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Josie Long on BBC Artsnight: The importance of art for suburban communities

Writer and comedian Josie Long has made a short film for the BBC which neatly captures the reasons why arts venues and programmes are so important to suburban communities, those which are seen as “not pretty enough to be in Kent, and not exciting enough to be in London.”

The argument resonates with my work last year on Fun Palaces and the ongoing debate around arts access in Australia.

Josie Long on Artsnight

Check out Josie Long’s report from last Friday’s edition of Artsnight.

Lecture at City University London, Guest Editorial at Public Library News

The TARDIS from Doctor Who lands on a suburban housing estate

My guest editorial for Public Library News, The TARDIS on your streetcorner,” is out this week. Editor Ian Anstice offered me the chance to share my some of my experiences working with community libraries in Australia and New Zealand, and of course I worked a Doctor Who reference in there too.

Next month, I’ll be giving a guest lecture to students at City University, London. I’ll be talking about “Words and Pictures, Space and Play” alongside digital curator James Baker from the British Library and information science lecturer Ernesto Priego, who is also presiding genius at The Comics Grid.

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The Library Innovation Toolkit, Out Now

The Library Innovation Toolkit

The Library Innovation Toolkit is out today from ALA Editions!

The book “encourages readers to take big risks, ask deeper questions, strive for better service, and dream bigger ideas”, with practical examples and suggestions for 21st century library services.

I wrote “Monsters, Rockets, and Baby Racers”, the chapter on working with children and young people, together with Tracie Mauro of Australia’s Parkes Library.

Readers will get inspiration and case studies from the team which picked up a 2014 national award for innovation in youth services.

If you fancy unleashing the power of play and immersive storytelling in your museum, gallery, school, or library, the book’s worth checking out. You can buy it from ALA Editions at their website.

Library Journal: Australian Coffee Cup Stories

Coffee cups on a shelf at Parkes Shire Library

Over in the US, Library Journal has just published a piece on a project which I helped to launch in the Australian town of Parkes last year. You can read “Coffee Cup Stories” at the Library Journal website.

Working with Parkes High School and Parkes Shire Council, our team arranged for local writers’ stories to be printed on takeaway cups used by cafés and venues throughout the town. This empowered local voices and gave people who might never enter the library a chance to enjoy new writing by their own community. Locals and out-of-towners all got a hit of Parkes’ literary scene with every drink they bought. This was part of my role as the town’s Reader-in-Residence. You can see TV news coverage of the project at the Prime7 website.

Our coffee cup stories chimed with the values of the ongoing Fun Palaces project, launched last year. Fun Palaces aim to give local communities a chance to take part in the arts and sciences. Parkes hosted Australia’s first ever Fun Palace last year, to great success.

Parkes High School librarian Tracy Dawson has the full coffee cup story over at Library Journal. You can also read Queensland librarian Alison Miles writing about this and other “locative literature” projects which blend place and narrative, at her blog reading360.

Parkes Library Coffee Cups

The Romance of the Machine: Quietly Writing About Love

Three essays about love and pop culture 

I have a new piece out at the Cultural Gutter, a site which hosts essays about disreputable art in all its forms.

“The Romance of the Machine” looks at Hasbro’s Transformers toys, in particular their current comic More Than Meets The Eye. My essay explores how even big-brand media can be “rich enough to speak of loss, grief, thwarted dreams, the desire to do good in an imperfect world, and, most importantly, of love.

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye Sergeant Pepper-style cover

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Team Waitangi: Teaching against the grain in West London

Team Waitangi, a group of West London teachers, dress up as the cast of Cinderella

Ngā mihi o te Kirihimete, West London

Team Waitangi got its name five years ago, just before Christmas. I was teaching what the Brits call infants – 4 to 7 years old, specifically Year 1 or 1st Grade – in a deprived suburban corner of West London. Our staff were pretty diverse, with teachers from New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. The school served a diverse community, too: most kids were from families that didn’t speak English at home, new migrants who had come to us from Somalia, Iraq, Sri Lanka. Celebrations like Ramadan and Diwali were more important to our kids than, say, Easter. Even more than usual, this meant I did as much listening as talking, as much learning as teaching.

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How To Draw An Alien Invasion

Louie Stowell and Freya Harrison's HOW TO DRAW AN ALIEN INVASION

How to Draw An Alien Invasion, by Louie Stowell and Freya Harrison, is in the Guardian children’s books section this month.

Louie and Freya also created the words and pictures for Usborne’s Write and Draw Your Own Comics, on which I was a consultant. Find out how to get your hands on Write and Draw Your Own Comics here.

Guest Post: Santhoshi Chander, “A Love Letter to Parkes”

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I was trying to find the words to look back on an eventful season with Parkes Shire Libraries, culminating in this year’s Australian national award for innovation in library youth services. I could have talked about how the country stereotypes have yielded to reveal a town of tough and funny and mad and passionate people. I could have recounted how all the amazing things we’ve done were really about a community that was ready for change, and a bunch of smart librarians who recognised that fact, and who drafted in an outsider to provoke and support and sustain that change.

Instead, I wanted the last word to come from someone else. One of our local writers, but one who – like me – came to Parkes a stranger and a foreigner. 

Santhoshi Chander of the town writers’ group Author-rised kindly allowed me to share her thoughts about the experience of finding a new home out in the Aussie regions. “Ex-city-slicker” San divides her time between Sydney and Parkes.

A Country Fling, or
A Love Letter to Parkes

It seemed from the beginning the stakes were against us. I’m not claiming our story has Romeo and Juliet status. But in our own way, we started as star crossed lovers.

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Reader-in-Residence article in SCAN Magazine

Parkes High School’s teacher librarian Tracy Dawson has an article in the latest SCAN magazine about the Reader-in-Residence role which I held in Parkes across late 2013 and early 2014.

The role was designed to link the school and wider community in a celebration of storytelling, literacy, and culture in all its forms. Events included teen publishing workshops, our biggest ever zombie roleplay, urban myth writing, and the inaugural Central West Comics Fest, which will be returning in 2015. I also mentored high school students, led sessions for the Parkes writers’ group, and worked with the school’s special needs unit.

Tracy gives a teacher’s perspective on how trying new things, pushing boundaries, and reaching out to a wider community also yielded great benefits to students at the high school. You can also read her guest posts on this site about Auckland’s XXUnmasked project and the work of a teacher librarian.

SCAN magazine is a refereed journal published by the New South Wales Department of Education, focussed “on the interaction between information in a digital age and effective student learning.” You have to subscribe for recent issues, but the archive is publicly available – I’ll let readers know when the current issue moves into the free archive.

“You ate my battleship???” – Pub librarianship and tabletop games

Last night, the team at Parkes Library headed to the Railway Hotel for an evening of drinks, dining, and tabletop games.

After chatting with ABC Central West about the project, we invited residents from across the region to drop in and try their hand at some of the games we’ve been developing this year. People could take on the challenge of the Tabletop Superheroes adventure we devised for Fun Palaces 2014:

Library users Jake and Kellie brought in their own home-made game for people to try – it was beautifully made and fiendishly difficult.

There was also a new game, Battle Pizzas, which set pub patrons against one another in a game of wits. The prize? Dinner itself.

You can read more about Battle Pizzas, and download instructions, at the Parkes Dog-Eared website.

You can also download the Tabletop Superheroes adventure, which can be remixed under a Creative Commons licence.

We played the games in the pub but they’re designed for all ages; we think they’d work just as well in schools, libraries, or the comfort of your own home. Give them a go. Have fun!

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