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Posts tagged ‘libraries’

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

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

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.

Parkes Library Roundup

My friends and clients at Parkes Library are having a big week on the Internet. I’ve collected some of the various links in this blog post.

Our “Tabletop Superheroes” game devised for October’s Fun Palaces weekend is now available for free download. A remix of Cory Doctorow’s article ‘DMing for your toddler’, it was featured by Cory on BoingBoing. There’s also a blog post about the game at the State Library of New South Wales website.

Over at Library as Incubator, you can read Tracie Mauro and Shellie Buckle’s account of running Australia’s first ever Fun Palace.

Meanwhile at Zoe Toft’s Playing By The Book site, Tracie is interviewed by Zoe about the “Wonder-based library programmes” she creates for children and families. Tracie explains how you can create similar activities at home, school, or your own local library.

The Parkes Library team

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

The Parkes team are among the most daring and resourceful librarians I’ve ever worked with – no project daunts them, from live action zombies to wading through chocolate pudding swamps. Stay tuned, because there’s much more to come from these amazing Australians.

A quick question about the history of libraries

I’ve done a fair bit of work with libraries over the last few years. Most of it has involved encouraging play of all kinds. I had previously worked with schools and other organisations, but I became convinced of public libraries’ importance after visiting Christchurch in the wake of the 2010 earthquakes. Carolyn Robertson and her team showed, through their actions in that period, that libraries were never more important than in times of grave crisis. When I think about librarianship as a heroic vocation, I think of people like Carolyn, and Penny Carnaby of the National Library of New Zealand, who did their profession proud in a difficult moment.

Carolyn Robertson of Christchurch City Libraries, New Zealand

“We understand the word “library” in the widest possible sense.” – Carolyn Robertson, Christchurch City Libraries

When I was at Auckland Libraries last year, I discovered the Public Library Missions agreed by UNESCO and the international library association IFLA back in 1994:

The following key missions which relate to information, literacy, education and culture should be at the core of public library services:

  • creating and strengthening reading habits in children at an early age;
  • supporting both individual and self conducted education as well as formal education at all levels;
  • providing opportunities for personal creative development;
  • stimulating the imagination and creativity of children and young people;
  • promoting awareness of cultural heritage, appreciation of the arts,
  • scientific achievements and innovations;
  • providing access to cultural expressions of all performing arts;
  • fostering inter-cultural dialogue and favouring cultural diversity;
  • supporting the oral tradition;
  • ensuring access for citizens to all sorts of community information;
  • providing adequate information services to local enterprises, associations and interest groups;
  • facilitating the development of information and computer literacy skills;
  • supporting and participating in literacy activities and programmes for all age groups, and initiating such activities if necessary.

I think this is an incredibly strong mandate which gives librarians clear freedom to engage in all kinds of play, performance, technological and cultural activity. The missions have been around for twenty years, and yet so many library conferences and professional discussions still revolve around debating what libraries should or should not be doing in the 21st century; so many public discussions about libraries reveal that people still think of them largely as “shelfy”, book-storing institutions.

Part of my eclectic scholarly career was spent as an intellectual historian, so these are the questions that occur to me:

What happened in librarianship in the 1980s/1990s to lay the ground for such a radical, positive, and future-proofed global mission statement?

Why didn’t the missions gain more traction?

What lessons could we learn for today from the history of these missions, and the process that led to their writing?

If you have any answers to my questions, contact me via the comments on this site, or at my Twitter account @drmattfinch.

I’ve written about applying the Public Library Missions to play activities in the library here, and also overthought the nature of librarianship here.

Two of my favourite discussions of librarianship – from actual librarians! – come from Adrienne Hannan on “Strategic Librarianship” and Tracie Mauro on “Wonder-based library programmes”.

How To Be A Big Evil Head: Fun Palaces from the Supervillain’s Perspective

Louie Stowell's secretly heroic supervillain-in-training, Mandrake DeVille

Louie Stowell’s secretly heroic supervillain-in-training, Mandrake DeVille

Louie Stowell, who contributed author videos to the Parkes Library Fun Palace earlier this month, has written about the experience of being a Big Evil Head, projected across continents and timezones in the name of fun and supervillainy.

Check out Louie’s report over at the Fiction Express blog.


Arts and Edges: Australian creativity at the centre and periphery

Arts and Edges banner - from the Regional Arts Summit @raasummit on Twitter

Arts and Edges – from the Regional Arts Summit @raasummit on Twitter

I was sad not to be able to attend the Regional Arts Summit in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia this year – despite best efforts, we couldn’t square it with all the projects currently on the go at Parkes Library.

Earlier this year, I was privileged to keynote at VALA, the biennial culture, libraries, and tech conference which took place in Melbourne. I spoke about opportunity and equity in Australian libraries, trading my Hugo Boss for a miner’s uniform on stage to make a point about arts access outside Australia’s big cities.

Working in Parkes has opened my eyes to the challenges that rural, regional, and marginal communities in Australia still face in gaining access to arts and culture – both as audiences, and as creators in their own right.

