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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An employer’s guide to writing a cover letter

I have a post about the wonderful Write the Docs AU 2018 conference sitting expectantly in my drafts folder, like a puppy hoping it will taken out for a walk. Until I finish it, you can read all my live tweets collected here.

Today, though, I’m going to keep talking about job applications. Specifically: what I, an employer, would like to see in your cover letter.


There’s nothing like sifting through a pile of job applications to make me think about what a perfect cover letter would look like.

As an employer, I get a lot of applications – we had over 100 for the last job we advertised. And I would love to say we read each one carefully and multiple times. But we don’t. Chances are, I’m so busy during work hours covering for the vacancy, I can only read your applications at home on my personal time.

Which means your cover letter should give me clear, concise, compelling reasons to read the rest of your application instead of groaning in despair and flicking over to Netflix.

I want to fill my vacancy. I want YOU to be the perfect candidate to fill that position. I want us to have an amazing career working together.

Start that amazing collaboration right now by making it easy for me to choose you!

So — with the enormous caveat that this is purely my personal opinion — here’s an example of what I would like to see in a cover letter:

Dear Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry-

I am writing to apply for the role of ASSISTANT LIBRARY MANAGER that was advertised recently on wizardjobs.com.

I love managing complex projects, I am passionate about helping teams reach their full potential, and I believe libraries play a vital role in education, so I believe I would be a great fit for this position.

I can offer you:
– 8 years experience in managing the IT Services department at MUSUL Inc.
– 13 months leading the Customer Support team at OCLC (ANZ)
– 22 years experience in IT, including problem solving and project management
– A BSc in Computer Science
– A Masters in Information Management (in progress)

In addition to my career and studies, I maintain the blog library3000.com about libraries and information technology, I regularly participate in ALIA New Graduate and NewCardigan events, and I have moderated discussion panels at the Emerging Writers Festival and the Continuum science fiction and fantasy convention.

You may notice that my background is in IT, not library management. I am currently changing career direction to pursue my love of libraries. To that end, I am studying a Master of Information Management at RMIT University, I have taken a role at OCLC (ANZ) to increase my knowledge of the library sector, and I believe that my skills and experience in team leadership, project management, and budgeting and planning are directly transferable to this role.

Included in my application are:
– this cover letter
– my response to the selection criteria
– my resume

I hope to hear from you soon.
David Witteveen
[phone number]
[email address]

Let’s walk through that

THE SALUTATION: If the job ad lists a name, use that name. Otherwise use the company name. It’s not make or break, but “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it may concern” sounds like you don’t know who you’re applying to, at which point I’m yearning for my Netflix playlist.

FIRST PARAGRAPH: Tell me which job you’re applying for. Put it in bold or all caps so I’m sure. Mention where you saw the add so I can tell if it’s worthwhile advertising there in the future.

SECOND PARAGRAPH: Tell me why you want the job. Mention two key duties and something about the broader importance of the role or industry – that’s enough to show me you understand what the job entails and why it matters.

Some people grumble about having to explain why they want they job. “I need the money!” they growl. So do all the applicants. If you can’t fake enthusiasm for the job in your cover letter, how are you going to fake it when the job gets hard?

THIRD PARAGRAPH: 3 to 5 highlights from your resume that show you’re qualified for the role. Dot points are fine. They make it easier to read.

FOURTH PARAGRAPH: A quick list of two or three relevant personal achievements that both show your interest in the field and help give me a feel for who you are as a person. Do you blog? Volunteer? Attend industry conferences or meet-ups? Have you run a relevant personal project? Try and list specific activities rather than vague, general statements such as “I really like books!”

FIFTH PARAGRAPH: Address any questions or concerns I might have after I’ve read your resume. Don’t try to hide things – if i have questions about your application, and no questions about someone else’s, I’ll interview that person instead.

So: identify the problem and explain the solution. Here’s some examples:

Q: Is this person under-qualified?
A: I am a fast learner and have all these transferable skills!

Q: Is this person overqualified?
A: I am looking to change career direction! Or improve my work-life balance! Or I just love what your company does so much that I would take a step down in my position!

