Monday, 5 December 2016

Commons are forever

This article is the write-up of a talk entitled Empowering users about their rights to use creative works I gave at the National Acquisitions Group (NAG) conference on 14 September 2016. This write-up is also to be published in the Winter edition of NAG's journal Taking stock - which is why it's a bit more formal than my usual posts!

Did you know that Selma, the film about an episode of Martin Luther King’s life released in January 2015, does not use his actual speeches? It is because of copyright issues.
Have you ever tried watching a music video on YouTube, and instead it showed you a message: “This video contains content from … who has blocked it on copyright grounds”?

Copyright is everywhere and even celebrities seem to get embroiled in infringement cases – in these conditions, how can we expect library customers and the wider community to know what they can and can’t do with copyrighted works, especially online videos and images?

Copyright criminal by Alec Couros [cropped]
licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (Source: Flickr)

What role do libraries have to play in this?
Libraries exist to defend people’s right to enrich and improve their own lives, their environment and society. We library and information professionals make this happen by facilitating access to and the sharing of information, knowledge and culture. Therefore we should be helping our customers discover works they have a right to use freely, such as works in the public domain e.g. that belong to them.

The Commons are forever project at Newcastle Libraries
My role at Newcastle Libraries is within the Business & IP Centre. My colleagues and I are certified by the UK Intellectual Property Office to provide inventors and entrepreneurs information on patents, designs, trade marks and of course copyright. I often feel like people leave us feeling a bit scared about using intellectual property (IP), as we have to tell them to be careful when using IP that may belong to others. What I wanted to do is to invert this situation entirely, and instead tell library users: “yes, it's fine, you can use this without fear of infringement”.

What gave me the impetus I needed was the Carnegie UK Trust Library Lab programme, which aims to support innovation and leadership in public libraries. A call for projects was issued in September 2014 and I was lucky enough to be selected as part of the first cohort of Partners. Thanks to the programme I was able to access funding to develop my project and was supported by a mentor – artist and curator Dominic Smith.

The project became known as Commons are forever. It aimed to empower members of the public about their rights to use creative works that are free of copyright, e.g. in the public domain, and to in turn share what they create with others. It took the form of a series of events that ran at Newcastle City Library from April 2015 to Autumn 2016; the events being a mean of engaging citizens in learning about copyright and enabling them to be creative and actually re-use works.

Rebecca Moosavian and Cory Doctorow at Newcastle City Library
Image by Steve Brock under Creative Commons BY-NC (Source: Flickr)

“Discover and re-use creative works at your library”
Commons are forever was launched with a talk entitled "Copying – right or wrong?" with local law lecturer Rebecca Moosavian and author and activist Cory Doctorow. With this event we sought to both attract attention as Cory Doctorow is a well-known science-fiction and young adult writer but also to get people to understand what copyright is and the potential issues with the current system. It was certainly thought-provoking, with Cory Doctorow proposing that copyright on a work last only 12 years (compared with the duration of the life of the author plus 70 years currently!) with the possibility to be renewed but only by the creator.

Other events in the series were developed in collaboration with local digital media artists and focused on remixing public domain or openly-licensed works. There were an “archive cut-and-paste” session using images from the City Library's local history collections; a film remix workshop where participants re-recorded dialogues from public domain films; a live-coding session using sounds that have been published under an open licence... New creative works made by participants during the events were shared via the Newcastle Libraries' Flickr account.

We also ran in both 2015 and 2016 a photography competition called "We Love Monuments!" based on the Wikimedia Foundation's Wiki Loves Monuments but restricted to pictures of listed buildings and monuments within the borders of Newcastle City Council. Participants had to upload their entries to Wikimedia Commons, where all content is either in the public domain or under an open licence. They therefore learned about the licences and discovered Commons as a collaborative repository for such content. The pictures uploaded now contribute to promoting Newcastle's history and heritage on Wikipedia and engaged the community in making a record of the local area.

Old and New Newcastle by Alan Warriner - winner of We Love Monuments! 2015
Published under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

From creative works to open data
Several of the events involved coding or other digital literacy skills – during the project we were able to test out these types of activities which now form part of the legacy of Commons are forever at Newcastle Libraries. Another part of the project's legacy is the work we have been doing around open data. 

