Tuesday, 23 December 2014

French libraries and the digital world (2/2)

On 13th November I attended a day of workshops on libraries in the digital world organised by the local groups of the French library association ABF at the Marguerite Duras library in Paris. In the first post I talked about the format of the day and the first session I attended (LibraryBox); here are notes and thoughts from the other two sessions.

CC BY-NC-ND Julien (Source: Flickr)
Supporting library users in the digital world
This session was led by Christophe Avdjian and Christelle Moreau of the - under-construction - Françoise Sagan public library in Paris. It was the session I attended that day that had the most participation (maybe because the others were about things that are still so "new", few participants had experience to share?) and it was great to hear everyone chip in with slightly different practices.

The issues we discussed were:
  • What are the skills required to support our library users in the digital world? Most people had learned on the job.
  • Is this activity part of your job description? For some yes, for others not specifically.
  • Should it be every library staff's job or a dedicated team's? The answer seems to depend on the size of the library.
  • What type of workshops (themes) do you offer? Depends if staff know how to use a particular electronic tool/device, if the library buys it for its users... Sparked a discussion on when is it not the job of the librarian anymore, e.g. when it comes to CV writing workshops: it transpired that it is the librarian's job when there isn't any other support structure in the area.
  • What format? (in terms of length of session, group/individual) Some participants also do "on the go"/floor walking-type of support: they go around the library with a tablet to show the electronic resources to customers using the building.
  • Disclaimers: if we install something on the user's device we have a responsibility. It is good practice to specify to the user at the point of booking what they are going to get from the session, and also what they are not going to get.

FabLabs and libraries
I wrote FabLabs AND libraries - not to be confused with FabLabs IN libraries. If I say "FabLab", you will be picturing 3D printers, computers, maybe a soldering station and a laser cutter [and possibly bearded men, but you'd be slipping into a cliché there]. Yes, they are a space for makers to access machines and tools but the opportunity for people to meet in person, exchange on their individual projects and share skills is just as important.

But back to the session: it was led by Julien Devriendt of Choisy le Roi public library and based on the presentation above (tip for non-French speakers: you can start on slide 9 and persevere to the examples and resources).
You might not want to have a FabLab in your library (really) but you can still offer digital fabrication activities.
To have a 3D printer in your library, you would need space, money - possibly extractor fans, and a good health and safety assessment. It might be best to focus on other types of activities, ones that help your users discover and question these technologies, gain new skills... It would be easier to rely on a network of people who know about these things - for example local Makers - rather than expect the librarians to do it. Libraries are about sharing knowledge and are instrumental in creating an environment where people do precisely that.

Ideas for activities:
  • Introduction to coding / programming using free resources like Scratch or Game Salad. Some libraries organise "coding goûters" [the goûter in French is the typical after-school / end of afternoon sweet snack or snack time for children] for families to come and play. Each participant develops their own project, shows it off to the others and receives suggestions for improvement from everyone.
  • Robotics project: support a group of young people taking part in a robotics competition. What strategy to adopt for the robot, what design, how to document the process and share it with others (writing a blog including sketches and description)... Offers the possibility to link with other topics.
  • Stick to simple projects, for example using Makey Makey which apparently is quite easy to use to create interactive "stuff" in your library [I have seen a fruit piano done like this at Gateshead Libraries eDay - it was brilliant] You can find instructions on Make It @ Your Library or Instructables.
ABF has a special interest group devoted to FabLabs - their wiki [in French of course] is worth a visit.

So that's France - but what's happening in the UK? There was a great article in the November 2014 issue of CILIP Update featuring Fab Lab Devon at Exeter Library (the first FabLab within a UK public library), Gateshead Libraries (our neighbours from across the river!), the amazing Sue Lawson of Manchester Libraries talking about working with her local "MadLab", and the intriguing library-hackspace The Waiting Room in Colchester.

And more local to me: where in the country does the annual Maker Faire UK take place? In Newcastle upon Tyne. How far from my workplace did I have to travel to take the above picture of the Newcastle Makerspace? Oh, I just stood on the pavement outside the City Library. What are Newcastle Libraries doing in terms of engaging users with digital fabrication activities? Erm... So what are we waiting for?! ;-)
(Alright, personally I'm now waiting to see what's in the box sent by Common Libraries and looking forward to attending their event at ours in March!)