Q: Why is there a large gap in this person’s resume?
A: I was raising a family! Or travelling the world! Or working on a personal art project! (Monster.com has some advice on discussing extended unemployment for medical reasons.)

Q: This person is in another city. Would they move?
A: I would love to move! Here are three reasons I would love to move specifically to your city!

SIXTH PARAGRAPH: A dot point list of attachments. This shows you’ve read the job ad and included everything they asked you to. (Read the job ad. Include everything they ask you to. It’s shocking how many people don’t. Get the advantage over them.)

END with your name, phone number and email so I can contact you. Don’t assume I have your email address from your email. HR often dump print outs of job applications on my desk.

Overall, this format tells me why you want the job, why you’d be good at it, addresses any doubts I might have, and then leads into the response to the selection criteria and resume for a more detailed exploration of your skills and qualifications.

Congratulations! You have made my task SO MUCH EASIER! I love you already! This is an excellent start to us working together!

And in case you’re wondering: I give you express permission to steal this format and use it in any and all job applications into the future.

Please do! You’ll be making my life easier.

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Resumés and Reflections

There’s nothing like reading through resumés to make you polish up your own.

This blog, I take pains to emphasise, is a personal blog, not a work one. Bu I’ve been at my new job for just over 13 months now. And reading resumés for a vacancy in my team has made me reflective.

A friend of mine updates his resumé after every performance review. His uses it not just as a tool to get a job, but as a tool to record what he’s achieved.

I’m taking it a step further, and thinking about what I want my resume to look like in the future. What dot points do I want to add to it? And how can I achieve them?

My boss in my last job gave me a great piece of advice for building your career. He recommended approaching people and companies that you want to work for, and ask them “What skills and experience would you recommend I acquire, if I want to work here in 2 or 3 years time?”

A bit over 13 months ago, I put that advice into action.

I asked the Regional Manager for an international library software vendor if I could have a casual chat. I asked him what skills and experience I should acquire if I wanted to work for them in the future. And it turned out they needed someone right then to lead their customer support team right, and my background as an IT manager studying a LIS degree made me the perfect fit.

If I had to sum those 13 months up in one word, it would be “hectic”. Three overseas trips. Two international projects. And a major restructure that happened one month after I started that completely threw out my plans for my first year.

What have I achieved in my first 13 months?

I’ve brought structure and direction. I’ve collaborated on international projects. And I’ve led my team through significant changes. A lot of what I’ve done can feel nebulous, hard to distill down to a one sentence dot point on a resumé.

What do I want to achieve in my next 13 months?

I want hard, numerical proof that my team are more efficient. To do that, I need to step down from the big-picture thinking that’s dominated my last year, and dive deep into the day-to-day details of what my team are doing and the problems that they face.

I want to collaborate on more international projects. There are some exciting company-wide projects coming up in the next year that will directly benefit my team. I want to be part of them, to help bring that benefit to fruition.

I want to engage more with the library community. All the internal changes that have happened in the last year have meant my focus has been directed towards my organisation more than towards the libraries that we serve. I want to shift that balance and engage outwards more. I want to better understand their work and their needs, and how my team can help them.

Outside of work, I really, really want to get involved in a digitisation project. I’m not sure how that will happen, given I work full time and I’m studying. But making collections available digitally is a big part of how IT helps libraries help their communities, and I’d love to have some hands-on experience with how it works.

So. Those are the four dot-point I want to add to my resumé in the coming year.

I should link here to Sally Turbitt’s recent article 10 career building tips for library students and new graduates, which seems relevant.

And I need to update my Toolkit article Writing Job Applications.

I wrote that when I was job hunting. Now that I’m on the recruiting side of a CV, my advice is : be concise! I have dozens of job applications to read! Hit me over the head with proof that you have the skills we need, and do it with one sentence dot points!

This is the current template I’m using for my own resumé:

  • [Skill]: [verbed] [bad situation] into [good situation] by [doing this].

