His Dark Materials trailer

The BBC have released a trailer for their adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.

Allow me to summarise my reaction: Lyra! Lyra! Lyra!

I hope this is good.

Actually, I’m quite pleased that there’s now a TV version as well as a movie version, because it emphasises these are versions Lyra Belacqua, rather than the real one who lives in my head.

Lyra is oddly precious to me.

It’s some combination of wanting to be her, in her bravery and fierceness, wanting to protect her, wishing perhaps that I had a daughter like her, and simply wanting to admire her.

Bonnie Mary Liston’s excellent essay ‘The wildness of girlhood’ starts with quotes from Emily Bronte and Catherynne Valente, but it made me think of Ms. Belacqua.

“Every four years or so, the young girls of Athens between ages of five and ten would go into the woods to make sacrifices to Artemis, run races, dance and live like bears. Literally. They were called arktoi, which means ‘little bears’, and they were supposed to run around pretending to be bears, wearing special bear skins…”

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Twine as teaching tool

Twine is tool for creating choose-your-own-adventure style text games.

I’ve just played a fun example of using Twine to educate people about the work cataloguers do: the Cataloguing Game by Victoria Parkinson.

I like it because it gives you a gentle but hands-on experience of what it’s like to catalogue a book. (It also gives you a choice of hot chocolate, coffee or tea.)

I’ve played a few Twine games, but I haven’t seen many educational ones like this. A quick google pulls up a few articles about using Twine and interactive fiction in the classroom:

Outside the classroom

I currently work on a software support desk, and I’ve idly considered replacing our troubleshooting flowcharts with a Twine game. Past a certain complexity, flowcharts get too hard to read, whereas a Twine game limits you to exactly the choices you need to make. Maintaining it would be the hardest part.

I made short Twine game years ago, just to test it out, based on something that happened to me on a tram: Bystander

I’m really like the work Tegean Webb does. Start with Young Spells, about teenage girls preparing a witchcraft ritual.

And my first real introduction to Twine was the bizarre and surreal Mastaba Snoopy. Perhaps not really safe for work, or sanity.

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Post-NLS9 Report

I went to Adelaide for NLS9 – the ALIA New Librarians Symposium.

It was the first time I’d been to an NLS. I also had a horrific cold which sucked the energy and the extrovertism out of me.

I felt a bit like this frogcake:

Squashed, green, and about to be eaten

I’ve created a Twitter Moment with all my tweets from the conference, so I’m not going to spend too much time repeating them here.

In my last post, I wrote down what I hoped to get out of NLS9, cold notwithstanding. Here’s how I went…

Goal 1: Three useful ideas

I wanted to gain three ideas – skills, practices, ideas or tools – that I could use in my career. I think I got that.

#1 – The Effective Way to Speak Truth to Power

In her talk on being the new kid in town, Jessica Howie explained that research has shown the most effective way to argue for change in an organisation is to first have built a reputation for excelling at your work.

That makes sense. There’s no point in trying to tell a company how to do things better if you haven’t first proved you know what you’re talking about.

(There are, obviously, problems with this when it comes to reporting harassment or abuse: new starters are vulnerable because they haven’t built up a reputation yet, and the quality of work often suffers if someone is being harassed. You still need strong organisational procedures that can counter this bias.)

#2 – The Annual Report

Deborah Brown from Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College in North Sydney talked about how she creates an annual report for her library to show how it supports the schools strategic goals, and demonstrate its value to staff, students and the community.

She uses Venngage to create lots of punchy, colourful infographics – there’s some examples in my Twitter thread.

The big lesson here: it’s not enough to just do a good job. You need to be able to sell your value to others.

It’s also a useful tool to track progress. I left the session thinking about writing a personal annual report record how I’m going in my personal goals.

#3 – Talk with marginalised groups, not on behalf of them

This came up in Nikki Anderson’s talk on Deviating With Diversity, and Craig Middleton’s keynote on queering museums to make them more inclusive.