Commons are forever was originally focused on re-using creative works: works created by others - the type that in libraries we facilitate access to e.g. books, images... But our library service also collects and creates information and content: we therefore wanted to open these up and get citizens to re-use them as well. 
We published as much of Newcastle Libraries' statistics and data sets that we could under an open licence on the Council's open data pages, and invited members of the community to have a play at our first mini-hackathon – Wuthering Hacks – in April 2016. We continue to work on updating and expanding the data sets we make available, and finding ways to engage our local community in using and re-using the information.

Impact of the overall project
  • 53% of event attendees who filled in a feedback form say the event has improved their understanding of how they can use open licenses and what the public domain is. (40% said they already had a good understanding.)
  • Before the events, 14% of attendees said they felt very confident about using work either in copyright or out of copyright correctly while 25% said they did not feel confident doing so at all. After the event, 36% now felt very confident and the ones who did not at all were 4%.
  • 53% of participants said the event they attended has contributed to improve their image of public libraries (47% already valued public libraries).
  • 86% of event participants strongly agree that the library is a place for the exchange of knowledge and sharing of culture (10% slightly agree). 
  • Through the project we have worked with three local artists, a local lecturer, a local photography group, a local arts and heritage project and the local open data community; none of whom the library service had ever engaged with before.

Mimi and Eunice sketch - Copyleft Nina Paley

Do the same in your library 
I believe opening up library collections and information and empowering citizens about their rights to use and re-use works is part of the mission of libraries and our role as professionals. Libraries should be part of the open movement as we have a similar ethos; librarians should be contributing to open source tools if we can and promote the use of open content, tools and resources to their local community.

To do that might be more of an organisational change: it is not just about empowering library users but about empowering staff, and changing the policies relating to library content to make it “open”.

Another lesson from Commons are forever would be: be cunning in your event planning – organise something fun and creative to teach something as dry as copyright!

And finally: do not be afraid, just try things and see what happens.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

MozFest, part 3: everything else

Last month I went to MozFest - the Mozilla Foundation's Festival for an open internet. I started sharing my notes in a first post about all the sessions on open data I attended, then a second post on sessions related to copyright and remixing public domain works, and now here is, well, everything else.

GitHub's Patchwork
Introductory session to GitHub, using the Patchwork learning module.

Let's encrypt : someone could listen
The facilitators started the session by trying to make us understand the principle of encryption with a simple exercise. It involved us splitting into groups subdivided into three teams: teams A and C decide on an encryption method (e.g. letter replacement); A write a message - the encrypted version goes to team B who try to decipher it. Then C get the message and decipher it using the key previously agreed with A. If B manage to crack the encryption they win.

After this, the facilitators mentioned a few tools, including:
  • Panopticlick, which checks how secure/private your browser is, and advises on how to make it better;
  • Lightbeam, a Firefox add-on which lets you visualise how your data is being shared by a particular website with others, and who these other parties are.

A bit of painting using stencils
Ok, so that's not the title of a session, but I did some of that too! It was fun, and there were some Creative Commons stencils...

Photo by @biblioluke; used here with permission

Dialogues & debates: Katherine Maher, Chris Soghoian and Ashe Dryden 
Over the week-end there was also a series of talks. In the session I went to Katherine Maher of the Wikimedia Foundation asked how communities can be called open if the issue of online harassment exists, Chris Soghoian of the American Civil Liberties Union talked about privacy and Ashe Dryden discussed the ethics of unpaid labour in open source.

Here are some points made by Chris Soghoian during his talk:
  • Before Snowden's revelations "we the tech community have been a bit lazy: we knew how to encrypt, but we weren't." Now encryption is finally used in mainstream consumer products: iMessage, WhatsApp... You do not need to be able to understand and use complex systems like PGP anymore to communicate securely.
  • Governments are now trying to force companies to weaken or remove encryption, because they can't spy on people. In the countries where putting this into law is not happening governments are also looking at hacking software.
  • There are privacy issues but also some human rights issues: we are not equally vulnerable to surveillance. Not everyone can afford an iPhone - "security shouldn't be a luxury, but it is." We need to do a better job of ensuring it's just as hard for authorities to watch deprived people as wealthy ones.
  • "Android is rubbish for security" [polite version!] Unlike iPhones, Android phones don't use encryption by default and often don't get security updates.
A comment from the audience pointed out surveillance techniques were not just used against "terrorists" but also children pornography.

