Cultural Creativity: Events and Ideas

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Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few events focused on cultural creativity. The key ones were Creative Works London, Game Camp, and Guildford Games G3 Futures. All of them have touched on my day-to-day role as a librarian with an interest in the digital and the creative, and all of them gave me a buzz of inspiration.

Creative Works London Festival: “CWL is a London’s Knowledge Exchange Hub, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) over four years to bring London’s researchers, creative entrepreneurs and businesses together to explore the issues with an impact on the capital’s creative economy.” This was an event that showcased 143 projects that were recently funded as part of the CWL initiative. It crossed all of the arts, but the projects I was most interested in were ones with a heritage background. Projects such as Poetic Places and Lines in the Ice both partnered with the British Library, and made use of its collections in new and interesting ways. The Poetic Places project developed a free mobile phone app containing details of poetry and archive material of London on a digital map, with push notifications triggered by GPS. Lines in the Ice “focused on the 1845 expedition by John Franklin to discover the Northwest Passage”, and amongst other things resulted in the creation of a fictional hand bound diary, games and songs recorded and published on Soundcloud. The Play Your Place project focused on workshops that enabled communities to build their own platform game about issues that were personal to them eg their local area – attendees create the graphics and audio, and then build the game around them. So for example, Southend participants created platform games based on creating a bike friendly Southend; and Westminster participants created a game in response to Fire Station closures. I loved the way all 3 of these projects took original source material, looked at it from a new perspective and turned it into a new narrative.

Game Camp London: This was an informal unconference style event which brought together game players, developers, researchers, academics and anyone else who was interested in games. It was an opportunity to both discuss aspects of games and also play them. All of the sessions I attended were both fun and interesting. That included sessions about Twitter Adventure (a Twitter based Choose your adventure game); empathy for computer generated characters in games; mock games awards; a proposal for a game jam focused around space and Kennington; a discussion on useful game related books for game development courses. I also ran a session to get ideas about how to run more successful interactive fiction game jams in future. I had lots of useful suggestions, including…

  • Decide what your aim is – eg Is it to encourage writers to take up writing interactive fiction? or create new narratives from existing library/written material?  Show traditional readers that interactive fiction is worth exploring too.
  • Split the jam into 2 parts – 1st part creates the story. 2nd part creates the interactive fiction from that material.
  • Use different groups to create the 2 parts eg writers part 1. Game developers part 2. Target the places where they congregate online.
  • Giving a narrow focus to the theme. eg Something broad like Create an Epic Story isn’t a narrow enough focus. 2 or 3 keyword prompts are useful.
  • Give the creators some inspiration eg resources from the library.
  • A shorter game jam period helps people focus their efforts. eg 48 hours or 1 week.
  • Have a physical game jam as well as an online one.

G3 Futures Guildford Games conference: Unlike Game Camp, this was business focused and brought together local game developers and also the wider network of supporters. It was organised by The University of Surrey, UKIE (UK Interactive Entertainment trade body) and technology law specialist Charles Russell Speechlys. Guildford has an amazing amount of high profile and independent game development companies in the area and there’s a real push to raise the profile of Guildford in this respect. One of the key things I picked up on was the need for game developers to connect to their broader community in the local area and spread the message/joy about what they’re doing. I’d be more than happy to help them connect with the wider community. How about a ready made community and new audience in the centre of Guildford with a shared love of the enjoyment of stories – traditionally books, but I know many are going to love those stories in games too. It’s a community that has over 240,000 visitors a year – Guildford Library. One event I’ve been trying to pull together is a demo day for local game developers, and we’ve also run game days, interactive fiction workshops, Minecraft parties, so we know the appetite for games related events and activities in libraries is there.

From all of these events I got a strong sense of how libraries could play a role alongside creative communities, whether that’s making use of existing ideas in a library context, or supporting them to help develop these communities and the work they are doing.

Notes on running interactive fiction workshops

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As I’ve run a few introduction to text-based interactive fiction workshops for the library service (both staff and the public), I thought it would be useful to share information about how I’ve organised them, if anyone was interested in running their own.

Each participant will need access to a computer with an internet connection to participate.

Each of the workshops were between 1.5 & 2 hours in length and followed this structure:

  • Introduce the group to the concept of interactive fiction (IF) as a form of writing for creative writers. (5 mins)
  • Introduce Inklewriter as a free online software tool that can enable them to produce IF quickly and easily, and show an example of IF created using Inklewriter. (5 mins)
  • Run through step-by-step notes on creating an Inklewriter IF, showing basic techniques (branching, images, re-using text passages) and overview of more complex techniques. (30 mins)
  • Give them time to create their own short piece of interactive fiction.
  • Wrap up the workshop (5 mins)

Here are a few handouts I used for various workshops:

It’s also useful to have some creative writing prompts just in case any participant is hit with a blank moment.

The majority of the workshops were aimed at adults, but I’ve also run one for teens, which used the cut-down notes instead of the full step-by-step information.