If you want to include marginalised communities, you need to spend time talking with them, and listening to them, and earning their trust.

Related: I picked up a copy of Making Spaces Safer by Shawna Potter while I was in Adelaide. I’m not sure when or how I’ll get to use the advice it contains, but it seems like one day it’ll be useful.

Goal 2: A better understanding of the sector.

I’ve never actually worked in a library. I even contributed a comic about it to the NLS zine. What did I learn about the industry at NLS(?

I learnt there are a lot of passionate librarians determined to make their libraries more inclusive.

I learnt that there are still lots of historical obstacles to that goal, from subject headings in metadata to the fraught relationship between Indigenous and settler ways of knowing.

I learnt there’s an ongoing need spruik the value of libraries.

And I learnt that there’s a certain anxiety about the future of the profession. We were told we should learn how to code, that we should focus on the work that can’t be automated.

What wasn’t discussed was whether there will be a future…

No libraries on a dead planet

While I was at NLS9, Professor Jem Bendell posted A Year of Deep Adaptation. Deep Adaptation was his paper that argues that societal collapse due to climate catastrophe is now inevitable.

I haven’t read that paper yet. I don’t feel strong enough.

But there’s no point planning out a career in the library industry if there’s no libraries left to work in. At some stage I’m going to have to read these reports, and think about what this means.

One of my goals for NLS9 was to touch base with my motivations. This has to be part of it.

Okay. After that cheery thought, here’s a panda from Adelaide Zoo…

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What I hope to get out of NLS9

Me at Adelaide Zoo - a bald man with a tartan scarf, looking a bit tired, but with some nice trees in the background.
Me, looking tired.

I’m in Adelaide for NLS9 – ALIA’s New Librarian Symposium.

I feel a bit… unprepared.

If I was prepared, I’d have read the program and worked out which sessions I want to go to. If I was prepared, I’d be feeling energetic and extroverted and ready to engage. If I was really prepared, I’d have brought copies of my zines to give away in lieu of business cards.

Instead, I spent the last week in bed, besnotted.

Conferences, symposiums, festivals: they can take a lot of energy. And I’m not feeling very energetic right now.

The last few months have been draining, and I’m still at the tail end of this cold. I feel less like networking with peers or engaging with exciting new ideas and more like curling up somewhere warm and hibernating.

Oh well. It is what it is.

I may skip some of the social events, I’ll almost certainly fall asleep in some sessions, and I will definitely forget people’s names.

But there’s still things I want to get out of NLS9.

They are:

#1 – Three useful ideas

Conferences are full of ideas. I’ll be looking for 3 ideas, practices, tools or skills that I can follow up on and use in my professional career.

#2 – A better understanding of the sector

I’m changing careers from IT to the library sector. But I’ve never actually worked in a library. So I’m always looking to get a better understanding of the industry.

  • what do we do well?
  • what do we struggle with?
  • what are the opportunities?
  • what are the needs?

And above all: what can I contribute to the industry?

#3 – Touching base with my colleagues

I’m hoping to meet new peers in the library sector. But I’m not as far into the extroverted-networking mindspace as I can be.

So a more reasonable goal is to touch base with my friends in the sector, most of whom I only chat with on Twitter.

#4 – Touching base with my motivations

I’m halfway through my Masters of information Management. It’s probably going to take another year or more before I finish it, since I’m only studying one subject per semester.

It’s feeling like a slog at the moment.

So I’m hoping for a reminder of why I chose to change careers into this industry.

Back when I started my Masters, I wrote about my motivations in the post Career as a Question. It might be good revist that post after NLS9, to see how much still holds true, and how much it needs to change based on everything I’ve learnt so far.

Because I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time for reflection after the conference.

That’s how it works, right?

Capybaras at Adelaide Zoo. I envy them, and their naps in the sunshine.

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Roundup: Teenagers and YA articles

It’s been an emotionally exhausting few weeks. My father passed away. The funeral was on Friday. I’ve been on leave from work, missed class at uni, and haven’t touched my Koha project.

