBODY.

 

Chapter 3. Project You.
(In Which You Decide to Pick a Fight)

We have financial systems which enforce global serfdom and misery facilitating a pathway for the greedy to become ever more obscenely wealthy and fill their overflowing vaults with more. We have food industries which don’t actually make people healthier but rather, instigate disease and death, where industrialised killing starts in the slaughter houses but carries right on into our homes. We have entertainment industries which commoditise women so that mothers, daughters and sisters are all for sale, anytime, anywhere.

Oh, and let’s not forget too that we have a building sector which manufactures properties which insidiously kills their residents. Support services which don’t (support). Justice systems which can’t (provide protective justice for the victims of crime from further harm). And ‘democratic’ governments that will (maim and kill their own citizens when ‘Push comes to Shove comes to Profit’).

Then we have our very own public libraries.

Yip, they too are part of this giant web of ineptitude. Because everything is connected people.

In the Western World, these public institutions boast a mission which is to assist citizenry to achieve specific literacy goals (and in its multiple guises). To serve (and protect?) people, assuming the vanguard against what has been registered by many organisations worldwide as a massive, silent, epidemic, trapping people in cycles of poverty and ill health. It is a plague upon our land and you should know it by thy name: Illiteracy*

And yet, in this single, titanic struggle, public libraries are too, systematically floundering.

Less a Praetorian Guard and more a confederacy of dunces.

Behaviour which has been less ‘Almighty Thunder’, and more ‘Oops, Bloody Hell, Blunder’. Via a historical mosaic of fragmented design strategies, public libraries find themselves encumbered with archaic business models, redundant professional development schema, emaciated revenue supplies and a flagellant penchant for intellectual self-indulgences; all of which have combined to thwart the delivery of our ultimate, glorious achievement: the eradication of this hideous deformity upon human beings.

Put your hand up if you think that our current design and executions of purpose are beneficial, desirable or even preferable? What are you in the public library business for? Who the f**k allows this to happen?!

Listen up amigo, and listen up real good, the Bibliotheca Public is the library of the people, for the people, and – with you starring as the people’s representative – by the people. You dig what the cat Zapata is laying down for you here? Because it’s you, the librarian, while there’s some goddam breath in your body, who is going to save us from this apocalypse. Save is from, Literacy-Which-Is-Ill. How about we demonstrate some controlled panic, and seek to end this pestilence, thereby allowing decent people to live with integrity and dignity?

Yeah, you’re going to pick a fight and bloody win something back for humanity! And should you die in a blaze of glory with a burrito in one hand and an Alien ALH-9011 Handheld RFID Reader in the other then, well, that seems a fitting way for a bibliotecario rebel to go out.

So how’d you like them manzana?! (Hey you, in the darkest corner of the cantina, you still back there getting all this?)

Si, senor Zapata.’

 

Chapter 4. Making Meaning is the New Porn

The weapons for you to fight with have already been provided.

Oh, oh, oh, don’t tell me… elite wordsmithing taskforces have been convening and issuing monumental proclamations in your organisation about ‘Innovation’, ‘Creativity’, and ‘Making the Future Happen’ (sic) ad nauseam with perhaps the occasional ‘Revolutionary Thinking’ inserted, for years now. A continuous business cycle of vacuous declarations sprinkled by a self-effacing neo-feudal overlordship which actually believes its next annual release of 20 Solid Gold Bullshit Hits.

But what really matters, what really counts, was given to you, to all of us, a long, long time ago.

It was little more than the ability to be curious, and ask, ‘What if?

What if things were different – different BETTER – for people than from the way they are now?

What if I designed my life around giving it meaning through the pursuit of helping others find meaning in theirs.

That is true renegade thinking.

Not little-bit-cutesy-aww-Pikachu-feels-sad-levels of cube-farm rebellions, getting kicks from planning another maker space programme; not robotically crafted, impersonal press releases trumpeting our value to our communities by extending the borrowing period over the Christmas holiday period; and not by demonstrating a unique brand of ‘Customer Service’ through the fostering of improved revenue gathering schemes which make no contribution whatsoever to keeping the library operations above subsistence levels, yet cause harm to real people.

No, we’re talking Borg-menacing-planet-destroying-levels of meaning. And they won’t like it.

But being liked by civil servant power junkies is not what your life was ever meant to be about.

Okay, so, before all the doors slam shut on your professional energies, in some kind of obscene Get Smart opening sequence, design meaning into your version of your personal librariany talent; meaning above and beyond small-minded and perfunctory task fulfilment. Designing meaning for yourself and others lends itself towards the attainment of a level of self-determination and mastery which can alter that which only recently felt preordained.

Being recognised as some Voodoo High Priestess of a specific shelving area in your library should not sum up your life’s design.