Some (made up) examples:

  • Leadership: transformed a stressed and overwhelmed team into one with engagement and high morale by providing clear priorities and achievable “one-step-at-a-time” goals.
  • Process Improvement: reduced average resolution time from 10 days to 8 days by streamlining processes and implementing Knowledge Centered Service.

Obviously, the Skill bit in bold should match up to the skills required by the job ad (that’s the “hit me over the head” bit), and the description of your achievement that follows is the proof you have that skill.

And don’t go into any more detail than in my examples. That’s what the interview is for.

Okay. Enough navel-gazing. I better get back to reading these resumés…

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Lest We Forget: GLAMR and ANZAC Day

I’ve just returned from three weeks in the UK and the Netherlands. This trip included visits to lots of different galleries and museums, and it especially included the British Library and the National Library of Scotland.

But it’s ANZAC Day.

And I have lots of complicated thoughts and feelings about ANZAZ Day.

I splurted most of my feelings out in a thread on my Twitter account. So I’ll use this blog to be more analytical.

Mostly I want to talk about how museums and memorials are used in the act of remembering, and how what we choose to remember defines what we choose to forget.


The Sir John Monash Centre

Australia has opened the new Sir John Monash Centre in northern France. In the words of their website:

The Sir John Monash Centre tells Australia’s story of the Western Front in the words of those who served.

Set on the grounds of the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery in northern France, and adjacent to the Australian National Memorial, the Sir John Monash Centre is the hub of the Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western Front, and establishes a lasting international legacy of Australia’s Centenary of Anzac 2014-2018.

Journalist David Marr has written about the opening for the Guardian. In his description of the Centre, he notes what is left out as much what is remembered:

But the Monash Centre is not for scholars. This is entertainment, cutting edge and thrilling in its way, but entertainment. Crowds will no doubt come. Tour operators are already rejigging their itineraries to fit an hour or so for their customers in this dazzling maze.

But war buffs should stay out in the battlefields. Devotees of the great general will learn nothing new about their hero here. True, war isn’t glorified. But there’s hardly a breath of politics in the exhibition. It’s all battles and no scandal.

That’s by design. That Australia was being torn apart by conscription campaigns isn’t explored. That old Keith Murdoch tried to have Monash sacked as an uppity Jew goes unmentioned. Dud generals who slaughtered their men hardly get a guernsey. Addressed only by implication is the great question of what this war was really all about.

The Centre’s website touts the SJMC App which “downloaded on each visitor’s personal mobile device, acts as a ‘virtual tour guide’ over the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, the Australian National Memorial and the Sir John Monash Centre.”

I’m reminded here of MONA’s the O. One of the moments I fell in love with MONA was reading about a David Hockney painting. After a lengthy essay from David Walsh about the piece, I flipped over to read the essay by the curator. “I have no idea why David bought this piece,” she wrote. “I think it’s shit.”

Will the SJMC App allow room for that sort of questioning?

The Australian War Memorial

Perhaps we can’t expect a government-funded institution to question the government line.

No. That’s bullshit. Of course we should expect government-funded institutions to question the government line. This isn’t a dictatorship. It’s the role of public institutions to question governments past, present and future. And it’s the role of governments to suck up that criticism and keep funding those institutions.

And it’s the role of the public to challenge those institutions if they don’t.

In 2016, Honest History produced an Alternative Guide to the Australian War Memorial, which includes this explanation of why they thought it was necessary:

Honest History often says the Australian War Memorial is the best in the world at what it does. Then we go on to say it could do so much more and do what it does differently. This Alternative Guide hints at what we mean by statements like that.

The Guide recognises the Memorial’s aims – and comments occasionally on how well these aims have been met – but it is primarily intended to encourage critical thinking and questioning. Honest History vigorously advocates the ‘contestability’ of history. Contestability is a key concept in the Australian Curriculum: History for Years 7-10 and is at the core of the historiography issues tackled in senior years.

