#Mozfest fun

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I attended Mozfest last Sunday — what a great event. There was so many sessions covering a wide variety of tech related topics, but I actually only attended one session apart from the session I ran with Stella Wisdom. I spent an hour building circuits with copper wire, sticky LEDs, battery, paper and pens — at the end of which I had a dragon whose eyes glowed when you pressed its belly button.

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Explore Mozillafestival’s photos on Flickr. Mozillafestival has uploaded 2082 photos to Flickr.www.flickr.com

This session was a great example of where creativity and technology overlapped, and its something that would be perfect for a library Makerspace session. In fact there were lots of sessions in the Youthzone and beyond that would be perfect for a makerspace session. Plenty of Raspberry Pi sessions too, quite a few being run by children and young people. Even though I didn’t attend many sessions I spent most of my time talking to other attendees about what they were doing there, sharing ideas and also about what we are doing in Surrey Libraries in relation to this sort of activity.

The session Stella and I ran went well — it was focused on introducing people to interactive fiction, and was a bit of a lighting fast approach. A short intro to interactive fiction (including examples and a quick read through of a handful of Choose your own adventure books), plus about 20 minutes hands-on with Twine and Squiffy — free software you can use to create interactive fiction with. The age range of the attendees was from about 7 to mid-30s, and we had positive feedback at the end of it. One of the interesting things for me was that attendees raised the potential of using the software for things like interactive video storyboarding and simple app development, as both Squiffy and Twine output stories as html and Javascript.

If anyone’s interested in how we organised the session and notes we used,here’s a link to the handouts, simple session plan and example stories created in both Squiffy and Twine.

Thanks to the YouthZone organisers, particularly Dorine Flies for encouraging me to get involved. It was well worth it.

(This was originally posted on Medium)

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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.

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.

 

 

International Games Day at The British Library

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Last Saturday was International Games Day @ Your Library and I was lucky enough to help organise the free event at The British Library. We were going for an Alice in Wonderland theme in general (although we had many games that weren’t themed around Alice), as the Alice exhibition at the library had only opened the day before – it was a good tie-in and gave us a focus.

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The event included a huge range of tabletop games provided by board game enthusiasts, and computer games from both the British Library/Game City Off The Map competition (including Gyre and Gimble’s game) , and games from Alice Jam 150. We had planned to run a couple of Pocket Code/Paint sessions to show people how to create Alice game art and a game in an hour and to tie in with this Pocket Code Alice game jam in December. In the end we only ran the Game Making with Pocket Code session (lack of attendees) with a couple of people. Even though it would have been nicer to have more people attend, I still enjoyed running it and I think those attending enjoyed it too. Everything else went down very well – we must have had 100+ people come along on the day and many stayed and played for a while. Having tabletop game enthusiasts who could show other volunteers and anyone who came along how to play the games was important. Having Gyre and Gimble there to talk about their game was great too, especially as they received such positive feedback about it. It was also fun to watch other people try out the Alice Jam 150 games – again, all of which got positive feedback. The most popular was Down the rabbit hole.

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As well as the main event we also ran gaming sessions on Friday and Saturday evening as part of the Alice late event – again, the sessions were extremely popular and I’m sure we must have had at least another 100 participants across both nights too.

As well as having fun, it was a great learning experience for me in so many ways, and I had the chance to meet and talk to an interesting group of people helping out at the event – including sharing ideas about Pocket Code. It was yet another event that I came away from buzzing with ideas.

Well done to Stella Wisdom as the main organiser who pulled it all together, and to everyone else who played a part in helping out.

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Library Camp London #LibCampLdn

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I attended Library Camp London yesterday. It was an informal unconference style gathering held at Senate House Library and over 100 people attended. The participants were from all sectors of the library world – academic, health, public, specialist, business – as well as library students and others interested in libraries. For more information about it take a look at the event wiki. The idea behind unconference events is that anyone can propose a session they’d like to run on the day and those attending chose the sessions they want to attend. Sessions pitched for the day included discussions around librarian personalities, Code Clubs in libraries, speed networking, design your own library qualification, radical libraries, the future of librarianship in a digital age, librarians without libraries, rhyme time. Many of the sessions involved discussion and information sharing. I ran one focused on finding out about online services that require no programming, are free and freely accessible via the internet, look good & can help my library service promote our resources in new ways beyond the library catalogue, whilst at the same time drawing library users back to our services. I found it a useful to session to run and I came away with a few ideas for possible future project.

I also attended sessions focusing on Code clubs; Maintaining the organisational vision; Librarian personality; and Speed networking. Out of these the ones I attended the Vision & Librarian Personality sessions were the ones that got me thinking the most. Here are some of the ideas that cropped up during those sessions.

Organisational vision

  • Organisational vision needs to be in focus all the time to ensure that everybody is working towards that vision. The message needs to be visible at all times.
  • Contact with your end user is important in making sure that the vision meets their needs as well as the  organisations needs.
  • Appraisal goals are useful ways of ensuring that you keep focused on the vision of the organisation.
  • You not only have to focus on the organisations vision, but also those areas that influence your library service.
  • An organisations vision may be at odds with the overarching ethos/vision of libraries, with the library vision coming off second best.

Librarian personality

  • It was interesting that many of the people in the session considered themselves to be extroverts, but common stereo-types paint library staff as introverted.
  • Does the route people took to get into the library profession tie in with their personality traits? eg if you come at librarianship from a love of data and information is this reflected in your personality?
  • Do different types of library work suit different personalities types?
  • Why are librarians so worried about what others think of them?
  • Does the removal of the word librarian from job title hide the true value of how much librarians contribute to society?
  • I thought of how some humourous library staff videos seem like an attempt to persuade others that library staff aren’t like the stereo-type and I thought at how I’m embarrassed by some of these videos. At the same time thought of the Betty Glover Librarian Workout video, which made me smile.

I do regret missing a few of the other sessions, including “I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords”; Rhyme Time; Radical Libraries; Library Assistants role; Design your own library qualification; “What if the world were ruled by librarians?” I’m hoping that the sessions will be written up and available on the wiki, so I can catch up with them.

Finally, I wanted to say that it was a really enjoyable and worthwhile event and I got to chat to loads of people. Even though I was involved in organising it, the bulk of the organisation was undertaken by Senate House Library staff, particularly Andrew Preater and David Clover – so huge thanks to them for making it such a great event.

More details of the day can be found on this wiki page.