But I’ve been reading a few articles about YA and teenagers. Which is broadly on topic for a library blog. So here’s a roundup.

Let’s Update Those YA Lit Articles with Current Titles, and more suggestions for how we talk about YA lit in the media

From Karen Jensen for the Teen Librarian Toolbox.

Twilight and The Hunger Games are ancient history in terms of books teenagers are actually reading, buth they’re still the most commonly referenced titles in articles about YA. Karen Jensen’s article lays out some rules for writing more up-to-date articles:

  • Include authors of colour — Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give has been on the NYT’s best seller list for over two years
  • Get actual data: NYT best seller lists and library circulation records show what teens are actually reading
  • Distinguish between the books actual teens are reading and the books YA fans are reading: there’s a lot of adults who read YA, and they skew the data

Teenagers are better behaved and less hedonistic nowadays

An older article, from the January 2018 edition of the Economist.

Teenagers around the world are drinking less, smoking less, and having sex later than teenagers were last decade. They also tend to find it easier to talk to their fathers, but feel lonelier and find it harder to make friends at school.

Theories as to why: parents have smaller families, and so spend more time with their children, teenagers are interacting more through smart phones and less face-to-face, and increasing ethnic diversity mean there are more teens surveyed who come from cultures where drinking and sex are frowned upon.

The sources for the article are the WHO’s Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children report and the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment.

Teen boys rated their female classmates based on looks. The girls fought back.

At a high school in Maryland, male students had circulated a list that ranked the female students in order of their looks. A group of female students complained to the school administrators. The administrators investigated, and gave one male student detention.

Unsatisfied, the female students rallied together to demand more action. The result was a two-and-ahelf hour meeting between male and female students where the girls explained why they felt so violated, weekly meetings to plan ways to prevent this happening again, and senior students visiting junior classrooms to talk about toxic masculinity.

“Knowing that my closest friends were talking to me and hanging out with me but under that, silently numbering me, it definitely felt like a betrayal,” Schwartz said. “I was their friend, but I guess also a number.”

The killer quote for me:

“Knowing that my closest friends were talking to me and hanging out with me but under that, silently numbering me, it definitely felt like a betrayal,” Schwartz said. “I was their friend, but I guess also a number.”

‘Be urself’: meet the teens creating a generation gap in music

The Guardian has an article about the “underground bedroom pop” of young women, many teenagers, writing and recording music for YouTube.

I’m not sure any movement can still be called underground if it’s being reported in the Guardian. But I’ve come across this genre in my wanderings through YouTube, primarily Dodie and Tessa Violet. (I’d recommend Dodie’s angsty ‘Burned Out’ and Violet’s boppy ‘Crush’ if you want to somewhere to start.)

There’s a definite aesthetic to this bedroom pop. White walls. Fairy lights. Cute but relatable performers. A hint of mental health problems. Ukuleles. It reminds me heavily of the booktuber aesthetic.

It’s interesting. But it’s all so very, very… nice.

I wonder if there’s a dark version of this? Teens making bedroom black metal and garage goth? Or am I just showing my age?

Do teens get pushed out of YA when it’s called a genre?

From Kelly Jensen for Book Riot.

There’s a statistic that 55% of people who buy YA are adults, not teens. Jensen argues that thinking of YA as a genre rather than a category sidelines the very teenage readers the books are supposedly written for.

Author, editor and agent Danielle Binks has argued that YA is a readership not a genre.

I agree there is an issue with adults crowding out teens in the field (see my Teens to the Front manifesto from several years ago). I’m less convinced that YA isn’t a genre. Crime is a genre about crime. Romance is a genre about romance. YA is a genre about being a young adult. It has its own history, set of influence, rules and conventions.

(I’ve also yet to come across a definition of genre that I think accurately defines how genres actually work, from creators to retailers to consumers. One day I’ll take a stab at it, but it will involve explaining fuzzy set theory, so today is not that day.)

