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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!

Write and Draw Your Own Comics

Usborne Write and Draw Your Own Comics by Louie Stowell

Earlier this year, I was a consultant on Write and Draw Your Own Comics, a book created by the talented Louie Stowell, plus a range of brilliant artists, for the children’s publisher Usborne. I’m very pleased to announce that Write and Draw Your Own Comics is now available for purchase. In the UK, you can pick up a copy from Amazon or other outlets; in Australia and New Zealand try Booktopia, Dymocks, and Paperplus.

Tracy Dawson of Parkes High School Library has already linked Write and Draw Your Own Comics to the Aussie curriculum, too – click the link in the tweet below to find out more.

Neill Cameron’s How To Make Awesome Comics goes together with Louie’s book, to quote Grease, “like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong”. You can get it from Neill’s own site and the Book Depository might be your best bet for international orders. You can also get a taste of Neill’s approach to visual literacy via the worksheets which he kindly shared on this very site.

How To Make Awesome Comics by Neill Cameron

Give both Louie and Neill’s books to a child for Christmas, and you will be remembered forever, as shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom.

More exciting comics news – advanced level comic bookery!

Unflattening by Nick Sousanis

Further exciting comics news! Nick SousanisUnflattening, “an experiment in visual thinking”, weaves together allusions, allegories, and visual references in an extended comic-book essay on how we perceive and engage with the world. Unflattening is out in March next year, so bookmark the Unflattening product page at Harvard University Press and be ready to place an order. There’s really nothing quite like it. In the meantime, you can also go check out Nick’s website, Spin, Weave, and Cut.

Chang chang changitty chang shoobop. That’s the way it should be….

Debbie Gould at Parkes Fun Palace: Making Games with the Currajong Disability Group

Debbie Gould is one of the librarians I work with in Parkes, New South Wales. She creates and delivers library programmes for the Currajong Disability Group. Currajong clients are people who require some degree of care. They are diverse in ability, with some who are nonverbal, some needing 24/7 care, and others who have learning disabilities. Debbie created a game for Parkes’ Fun Palace last month and was then able to share it with her clients in the group on one of their weekly visits.

Here’s Debbie talking about her work with the Currajong group, and how she brings Parkes’ philosophy of fun and open-ended learning to library users with disabilities.

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

At Parkes Library, we believe that libraries are about so much more than books and shelves. Our job is helping our whole community to learn, explore, and have fun on their own terms.

I started working with the Currajong Disability group at the start of 2012. I’ve been doing it for almost three years now, but the clients change and so I’m always adapting my programme to suit them.

In the early days, it was trial and error. I wasn’t concerned about not being able to relate to the clients, but I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to provide a programme that worked for everyone, all the time. I wanted all the clients to enjoy their library time. As the weeks passed, I could see that the group did enjoy themselves. Their needs were met even though I was experimenting as I went along, finding out what was going to work best. That was part of the experience!

Building a relationship with the clients took time. It was important to watch and listen as well as present to the group. Clients have different ability levels, and my sessions had to take that into consideration.

In the group, we explore books and stories as well as practical and playful activities. I have found that the world of my clients is very factual. The world of fiction relies on imagination and a sense of “let’s pretend” which can be difficult for my clients. Concepts such as animal characters in books taking on human characteristics aren’t always understood. Quite often clients don’t get the punch line at the end of a story because it isn’t a “real” experience.

Clients work better with non-fiction and real life activities, where as many of the senses can be engaged as possible. Simple science experiments and activities are often popular. Each session I try to incorporate sight, hearing, touch, smell. Taste is explored sometimes but I have to be mindful that not all clients are able to take food by mouth and some have special dietary needs.

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When I designed a game for Parkes’ Fun Palace weekend, I chose to make a maze based on old sideshow games. Players had to drop a ping-pong ball into a slot and try to land on a high score. Age and ability was not a hindrance to playing the game I created. I saw the joy people had playing it at the Fun Palace, and knew that my clients would have a good time with it.

Watching the Currajong group play my game was interesting. They all interacted with it in different ways, but they were all excited to see the end result. They loved the mystery of just where the ball would land. Each of them played their own version of the game – even if it wasn’t quite what I’d intended, they still achieved the goal of landing a score with the ping pong ball.

Relationships are key to making this group work. Without a solid relationship between clients, carers, and the library, our sessions would not be successful. There is no way a programme could run and meet the goals set if the presenter was not mindful of the clients and their needs.

All relationships take time to develop; they need genuine interest, concern, and respect. A little bit of yourself has to be given in each session you present. If it isn’t, then you aren’t presenting effectively. Working with disabled adults is a privilege and it has been exciting to see each client share a bit of their personality in the sessions. The joy and reward from the sessions is priceless and being able to expand the world the clients live in is amazing.

This is a condensed version of a blog post which originally appeared at Parkes’ site, Dog Eared.

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