In Parkes, we’ve designed events like the Central West Comics Fest to reach out beyond an arts-event circuit that focusses on state capitals, and give regional creators, fans, and audiences their due.

Some of the Twitter coverage from Kalgoorlie was relevant to this work in Australian regional libraries, especially contributions from Curtin University librarian Teresa Bennett – @kalgrl on Twitter.

You can find out more by checking out the #RAASummit hashtag on Twitter, listening to summit coverage on ABC Radio National, and visiting the Regional Arts Summit site.

You can read text based on my VALA keynote here and watch a video of the presentation by entering your email at the VALA website.

The Regional Arts Summit in 2016 will take place in Dubbo, just down the road from my friends at Parkes Library. It’s going to be a great time for Central West New South Wales. I look forward to seeing an Australia where the culture scene goes further in embracing the sharp edges and strange delights of life at the margins.

Fun Palaces 2014 launch in Parkes, Australia

We’ve had an amazing start to the Fun Palaces weekend here in rural Australia. So far, since our doors opened, over 260 people have come to try their hand at the challenges we devised together with local kids. That’s great numbers for a small rural community.

To see how we got to this point, check out the previous posts on making games with your community and adapting tabletop roleplay for your library.

You can check out pictures from today at Parkes Library’s Instagram account…and there’ll be more from Australia’s first Fun Palace tomorrow!

Parkes Fun Palaces: Tabletop Supervillains

It’s the big day! Three hours from now, Australia’s first Fun Palace opens in Parkes Shire Library, New South Wales.

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Games designed and built by local kids and teens will be on display for the community to have a go over the holiday weekend. There’s also a chance to try Parkes Library classics like Paint Like Michelangelo, a dinosaur dig, and a few more surprises besides.

Events have a supervillainous theme this year because many of our activities were inspired by British author Louie Stowell’s book The School For Superheroes, so we’ll also be rolling out a superhero-themed tabletop roleplaying game. We worked with local teens to devise, design, and test this game, which is quick to learn, easy to play, and inspired by the work of sci-fi writer, activist, and journalist Cory Doctorow.

The game will be available for the whole community to play in or out of the library after the Fun Palace closes, and we’ll aim to share both the game and our design process online as soon as possible. In the meantime watch @parkeslibrary and @drmattfinch on Twitter for the latest updates over the long weekend!

In the meantime, let me leave you with a personal favourite from our pre-launch photo gallery.

The Parkes Shire Library is sponsored by a number of organisations including Charles Sturt University…which led to this glorious caption card on one exhibit of the kids’ games.

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Secrets of the Parkes Shire Fun Palace: Testing Supervillain Games

Preparations for Australia’s first Fun Palace are well underway in Parkes Shire. Today, PRIME TV news visited Parkes Library to interview local kids and teens who were designing fiendish supervillain games. Over the Fun Palaces weekend, 4-5 October, local people will be free to come in and try their hand at the challenges the children have devised.

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The games are inspired by British author Louie Stowell‘s book The School for SupervillainsIt follows the adventures of Mandrake deVille, daughter of a villainous family, who wants to join the forces of good despite being sent to a supervillain boarding school. Parkes kids on their school holidays, helped by staff and teen helpers, have been challenged to make games and activities based around three different elements of Louie’s book. These are the Mutant Maze, a Giant Robot room, and the sinister Nightmare Chamber.

Children are free to interpret these themes however they wish. But to encourage and inspire them, Parkes library staff each created a prototype in the run-up to Fun Palaces 2014.

Building on the principles of play-based storytelling and open-ended learning, three staff members each chose a theme which they would bring to life. Craft whiz Sandie got Giant Robots, early childhood specialist Debbie got Mutant Maze, and branch boss Tracie got Nightmare Chamber.

I asked them about their activities just before events kicked off this week.

Sandie – Giant Robots

Sandie orchestrates a giant robot game

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

“I was reading Viv Schwarz‘s Welcome To Your Awesome Robotand Matt had told me about a pirate-ship game he’d played at Britain’s National Maritime Museum. I combined these inspirations and made a game where players had to run a gauntlet of cardboard robots, all the while carrying a delicate tissue flower across the room. The green “flower” represented a vital radioactive element.  You had to put it into a special box to shut down the robots! The robots themselves were played by other children – they had to try and knock the tissue paper out of your hand. One was allowed to throw scrunched-up paper balls at you. One could attack you with paper streamers. And the third could blow the tissue out of your hand! By putting cardboard buildings and rocks in your path, players had to think and move fast to get through the giant robot obstacles and shut down the threat to the city!

“I’m a perfectionist and very focused on visual design. My background is in hairdressing and I’m always being asked to tart up the library displays and make them look ‘just right!’ It was great to understand that these games were prototypes and didn’t need to be obsessed over to the tiniest details. The whole point was to inspire the children to make their own things, so a sketched-out, rough draft version of the activity was actually better!”

Debbie – Mutant Maze

Parkes Library Fun Palace Preparations

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

“Sandie’s activity is really clever and involves a lot of tactical thinking. I went down a different route – games of chance. I remembered the old funfair games of my childhood, where you put a ball in the slot and it came out in a random spot. If you were lucky you won a prize! It was great fun figuring out how to replicate this in cardboard.