(Also: Jensen throws in the blithe assertion that Horror is a mood, not a genre. This might come as a surprise to all the scholars and historians of the genre.)

Students sexually harassing teachers

The YA community often talks about how awesome teenagers are. It’s important, though, to remember that teenagers are not an homogenous mass.

There’s a wide variety of teens. And some of them are complete shits.

Clementine Ford reports for the Saturday Paper on the problem of female teachers being abused, threatened and sexually harassed by male students, and the lack support provided by administrators.

A recent survey of almost 2000 members of the Australian Education Union (AEU) found just over 50 per cent of respondents had “experienced, witnessed or supervised someone subject to sexual harassment” while working in the education sector.

Women accounted for 80 per cent of those sexually harassed during their education careers. In 90 per cent of cases, the perpetrator was male. Those most likely to be targeted in schools were women aged 25-29 years old. Within this demographic, almost half of those reporting had experienced sexual harassment in their current workplaces.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the survey findings, though, was the hesitancy most respondents felt in reporting harassment to school administrations. Two-thirds of education providers reported feeling worried they would be unsupported and potentially exacerbate the situation, or even risk unemployment. These are legitimate fears, particularly in an increasingly casualised teaching profession.

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Serendipity, synchronicity, and grief

This month’s theme for newCardigan’s GLAM Blog Club is “serendipity“.

Fair warning: this will get heavy.

Work is busy. Uni is back. I’m trying to teach myself Koha. And my father is in hospital.

We’re still waiting on a diagnosis, but the evidence is leaning towards “it’s bad”, and “he’s not coming home again” is definitely on the table.

I have a lot of emotions about this. Sadness. Anger. Frustration. A desire to be useful. And grief.

It’s a messy, complicated sort of grief. It’s grief that doesn’t know yet if I should be grieving. We don’t have a diagnosis. We don’t know what happens next. We are on hold, while the wheels of medicine turn. But my dad’s 85, his health has been going downhill, and–to be callously realistic–no one lives forever.

It feels like a betrayal to write that. Isn’t this private family business, not for the internet? I don’t know. I’m feeling my way forward, confused.

What has this go to do with libraries, or serendipity?

Serendipity, in research, is the unplanned, fortunate discovery that opens up new lines of inquiry, or creates new understandings. It’s the book on the library shelf sitting next to the one you were looking for, the hyperlink in a blog post that leads to a whole new direction, the talk you hear at a conference that makes you rethink what you were working on.

It reminds me of Jung’s concept of synchronity: the meaningful coincidence, the causally unrelated event that still provokes psychological insight.

Sometimes, it takes time and effort to understand my emotions. Sometimes the things I do normally take on extra layers and depth, and it takes some synchronicity for me to understand why.

For example: I’m interested in the relationships between masculinity and feminism. As an aspiring YA writer, I’m particularly interested in the ways teenage boys decide what sort of men they want to be.

Here’s where the serendipity comes in: browsing the Guardian’s website, I came across this article: ‘A lot of us are in the dark’: what teenage boys really think about being a man.

It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking read. I was particularly struck by how these young men feel towards the feminist movement, and that message that masculinity is somehow toxic:

“I think it’s a serious problem,” Joel says. “A lot of young men are becoming angry and disenfranchised. You know the rise of the far right that’s gone on in recent years? I think that’s partly because there’s a lot of young men who’ve come out of working-class families, like mine, and they don’t have anyone to look up to. They don’t have anyone saying: ‘This is what you as a person can do.’ Maybe that’s where the drift comes in. Young men join these groups that have the typical far-right message, ‘You should be fit, you should be strong, you should provide’, because they’re not given anything else to look to.”

There’s a lot to unpack there: “toxic masculinity” doesn’t mean all aspects of masculinity are toxic, in the same way “cancerous cells” do not mean all cells are cancer. But that’s a different blog post.

The article is part of the Guardian’s How to be a boy: a masculinity special.