You know, a very wise doctor – a Senor Seuss he went by the name of – once articulated, ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.’

[Amigo in dark corner of the little cantina] ‘Hey Senor Zapata, It seems like you’re never going to bloody shut up so I’m going to leave now and I’m going outside. And Senor Zapata…I am going to walk against the wind. See you later amigo.’

[Zapata] ‘Si, see you later my brave little amigo. And may your pencils always outlast their erasers.

 

Outro

In the end, what does it all mean? Ha! We would need more a lot more tequila before we stumbled upon the likely answers to that question, friend. Hhmm, possibly, the song was right all along; the answer my fine amigo is blowing in the wind. Whoosh. Yes, just like that. Did you catch it? But what you can do, what we all must do, is live our library lives more urgently and DESIGN the hell out of them.

 

Postscript

Your Life.

A Consensus Reality.

Made in China.

Commoditised at 1 Hacker Way, Merlo Park.

Bankrupted at 700, 19th St NW Washington.

Pardoned at the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.

 

*John Steinbeck wrote, “Learning to read is probably the most difficult and revolutionary thing that happens to the human brain and if you don’t believe that, watch an illiterate adult try to do it.”

Not either/or. Both

Read this article and more in Weve

A tale of two friends, both self-described avid readers, who’ve read many of the same books, but typically fail to recommend a next-read that the other one would like.

Helen can recite intricate details of the plot, and can predict a plot twist a mile off. Meg rarely figures out a whodunit before the reveal, and usually only recalls how a book made her feel after she’s finished reading it.  If Helen starts a book, she finishes it, no matter what. If Meg starts a book, she might skip to the end, she might put it down & pick it up weeks later, or she might give up partway through. Helen is usually reading a maximum of two books at the same time, and will read typically work her way through all the books by the same author. Meg always has multiple books on the go, but doesn’t immediately seek out other stories by the same author.

Helen and Meg having both just finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Based on their experience with the book, this is what they borrowed next from the library:

Helen

  1. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
  2. The Scar, China Miéville
  3. Recent copy of Smithsonian magazine

Meg

  1. The Almighty Johnsons, Season 2
  2. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  3. Zeroes, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deb Biancotti
  4. Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor
  5. 61 Hours, Lee Child
  6. Last rituals, Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Neither of them made their choices through interaction with Reader’s Advisory services of their local library. Prior to their next library visit, they had both already made their next-read choices based on reviews and recommendations from other sources, including Facebook and Twitter, visits to a local bookstore, reviews in favourite magazines, links from Good Reads, online book club. Helen arrived with a list of 10 books, and found 3 available on the shelf. Meg pre-ordered 3 books, picked the DVD from the recent returns shelf, picked 1 title from a new books display and chose 1 title from a themed book display.

How would you have begun the delicate dance of Reader’s Advisory for these two readers based on the same book? Would you have uncovered these materials for these two readers? Can you unlock the reasons behind the choices for each reader?

With more and more library users relying on their recommendations from elsewhere, how can libraries differentiate themselves for their community? As well as personalised recommendations from experienced librarians[1], reorganising the library space to align with bookstore retail models[2], develop themed book displays intentionally focused on extending people’s known experiences[3], there may be other ways to explore your community’s experience to develop Reader’s Advisory for other library users. In the same way that online retailers provide linkages between titles, “other customers bought”, libraries could also leverage their communities’ borrowing data to enrich discovery of new reading opportunities. The ways in which we organise, arrange, display and curate our library collections to connect with our community could be revolutionary. The intense power of tapping into our community’s reading experience could also unlock different and exciting connections for other library users. Libraries could choose to:

  • Organise collections emotionally.
  • Alternate Book Clubs (everyone reads and discusses the same book) with Book Smack events (everyone reads and reviews a different book).
  • Develop Reading Maps.
  • Make a recently returned ebook shelf.
  • Join in Read, Watch, Play.
  • Auto-generate next-read recommendations on check out slips.
  • Create themed Book Club

Leveraging community experience and community data balances the emotional and evidential connections with reading for our library users, because Reader’s Advisory is not an art nor is it a science. Reader’s Advisory is both.

Extend your Reader’s Advisory knowledge:

  • Crash Course in Readers’ Advisory, Cynthia Orr
  • Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (7th), Cynthia Orr and Diana Tixier Herald
  • The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, Joyce Saricks
  • BookLust podcast with Nancy Pearl
  • Book Riot website
  • EarlyWord website

 

[1] Christchurch City Libraries’ Staff Pickles, Auckland City Libraries’ My Librarian, Hamilton City Libraries’ Your next great read

[2] Public Library of Almere

[3] We Need Diverse Books website