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Posts tagged ‘libraries’

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 helped 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

“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

“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 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

“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.

Award-winners Parkes Shire Library share the secrets of their library programming

Last night, Parkes Shire Library won the Australian library association ALIA’s Bess Thomas award for innovative work with children and young people.

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It’s great for Parkes’ librarians, serving a community of just 15000 out in Central West New South Wales, to have their daring work celebrated by peers at a national level.

If you want to steal some of the Parkes magic, you can find “how-to” articles and resources for some of their most exciting programmes online:

Keep your eyes peeled for more surprises as Parkes kicks off the 2014 season of activities this month…

First light in Parkes

Parkes Library Coffee Cups

I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come. [...] And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space that I can only call nonsecular . . . Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.

- Toni Morrison, interviewed in the Paris Review

I’m writing this at 5.30 on Monday morning in Parkes, New South Wales. The sky’s just going from bruise to blush, and five hours from now we’ll be holding our first team meeting after months of preparation for “Readtember”, a family festival of literature, literacy, and play.

It’s been a huge honour for me to join forces with the team at Parkes. They’re brave and creative souls who give the lie to tired assumptions that nothing exciting happens beyond the city limits of Sydney or Melbourne. Our track record in devising and delivering mad, wonderful, compelling play and learning events for all ages is getting so long that it makes me laugh.

Yesterday I had my first takeout coffee in one of the library coffee cups which are used by every café in town. I suggested the idea based on a project that had run in Melbourne a while ago, but it only became real to me when I finally drank from one. I hadn’t even thought about the fact I’d be getting one when I placed my order; I just asked for a latte and suddenly I was holding a piece of local literature in my hand.

The texts chosen for the project remind readers that Parkes is a town of stargazers and poets, as well as farmers and miners. With both feet planted in red rural dirt, they still keep one eye on the cosmos. The coffee cup stories conjure early morning routines, the special camaraderie of the outback, and a world where we “listen to the gossip of the galaxies / trying to catch the whispers of how it all began.”

This year we’re challenging ourselves to go further than ever before. Parkes is the first Australian community to host an outpost of the global Fun Palaces movement; our famous interactive storytelling events are going to explore the dastardly world of supervillainy via a collaboration with British author Louie Stowell; and after challenging the biggest Australian arts organisations to push their own boundaries in February, we’ll be reaching out to new communities and new audiences on our own patch.

We’re proud when colleagues and allies, at home and overseas, share the fabulous ideas that we’ve tested out here in rural Aussie; most recently, New Zealand’s capital delivered a swathe of play-based sessions developed from programming devised in Parkes.

But as the sun rises on a new day, here in Parkes we’re sipping our coffee and looking forward to uncharted territory.

For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives.

More adventures in Parkes, New South Wales

Well, as the Super Secret London Project (more on that later) winds down after a near-perfect summer, it’s time for me to pack my bags one more time. I’m heading Down Under for a brief visit.

Elvis and friend behind the wheel of a large automobile

From September to December, I’ll be back with my friends at Parkes Shire Library, NSW, building on our legacy of play-based learning and community outreach.

Since I first got to know the Parkes gang, we’ve battled zombies on two occasions, travelled in time, used robots to fight off monsters, and entered the world of cinema and urban myth. We’ve also run teen book publishing workshops with professionals from Australia and the US, and hosted Australia’s first rural comics festival.  The team have demonstrated the sustainability of these projects by creating immersive activities like Paint Like Michelangelo, which then inspired Wellington Libraries in New Zealand, and carrying out the long-term Coffee Cup Stories project.

(That’s not even to mention the ninjas, werewolves, and Angry Birds. Or Barbra Streisand).

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In the forthcoming season, beginning with Parkes’ READtember festival of literacy, we’ll be seeking to challenge ourselves further and reach out to new communities within our territory. After all, it’s important to practice what you preach.

If you want to know more about the Parkes way of doing things, a good place to start is the 2015 Library as Innovation Toolkit from ALA editions, which you can preorder today. I co-wrote the chapter on youth outreach with Parkes’ Tracie Mauro.

Adventures on the Front Lines of Modern Librarianship – Guest Post from Adrienne Hannan of Wellington City Libraries

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Over the past couple of years I’ve run a number of projects testing the limits of the 21st century library – from online interactive storytelling to retail partnerships, live roleplay, and play-based learning for all ages.

With many community libraries in crisis, facing cuts and ignorance about their vital role in public life, the aim of these projects was to swiftly and dramatically push the boundaries of contemporary librarianship, setting precedents that could be exploited and developed after the first flowering.

One of my favourite places to visit during these adventures has been Wellington, New Zealand. Aotearoa’s capital city is small but lively. Its library ranks include the formidable Adrienne Hannan.

NZ Army reservist Adrienne invented the notion of the “Strategic Librarian” – a doctrine which sidesteps old-school leadership thinking to encourage innovation and accomplishment at all levels of a library organisation. Such an attitude is sorely needed if Australasian libraries, sometimes worryingly centralised, are going to avoid the fate of their kin in the UK.

In this guest post, Adrienne discusses some of Wellington City Libraries’ recent adventures on the front line of modern librarianship.

Getting back to human basics with our school holiday activities

At Wellington City Libraries we are intent on bringing stories alive for children and creating interactive experiences with them, so have embarked on a different way of running our school holiday activities recently.

We recognise that books, long seen as the bread and butter of libraries, are just a conduit to literacy, and children may require some kind of stimulating experience with the book to give it memorable context.

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