Another article in the special discusses Andy’s Man Clubs, which is sort of like Fight Club except the men talk about their feelings instead of hitting each other.

The article contains a reference to the Men and Boys Coalition, a “network of organisations, academics, journalists, professionals and leaders committed to highlighting and taking action on the gender-specific issues that affect men and boys.”

The Men and Boys Coalition website includes a page of their published research. One of the articles there caught my eye: “I’m missing out and I think I have something to give”: experiences of older involuntarily childless men’ by Robin Hadley,

It’s on Emerald Insights as a subscription article. One of the nice things about being a student is that I can access paid content like this through RMIT Library. Yay libraries! (That is the only library content in this blog post. Sorry.)

Hadley’s article analyses interviews with 14 older men who are all childless. It discusses how childlessness affects their sense of identity and their place in society.

I’m childless, and I have some pretty complicated feelings about that that I’m not going to go into here. But the article made interesting and resonant reading.

And then I got to the bit about grandfatherhood. And it was like a knife in the heart.

Because my childlessness doesn’t just impact me. It impacts my father. He doesn’t get to play out the role of grandfather. And there are reasons that I’m childless, and I have the right to choose my life. But right here, right now, reading that article? It feels like another betrayal.

That’s not a neat conclusion. Serendipity is sometimes called the happy accident. But not all accidents are happy, and not all insights bring comfort.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

Questions beget questions, and the paths of inquiry twist like a maze. Meanwhile, the wheels of medicine turn slow, and we wait for a diagnosis.


Sorry. Got a lot on my mind lately. I’ll get back to the Koha stuff next post, promise.

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Learning Koha 02: Decisions

I’ve been meaning to post this for the last week or so, but Life has gotten in the way. I’ve been onboarding new team members at work, I’ve started uni again, and my father is currently in hospital.

There are some decisions you needed to make before you install Koha.

This is a slightly fraught experience for me. I know a bit about Linux systems, and I have over 20 years experience working in IT. But the last 8 or 9 of those have been as a manager, and management is where tech skills go to die.

So I know enough to understand what the decisions are you need to make, but I won’t claim to fully understand the repercussions.

My advice in these situations is: unless you have a compelling reason not to, go with the default option.

If the documentation recommends one choice over another, use that. If the documentation doesn’t recommend one or the other, use what the developers are using. Linux is a squiggly maze of subtle differences that can make your system crash if things aren’t configured just so. Save yourself the headache. Use what the developers recommend.

Right. On to the decisions.

Decision 1: Physical or virtual server?

Should I set up Koha on an actual computer sitting in my study? Or should I set it up on a cloud hosted virtual machine (which is the technical term for a software program that pretends to be a computer (virtual server) running on an actual computer in someone else’s data centre (cloud hosted) )?

I decided I didn’t want the hassle of having to maintain a physical box. The beauty of virtual machines is that they are essentially no different to an Excel spreadsheet: you can copy them, you can move them, you can make a snapshot before you make changes and revert back if those changes go belly up.

I asked my sysadmin friends on Facebook to recommend a cheap-ish virtual machine hosting company. The main suggestions were Linode and Digital Ocean. I went with a 1 GB Droplet from Digital Ocean, mostly because a friend had a $100 credit code for them.

Bribery. It works.

Which OS: Debian or Ubuntu?

The operating system is the fundamental program that tells a computer how to be a computer: things like how respond to user commands, run programs and manage files. Windows, MacOS and Android are all versions of operating systems.

Koha is programmed to work on the Linux operating system, and Linux comes in many different versions called distributions.

The Koha download page says “Debian is what most people use”.

The Installing with packages page lists instructions for both Debian and Ubuntu.

I’ve used Ubuntu in the past. But that was three years ago, and mostly involved me typing the commands exactly as written in the documentation. My Linux knowledge isn’t deep enough for me to make an informed decision between the two. Nor am I so familiar with one version that I’ll get tripped up by a different one.

Digital Ocean supports both, including documentation for Ubuntu and Debian.