In the same way that MONA’s the O reveals the usually hidden debate and disagreements that go into curating an art museum, the Alternative Guide deliberately raises the different agendas that have shaped the Australian War Memorial:

The Memorial is a national cultural institution, a creation of governments. It also has close links to Australia’s defence establishment, both current (the Australian Defence Force,which is strongly represented on the Memorial’s Council) and former (the Returned and Services League, the Memorial’s volunteer guides and ‘friends’ groups). This has been so since the Memorial’s foundation. Then, in more recent years the Memorial has sought and received large donations from the defence industry, the manufacturers of the tools and weapons of war, as well as from other benefactors.

These connections have influenced the ‘style’ of the Memorial. It is important, however, to recognise that the support of the public has helped to maintain this style basically unchanged for three-quarters of a century.

I’m going to come back to MONA here again, because MONA was the first time I’d experienced a museum stop pretending to be the impartial, authoritative voice of Truth.

Art galleries are one thing. War Memorials are something else. “Lest We Forget” is the mantra we chant on ANZAC Day, and war memorials are supposed to be part of how we do not forget.

But is remembering some things a way of forgetting others?

There was huge resentment during the Great War towards the businessmen who grew rich selling armaments while soldiers died. Apparently even Fortune magazine ran an article in 1934 naming and shaming those who profited from death. (I say apparently, because I am a bad librarian and haven’t been able to track down the original article.)

And yet: in 2015, American arms company Northrop Grumman used the Australian War Memorial to celebrate its expansion into the Australian market. The War Memorial proudly displays its sponsorship arrangements with BAE Systems Australia, Boeing Australia, and Lockheed Martin.

What is being remembered here? What is being forgotten?

The Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr. Brendan Nelson, has proposed that the memorial should include the stories of military personnel who participated in the “stop the boats” Operation Sovereign Borders.

Is it appropriate for a war memorial to commemorate peacetime activity?

Is this a way of white-washing a highly controversial piece of government policy?

What is being remembered here? What is being forgotten?

While I was writing this blog post, I read author Richard Flanagan’s recent speech to the National Press Club. It covers ANZAC Day the Sir John Monash Centre and the huge sums being spent on Australian war memorials. It covers the disgraceful fact that Australia still does not have a national museum dedicated to our Indigenous cultures. And it makes the same point I did about remembering and forgetting:

And yet the horrific suffering of so many Australians for distant empires has now become not a terrible warning, not a salient story of the blood-sacrifice that must be paid by nations lacking independence, not the unhappy beginning of an unbroken habit, but, bizarrely, the purported origin story of us as an independent people.

The growing state-funded cult of Anzac will see $1.1bn spent by the Australian government on war memorials between 2014 and 2028. Those who lost their lives deserve honour – I know from my father’s experience how meaningful that can be. But when veterans struggle for recognition and support for war-related suffering, you begin to wonder what justifies this expense, this growing militarisation of national memory or, to be more precise, a forgetting of anything other than an official version of war as the official version of our country’s history, establishing dying in other people’s wars as our foundation story.

And so, the Monash Centre, for all its good intentions, for all the honour it does the dead, is at heart a centre for forgetting. It leads us to forget that the 62,000 young men who died in world war one died far from their country in service of one distant empire fighting other distant empires. It leads us to forget that not one of those deaths it commemorates was necessary. Not 62,000. Not even one.



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Libraries I would like to visit

I’ve been meaning to start a list of libraries that I would like to visit. A blog post seems as good a place as any to make it.

I’ll be revisiting and updating this post as I find new libraries, and cross old ones off the list.


The National Library of Australia: the home of Trove. My book is in their archives (via legal deposit).


The British Library: the national library of the UK. I actually visited the British Library back in 1995, and spent time drooling over the original Lewis Carroll and Samuel Taylor Coleridge manuscripts. But that was long ago…

The National Library of Scotland: I’m hoping to do the placement for my Masters course here.

Gladstone’s Library: a library in a stately home that includes bed and breakfast accommodation, so you can read late into the night. Located in Flintwick, Wales.

The Library of Mistakes: this library is a collection of business and finance works, dedicated to preventing us from repeating past mistakes. Libraries as activism. Located in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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