So, that’s how I’ve run sessions myself, but I’m also interested in hearing any suggestions from others about how I can improve these workshops.

Health & Science Library Camp #HASLibCamp

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About a month ago I attended HASLibcamp at CityLIS, which was a library camp (informal unconference style event) focused on health & science aspects of libraries, librarianship and knowledge management.

I pitched a session on how public libraries can support health and I also attended 3 other sessions during the day. There was a mix of people attending – including librarians in the health sector; those who supported academic health courses; private and public sector; and information and library students. I have to say I was surprised that I was the only representative from public libraries there, especially as one of the Society of Chief Librarian “Universal offers” in public libraries is focused on health.

I attended 3 sessions and pitched a session myself on how public libraries support health.

The first session I attended was focused on health apps and stemmed from an app swap session that happens regularly at St George’s Medical School (London). During the session people discussed the type of health apps that were available; the emergence of related technology such as fit-bits; how health apps can be useful for people to understand and take control of their own health literacy. Many of these apps rely on recording users data, so the discussion also covered concerns around data privacy for health apps; possible use of health data for things you don’t want it to be used for eg health insurance; lack of governance on medical data privacy in apps; and how we (as information professionals) could play a role in educating users about data privacy.

From a public libraries & techy perspective I’m keen to promote health apps on health awareness days that come from reputable providers. eg mental health; living healthier. But the difficulty for me is identifying those apps.

The next session I attended focused on Wikipedia and Wikimedia editing. It was interesting to hear about the background to both resources; how they link together; how they link to other resources (for example The British Library is busy digitising images from out of copyright materials, & detailed subject tagging of the resources on Flickr for them is sometimes created by Wikipedians); and the role of a Wikipedian in residence as someone who is able to focus on specific subject areas for an organisation.

The final session I attended focused on an initiative at Imperial College to archive software that has been created as the result of research projects. It covered questions such as… How can this software be identified? How can it be archived, given that hardware, operating systems and platforms are constantly changing, with some now obsolete? Could virtual machines and emulators be used to run the software? What are the licensing requirements for archiving the software and the platforms they run on, especially if the software produced as the result of a research project is released as a commercial project?

I also mentioned that I pitched a session on how public libraries could support health initiatives. My intention was that I was keen to find out more about how public libraries could do this, as well as sharing some thoughts about areas I knew about. This was a very useful discussion, with around 10 other people in attendance from a variety of health backgrounds. I spoke about the sort of things my library service is involved in including the Society of Chief Librarians health offer; Books on prescription; mental health support; provision of a reminiscence collection; accessible computers and technology; services for those unable to visit the library; dementia awareness training for library staff as part of a bigger “Dementia Friendly Surrey” County Council campaign; the privacy benefits of self-service issue/return; alternative versions of reading materials inc large print & audio books, and Penfriend; creative writing workshops for survivors of domestic abuse; partnership working with local hospitals, health organisations and national organisations inc signposting to reputable healthcare information; producing health related reading lists linked to our catalogue.

Other areas that were discussed were the blocking of sites in public libraries that genuinely provide helpful health related information; providing open access to medical information in public libraries and the best way to do this; the development of sign-posting to further health information; the value of signposting to information on ageing in general; the value of health information professionals coming into public libraries to train staff on signposting.

I have to say that I found this session useful, but at the same time I felt like I didn’t have many of the answers to questions that others attending were asking me about. My day-to-day focus isn’t health in public libraries; it’s tech and digital, and in this instance, I could only really give detailed answers about where tech and digital is used to support health initiatives in public libraries. Hopefully, if this event is run again there will be other representatives from public libraries attending who are better placed to answer the questions I couldn’t.

I thought it was a really useful and interesting event, and I can see the benefit of having other library camps with a focus on specific subjects like this. Well done to all who helped organise it and those who were involved in the session discussions on the day.

If you want to read about other sessions run during the event take a look at this page on the HASLibCamp site.

The interactive Bard & future writing jams

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As I mentioned previously on this blog, in April I decided to run Bard Jam – a Shakespeare themed game jam with a focus on text based games. I decided to go for the Shakespeare theme, as Read Watch Play, the online reading discussion my library service is partnered with, had a Shakespeare theme (#bardread) during April. I decided to focus on the written word to try and draw closer links to the reading, writing, literacy aspects of libraries.