With no compelling reason to choose one over the other I decided to follow the crowd and use Debian.

Which web server: Apache or NGINX?

A web server is a computer program that “broadcasts” a web site to the internet. Koha is a web-based application, meaning it’s a very interactive web site that you access through your browser.

I’m not actually sure why I wrote this down as a decision. I think read somewhere that nGinx was the default webserver in Debian?

But it’s not. Debian 9 comes with Apache installed. The Koha documentation assumes you’re using Apache.

This is a non-decision: use Apache.

Which database management system: MySQL or MariaDB?

A database management system (DBMS) is a program that handles the storage and access to a large amount of data (like patron records and collection catalogues, in the case of Koha.)

The Koha download page says you can use either MySQL or MariaDB. I didn’t really know the difference, so I did some Googling.

They’re both open source DBMSes.

MySQL is the more widely-used one, and seems to be better at fixing bugs, but it’s owned by Oracle, and there are those who think Oracle limit the speed of MySQL so that it doesn’t compete with their commercial offerings. They also restrict some of the more advanced functions to their commercial MySQL Enterprise Edition.

MariaDB was created as a fork of MySQL by the sort of people who don’t trust Oracle. It basically takes the same commands as MySQL, and returns the same results, but the engine under the hood is faster and includes features for really big databases. The downside is that bugs don’t get patched as fast as MySQL and there may not be complete compatibility between the two into the future.

Since my library will only have a few hundred items at most, I’m not too worried about speed. I also assume that compatibility and bugs are really only issues for large databases and high-performance sites.

My rule of thumb here dictates that I should choose MySQL as the most-popular option.

But my heart overruled my head here. I decided to choose the plucky underdogs over the large corporation and installed MariaDB instead.


My decisions were:

  • Server: virtual machine – 1GB Droplet on Digital Ocean
  • OS: Debian
  • Web server: Apace
  • DBMS: MariaDB

Next steps…

Once I’d made all these technical decisions, the next step was to actually set up my server and install all the software.

Which is easy, right? You just follow the instructions and everything works!


I say again: ha.

But that’s a story for another blog.

Other news:

The State Library of Victoria have decided to retire the Centre for Youth Literature “sub-brand” as part of their Vision 2020 project. This upset a lot of people in the Australian YA community. Former program manager Mike Shuttleworth wrote an article arguing that Victoria needs an independent Centre for Youth Literature.

Speaking of YA: Adele Walsh has launched a new weekly YA and children’s lit newsletter.

Shaun Tan has a new exhibition opening this weekend at Beinart Gallery in Brunswick. Some 8,000 people said on Facebook that they were attending the opening night.

I visited the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives on Friday night as part of a newCardigan’s #cardiParty. We heard some history of the Archive, a talk about the work volunteers do, and (most exciting for me) a talk from the volunteer who is running the project to find a suitable online catalogue/digital repository for the collection. Normally, I’d live-tweet the heck out of a talk like that, but my phone battery was almost flat. I took a few pictures, though.

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Learning Koha 01: A new project…

I go back to uni in a week.

I’m also knee-deep at work both learning our products and teaching them to new staff.

So now is obviously the perfect time for me to pick up a new personal project. Like… teaching myself how to install, configure and use Koha from scratch.


What is Koha?

Koha is an open-source library management system.

Library management software means it’s a software program that helps libraries do things like catalogue their books, track loans and returns, and record patron information.

Open source means it’s free to use because it’s built by a community of volunteers rather than a commercial company.

Here, have a video:

Why learn Koha?

My career goal is to use information technology to help libraries better serve their community.

I’m still very much in the Apprenticeship phase of my career: studying my Masters in library science, attending conferences and meetups, and trying cram as much knowledge about libraries into my skull as possible.

I currently work for a library software vendor, and that’s giving me knowledge of one library management system. But it doesn’t hurt to learn others.

It’s a good opportunity to refresh some of my actual tech skills – I’ve mostly been working in management roles for the last decade or so, and it’s good to get me hand dirty on a command line now and again.