If you read French (or aren't afraid of automatic translators), the organisers of the workshops have been publishing summaries of each of the sessions on the blog of ABF Paris (all the articles with #ateliersnum in the title)

Sunday, 21 December 2014

French libraries and the digital world (1/2)

On 13th November I attended in Paris a day of workshops on libraries in the digital world organised by the local groups of the French library association ABF. The format of the day was inspired by the unconference principles but it was a lot more prepared than the Library Camps I have attended or helped improvise! Participants were asked for session themes about two months in advance; the programme of the day was settled by the end of September and the organisers appealed to some local librarians with knowledge of the topics to lead the sessions. I was told that since the workshops were taking place on a week day, library managers wanted to see the programme in advance to make sure it was worth them releasing their staff to attend.

Before I tell you about the sessions I attended, I would like to point out something that struck me: both in the UK and France, librarians look to the US - simply because there are so many things happening, so many new developments, ideas that are tested there first - but we tend not to look much to our neighbours on the other side of the Channel. Now, of course we can't compete with the number of interesting projects taking place in the US, but I get the impression that in the UK we don't talk about French libraries - unless a Shakespeare First Folio is discovered in one of them; and when French librarians talk about the UK it's mainly to the shocked at the situation of our public libraries.

"Parisian church..." CC BY-NC-SA JH Images.co.uk
Source: Flickr

A LibraryBox is a "portable digital file distribution tool" (more information on the LibraryBox Project website) For a user, it works like this: you switch on the wifi on your laptop / phone / tablet and connect to the LibraryBox network. You open a browser window, choose files and download them. It's as easy as that! Users cannot upload files (only admins can) and it's up to the librarian to curate the contents. An obvious use may be to share works in the public domain or under Creative Commons (CC) licences.

The session was led by Thomas Fourmeux of Aulnay-sous-Bois public library. It covered where to source and how to set up a LibraryBox and included discussions on what to use it for and how to make sure customers actually use it too! Here are a few points:
  • It's not just about e-books: on a LibraryBox you can also share audio (e.g. music), video (films), etc. So it can exist either in parallel to a commercial e-book offer (especially when the platform used is not very flexible) or as the only access point for electronic resources a library service may have.
  • Be careful with the content offered on the LibraryBox: check the works are under a licence that allows this (I was interested to hear that Aulnay Libraries offer items under CC including some for Non-Commercial use, and educate users about what it means) but also that it suits your public (in a public space, children may be accessing the LibraryBox too!)
  • Make sure you offer works in different formats so that users can download them in the right format for their device.
  • The browser interface is coded in html so can be edited and expanded, for example by adding a search box or a wiki.
  • The signal of the LibraryBox is not super strong so it may not be accessible in all corners of the library (and even less when it's a big building).
  • Just like with other online resources, people need to know about it otherwise they won't use it. Consider staging the actual Box in the library e.g. as the centrepiece of a display to attract customers' attention. (It also helps resolve the issue mentioned in the point above as people will know where to go to find the strongest signal.)
  • Customers will also need to be educated on how to technically use the LibraryBox.
If you're curious to see what Aulnay Libraries offer on their LibraryBox, they also store the content on a Dropbox account accessible via their website (see the index of works by author) A session participant was going to use her LibraryBox to tie in with local cultural events, and in particular a music festival - asking artists if they would donate a song for people to download freely via the LibraryBox at the festival's location or in other public places.

The early adopters of the LibraryBox in France have created a network of support to share their expertise and spread the word - the website over at Bibliobox.net [in French, obviously] even includes a map of LibraryBoxes in France!

CC BY-SA Bibliobox.net (screen capture 21/12/14)

I have included a LibraryBox in my Carnegie Library Lab project so I am looking forward to ordering and setting it all up come January...

In the next blog post I will sum up the other two sessions I attended that day: on supporting customers in the digital world, and on fablabs & libraries.