Initially I billed it as an interactive fiction game jam, but then decided that I wanted to give entrants the scope to create and submit any type of text based game – the word was important, but not necessarily the way it was presented. So, this could include visual novels and other text adventures with images as well. I wanted to give people as much freedom to experiment with text as they wanted. So, even though the majority of submissions were interactive fiction, a visual novel and a visual (but text heavy) adventure were also submitted. Bard Jam was open to anyone at all in the world to enter, including those who might never have tried producing a text based game before. Like the interactive fiction workshops I’ve run I’m keen to show creative writers that interactive fiction is a genre they should take a look at. And I’m aware of at least one entrant who created their first game for the jam, which I was very pleased about.

bardjam banner

Overall 13 people signed up to join the jam, but in the end only 5 other people (besides myself) submitted a finished entry. I say “only”, but I’m happy that it encouraged more than just myself to participate and I think it’s something that can be built on. In hindsight, if I’d promoted the game jam on various interactive fiction and text adventure forums to promote it more widely there may have been more entries. I can honestly say I enjoyed playing all of the submissions, and they were so wide ranging in content, style and length. The submissions included a quiz hosted by a sharp-tongued Stephen Fry; A high school play rehearsal about teen friendships; Shakespeare’s lover & real writer of his plays; the boatswain from The Tempest; and a paranormal investigative newspaper. I’ve already posted a fuller run of the entries down here. If you get a chance please try the Bard Jam games out. They’re mostly browser based, and the majority are pretty short – about 10/15 minutes.

The future…

Following on from Bard jam I feel this idea has legs, and I’m keen to run themed online text based game jams focused on authors and/or their works as a regular thing – and they would be open to everyone again to participate. One idea I had for next year is an Arthur C Clarke game jam. I also think there’s scope for libraries to get involved in this as well – for example, encouraging creative writing groups that meet in their libraries to try out interactive fiction, and give them a specific focus for trying out ideas. Ideally the entry level would be accessible for many people including children. I’m still unsure about whether entries should be given scores – in this jam I avoided scoring, but I don’t know if entrants want to be rated on what they’ve created or not. I’m easy either way – if the jam is of interest to me I’ll just submit something whether it’s being judged or not.

Anyway, if anyone else thinks this is a good idea let me know.

#BardJam – a literary game jam writing challenge for April

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Following on from last year’s Alice Jam 150 (an Alice in Wonderland themed game jam) I was itching to run another online game jam. So, the Shakespeare themed Bard Jam has been set up and will run throughout April. As Read Watch Play online book discussion theme for April is #BardRead and because The British Library and Game City also have a theme of Shakespeare for their Off The Map competition I thought it would be a nice idea to tie a writing related jam into other related things running at the same time. The game jam this time is focused solely on text based games, and can include interactive fiction, text adventures and any other text based digital story. Full details of #BardJam can be found here.

Geek Week at the Library

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We’ve just finished a great week of events at Guildford Library under the banner of Surrey Geek Week. It tied in with British Science Week and also Innovate Guildford festival. It included events for children and adults, including robotics workshops, programmable Lego, learning sessions, Dungeons and Dragons, a gaming afternoon, a Raspberry pi jam, and a gamification talk. It’s the first time we’ve run it and it was a great opportunity to try things out to see what would work and to build links with different groups and individuals in the local community. Many of the events were a success, with sold out sessions. I was responsible for organising the robotics workshop (big thanks to Carlos and his Maker Cart, who was also key in the January Maker Day), the Gaming Day (big thanks to the staff who worked on a Sunday and also local gaming groups who came along with board games and retro consoles), and the Maplin Meccanoid drop-in (big thanks to Maplin – a couple of robots in the library got a lot of attention).

During the week we’ve made plenty of contacts with groups interested in what we are trying to do in the library service in regard to digital services and making. eg 3D printing, robotics, electronics, and anything techy based that give people the opportunity to create.
It was a fun week, even though I do generally wear my anxious Wurzel Gummidge style “will it go okay, will anyone turn up and will they enjoy it?” head on when I’m organising events. Well, they did turn up and going by the smiles and positive feedback they did enjoy it, so now I can put on my Wurzel Gummidge “happy head”.
A concentrated week of events and related activities was a bit of a learning experience, but I think the whole team did a great job of organising, promoting, and making sure it all ran well.

Let’s Make & Inspire: Techy Creation in Libraries

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My library service is currently exploring the idea of making in libraries – specifically on the technological side of things – 3D printing, robotics, electronics, programming/coding.

We’ve run a couple of code clubs and have plans to run more. As well as this we are running our first Maker Day event this coming Saturday, with the help of Carlos Iszak, who I met at the City Mash event last summer. Carlos will be coming in with his Maker Cart kit and people will get the chance to try out 3D printing, paper cutting technology, robotics and electronics. We are also encouraging those attending to share ideas they have about making with technology, things they’ve made and their experiences around digital making in general. I’m really excited about this event and I’ll be helping out with the robotics and electronics side of things – Arduino, Makey Makey, Littlebits. It’s a hands-on event and we want to give people the chance to explore these new technologies for themselves.

The library service long term ambitions are to host a makerspace: “a place where people can meet to collaborate, create, learn, and innovate, using similar technologies to those available during our day of making.”

As well as this Maker Day event there are also 2 other events related to makerspaces in public libraries happening over the next couple of months in London that are worth attending if you’re working in libraries and want to find out more about makerspaces.

Making Library Makers: an intro (16th Feb, evening) – Carlos is also involved in this.

Code Green Digital Making & Learning Showcase (1st March, all day)

And finally, I wanted to share one of my favourite maker stories – one that’s especially relevant to libraries too. 14 year old William Kamkwamba’s electricity generating windmill in Malawi.