And finally, it’s chance for me to build my own practice library. I’ve not actually worked in a library yet, so it will be helpful to have my own private library to practice the skills I’m learning.

What are the steps?

The Koha website has detailed instructions on how to install Koha on Debian or Ubuntu.

From reading over them, I can see 4 main steps to getting my Kohan library up and running:

  1. Set up a server to install the software on
  2. Install a web server and a database system
  3. Install the Koha software itself
  4. Configure my library in Koha

Steps 1 and 2 involve making some decisions, so I might save them for the next blog post on this topic.

Other news

Marshall Breeding

On Wednesday, I joined a webinar by Marshall Breeding, an independant consultant in library technologies, about his annual international survey of library perceptions. You can find summaries of his surveys on his site.

He also runs the libraries.org site, which compiles the results of his surveys into a searchable database. You can use this to look up which library management system a library uses, for example.

OCLC Research

On Friday, I sat in on a presentation by Lynn Connoway on OCLC’s Research department. There are a lot of research reports available for free on their website. I haven’t had time to read any yet, but these ones caugh my eye:

Fun: Tales from the Loop

I also finished up a three-sesion game of the Tales from the Loop tabletop roleplaying game.

It’s a game about schoolkids solving weird science mysteries in the 1980s. The official game is set in Sweden. But i grew up in the 80s on Doctor Who, Blakes 7, the Day of the Triffids and Edge of Darkness. So of course I set my game in a Yorkshire mining town.

If my game was a TV show, this would be the blurb: An afternoon in detention ends with four misfit students battling robots and a tyrannical computer as an alternative reality superimposes itself over their hometown.

This was the first game I’ve GMed in several years. I was nervous, but it all went well, and the players enjoyed themselves enough that we might run some more one-shot sessions later in the year.

The biggest hurdle to roleplaying in middle age is not energy or imagination, it’s scheduling.

You can read my writeups of our game, if you’re interested:

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I have lots to do today, so I’m writing a blog post at 7:45am because my mind is making connections and I want to get them down.

On Friday night, I attended a cardiParty where we visited the Incendium Radical Library. Yesterday, my partner Jellibat and I ran a stall at the Festival of the Photocopier zine fair. And today I’m roleplaying with some friends.

The theme for my weekend seems to be “community”.

Incendium Radical Library

Shelves at the Incendium Radical Library, including works sorted in topics such as Direct Action, Anarchy, and Sex Work.
Incendium Radical Library

CardiParties, for those who don’t know, are monthly get-togethers where people working the the GLAM sector visit a gallery, library, archive or museum, and then og and have dinner together afterwards.

So there’s two type of community right there: exploring different institutions, and socialising with other people in your field.

This months cardiParty visited the Incendium Radical Library in West Footscray. IRL’s goal is to make radical reading material available.

I live-tweeted the visit, which has a lot of information about the library, ho it was founded and how it operates. What I want to focus on here are two things:

One of the attendees said the reason she loved libraries is they are a place strangers can interact. Two people browsing the same bookshelf probably have similar interests.

Another attendee talked about the importance of places like anarchist bookshops and IRL as places where you can find your people.

I’ve been refining my career “mission statement” lately, and it currently stands as “using information technology to help libraries better serve their communities”.

The visit to IRL reminded me one of the biggest needs a community has is to find each other.

Festival of the Photocopier

The Festival of the Photocopier is an annual event organised by Sticky Institute to celebrate zine culture. And the centrepiece of FOTP is the Zine Fair.

In previous years, the Zine Fair was held in the Melbourne Town Hall. But it’s been getting bigger and bigger every year, so this year they moved to a new venue: Trades Hall in Lygon Street.

Zines have a long history of promoting leftist, progressive and radical ideas, so it felt very appropriate to hold the fair in that shrine to workers standing up for each other.