“To make the game more compelling and tense, we added a further challenge. If you got an odd score, you were a supervillain, if you got an even one, you were a superhero: players had to say before they started which one they wanted to be.

Mutant Maze

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

“This kind of work has made me feel free to be a new kind of librarian. After so many years tending the shelves and the office, you realise that this kind of play is also about helping people to learn whatever they want to learn. It’s pure libraries, and lovely to know that we’re supported in exploring this kind of activity with children and young people.”

Tracie – Nightmare Chamber

Parkes Library Fun Palace Preparations

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

“My inspiration started with TV and movies: Monsters, Inc; the Doctor Who episode ‘Listen’, with the hands under the bed; and Sid’s Room of broken toys in Toy Story. We brought a bed into the library and made it look beautiful – but underneath lurked something more sinister.

“Players had to roll dice and their score let them choose from one of six boxes. Each box contained body parts from old broken toys. Working in teams, the players used their body parts to make a new hybrid creature – creepy and weird!

“I was worried my game was too simple, but Matt pointed out that this is a ‘sandbox game’ in the spirit of Minecraft or Lego. It’s open-ended and based around building whatever you want to build. Following our instincts, Sandie, Debbie, and I had developed one tactical game, one sandbox game, and a game of chance – different ways to play for different players! And the children were free to do something different even after they’d seen our prototypes.

“It’s funny, because at library conferences you get a lot of buzzwords like ‘gamification’ or talk about ‘the maker movement’. For a little country library it can seem intimidating – like you MUST have a 3D printer or you’re not “21st century” enough. We just won a national award for innovation, but what we do here – play, and letting people learn on their own terms – is really what community libraries have done all along. We’re just less focused on shelves these days!

“As a manager, the last few years have been about developing my staff’s confidence and skills to design, deliver, and support children’s play and the great learning families get from playing together. Whether it’s dads building boxcar racers for their toddlers, teenage zombies in a country showground, or taking part in the Fun Palaces movement, we’re pleased and proud to know that Parkes Shire sees its library as the place to come for programmes that are surprising, fun, and a little bit different.”

Parkes Fun Palace opens 10am-2pm on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th October at Parkes Library, Bogan Street, Parkes 2870 NSW. Stay tuned for a few more surprises before the big launch at the weekend!

Parkes Fun Palace Preparations Kick Off

Today was the first day of our school holiday events leading up to Parkes Fun Palace on the weekend of 4th and 5th October. Local kids came in to design and build games based around Louie Stowell’s book The School for Supervillains.

Photos and videos to follow – you can sneak a peek at the Parkes Library Facebook page if you like – but until then, here’s a radio interview I did with ABC Central West, speaking about Australia’s first Fun Palace and its basis in the work of British theatre director Joan Littlewood.

What’s She Building In There? – Parkes Library Fun Palace Next Week!

Next week, the national award winning team at Parkes Library host their first ever Fun Palace event. As you can see from the photos, we’re currently hard at work preparing…

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Fun Palaces take place on the weekend of 4th and 5th October 2014. You’ll find them in theatres, libraries, museums, and public spaces around the world. They give people the chance to take part in the exciting business of art and science, wherever they live. Thanks to the wonder of time zones, Parkes will be the first Fun Palace in the world to open its doors.

Theatre director Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price came up with the idea of Fun Palaces in the UK, back in the 1960s. They imagined “a laboratory of fun” that would serve as a pop-up community venue for both art and science.

The Parkes team will give the concept an Aussie spin, drawing on their tradition of immersive and interactive play. In previous years, Parkes’ librarians have organised thrilling zombie sieges and Godzilla battles. I designed these interactive games for Parkes with the idea that young players would generate unpredictable outcomes.

This year we’re putting even more power into the hands of children and young people. Over three days next week, Parkes Library staff will help local kids create their own challenges for the weekend Fun Palace.

Our events are inspired by British author Louie Stowell‘s book The School for Supervillains. Each day has a different supervillainous theme.

Local teens will join library staff in mentoring younger participants, too. We’ve always been keen on the idea of mixed-age play, pitting teens against kids in 2013′s Big Box Battle. It’s really exciting that “graduates” from our previous games are now volunteering their time as Fun Palace mentors.

On the weekend itself, Parkes kids will share their creations with the whole community. There’ll be a special roleplaying event drawing on the inspiration of games like Dungeons and Dragons. There’ll also be a chance for families to try out some of Parkes Library’s greatest hits, including a dinosaur dig and “Paint Like Michelangelo“, plus a few more surprises besides. Many of our activities can be copied at home without fuss or expense, so that the spirit of fun continues beyond the weekend!

As you can tell from the photos, we’re still putting the finishing touches to next week’s event – plus, we aren’t going to over-plan. We want to be surprised and amazed by all the unexpected things our participants devise!

Stay tuned to this blog for more details next week – with a special pre-Fun Palace blog post on Friday 3rd October.

In the meantime, you can find out more about Fun Palaces at the international homepage and visit the Parkes Fun Palace page online.


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