In practice, Trades Hall is huge and labyrinthine. And it didn’t help that parts of it were a construction site as it undergoes renovation. In the move, the Zine Fair lost the ability to look out and see all the participants. But it’s gained the ability for many more people to attend. That seems a fair trade-off.

The irony isn’t lost on me, though. The appeal of zines to me is that they’re small and personal and human. The appeal of the Zine Fair is how huge it is. It’s a contradiction.

I resolved it by focusing on the people around me. I said hello to old friends. I chatted to the stallholder next to us (Her name was Ella. Her Instagram is @ellarart). And we bought lots and lots of zines:

A photo of about 30 zines, of many different sizes and subject matter.

(I was particularly taken by the zine People You Met on the Midnight Train by Philadelphia Hanson Vines, a surreal comic/artzine. I showed it to my friend Alissa and she said “That’s very you.”)

When I told the comics artist George Rex we’d be in Adelaide for NLS9, she invited us to have a cup of tea with her. They served tea at the Incendium Radical Library, too.

Big huge events are great for a community to stand together and say “Look! We exist!” But it’s the small quiet moments of intimacy – like zines, like cups of tea – that build the important one-on-one connections that make us feel human.


Roleplaying games (like Dungeons & Dragons, and its many, many grandchildren) formed a huge part of my community throughout high school and university.

Some people get together to play sport. Some people get together to make music. I’d get together with my friends to tell stories and roll dice.

Now that we’re middle-aged, and it’s increasingly difficult to make time for gaming, some of my friends have noticed that our games are fun but they’re not as satisfying. Because we’re missing on all the stuff that would happen around the game.

At uni in particular, gaming nights would start with us getting together to cook diner for each other, and usually end with us going out nightclubbing together. And roleplaying was also a way for us to share ideas, to explore the books and comics and films and music that we loved.

Nowadays it’s a challenge just getting five people around a table. But I’m still thinking about all the other stuff, and how to make games feel more like a trellis on which to grow rich and vibrant friendships, rather than a chore we have to schedule in advance…

(For what it’s worth: I’m currently running a three session Tales from the Loop game. And I used Google Slides to make a slideshow to introduce the game to my players.)


As I’ve been writing this, someone has retweeted a thread on Twitter about the library as urban commons:

I was particularly struck by this comment:

8/ An urban commons is a place that uses beauty and #art to affirm the dignity of all of its participants … regardless of means

Beauty and art don’t just mean paintings, of course. Zines are a form of art. So are roleplaying games.

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Future Libraries, AI and other randomness

I’ve been describing 2018 as “hectic but good”. I made progress on my Masters. I did good work at my job. I travelled.

2019 looks like it will be an interesting year. The first month isn’t even over and there’s a lot happening at work, and I’m hoping to do my 3 week work placement for uni at Kelvin Hall in Scotland.

Kelvin Hall interests me because it’s an all-digital branch of the National Library of Scotland. I want to see how this all works: what’s available, how is it presented, and how does it meet the needs of its community?

I have been thinking about the future, recently.

If I’m going to spend the next 25 years of my working life in libraries, I need to think not just how libraries will change in that time, but how the world will too.

I don’t have a coherent vision yet. So here’s a grab-bag of links:

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned we have only 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe.

A People’s Guide to AI is designed to explain AI for a general audience: what can it do, what can’t it do, and what the likely effects on society.

The ‘Future Book’ Is Here, but It’s Not What We Expected by Craig Mod explores the way we get futurism wrong by looking at the grand predictions of the electronic, interactive Future Book, and what has actually happened:

Yet here’s the surprise: We were looking for the Future Book in the wrong place. It’s not the form, necessarily, that needed to evolve […] Instead, technology changed everything that enables a book, fomenting a quiet revolution. Funding, printing, fulfillment, community-building—everything leading up to and supporting a book has shifted meaningfully, even if the containers haven’t.

Finally, some reflections from Lisa Dempster after she moved from running the Melbourne Writers Festival to working for a public library: What I learned in a year of working for a public library.

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