Unleash the creator in you
"Whether we like it or not, realise we are doing it or not, we all create something, every single day."
In this session the facilitator made us break into groups of 5-6 people before taking us through a (very accelerated!) process of creating a product. She had prepared product ideas - each group picked one at random and got started straight away. Here are the stages we went through and the time we were allocated for each:
  • Brainstorm (10min) - we have what we want to do, what is the challenge of that product or idea?
  • Research (10min) - get user feedback on ideas. Sometimes you need to pitch your idea to the user: "Would this work for you?"
  • Mock up (5min) - designing a visual representation of the product on paper.
  • Prototype / model (10min) - that's the bit where we used Play-Doh!
  • Code / pseudocode (5min)
  • Presentation
My group was given the task to develop a device that regulates the temperature of the room around a person. In the brainstorming we talked about ways this could work, as well as issues arising when several people are in the room, each with their own temperature preference or need! For the research we presented our ideas and issues to the other team and listened to their feedback and questions.
It was great fun, and also showed what you could achieve working as a team with different areas of expertise and backgrounds!

And that's it (finally) for MozFest 2016 - roll on 2017?!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

MozFest, part 2: copyright & public domain remix

Last month I went to MozFest - the Mozilla Foundation's Festival for an open internet. I started sharing my notes in a first post about all the sessions on open data I attended, and here is a write-up from two sessions related to copyright and remixing public domain works.

Reform EU copyright: what's wrong with it, and what you can do
What better way to start the festival than with a session on copyright - right?! Plus it took place in the library... 😍

Inside the library at Ravensbourne - with CC cushions for the occasion!
The facilitator explained that the European Commission has now handed the draft copyright law to the European Parliament - "MEPs are elected by citizens, and they will listen, if we're loud enough". Each speaker outlined a particular issue in the draft.

  • Caroline (Copyright for Creativity) made us do a quick quiz to see how well we knew copyright exceptions in Europe - "Is it legal to quote a picture, a film, ... ?" "Those of you who said yes, you live in Finland!" She was dynamic and frank in her way of speaking; after the quiz question around the copyright exception for text and data mining and the circumstances in which it is legal, she made the comment: "As soon as it's too efficient, it's illegal"!
  • Alek (Centrum Cyfrowe and Communia) discussed copyright and education - "Ask yourself which of the two is a basic human right, and I hope the answer is obvious". Education is so important, it is good that a copyright exception was included into this reform but the proposal is not enough. The text and data mining exception includes a non-contract override but not the education exception - which to Alek does not make sense.
  • Karolina (IFLA) gave more details on the proposed text and data mining exception in the draft: it would only apply to research organisations and for research purposes, whereas libraries want text and data mining to be allowed both for non-commercial AND commercial purposes. It is important that we don't let culture, research and enterprise be limited by arbitrary restrictions.
  • Dimi (Wikimedia Foundation) talked about the need to strengthen the commons. For example, laws in Germany and Spain are inconclusive when it comes to copyright in copies or digitised versions of public domain works - this is true to an extent even in the UK. "We're afraid that our public domain is being carved out. We believe there should be a clause to safeguard our public domain in the copyright legislation."
  • Tim (Creative Commons) explained the proposal on ancillary copyright for press publications. This type of copyright has already been tried in Spain, where people realised it wasn't working the way it was supposed to. In fact the web traffic to press websites decreased and Google News just decided to shut down. But "the publishers need Google News more than Google News needs the publishers". Another problem is that the proposal would not affect only articles, but also snippets on social media, potentially articles under open licenses; it would apply to scientific publishing too, threatening current open access models. Tim's view was that ancillary copyright (also called "link tax") goes above and beyond copyright, and the draft law does not make clear who that right applies to, potentially making it dangerously broad.
  • Diego (EDRi) described the proposed copyright upload filters on user content as a "massive attack on the Internet", YouTube's Content ID but worse, a "censorship machine". The Commission wants to prevent the availability of content by monitoring uploads, shifting the responsibility of enforcing copyright to the content platforms.

So, what can we do about all this?
  • Tune in to the #FixCopyright hashtag and find out what will happen;
  • join Wikimedia, Creative Commons or another organisation involved in pushing for copyright reform;
  • "Your voice matters!" - feedback during consultations, sign petitions, email your MEP;
  • play the numbers: the more we shout the more we'll get heard.

And finally:
  • We need to have these complicated conversations with people who may be unexpected allies.
  • Libraries need to advise users on how copyright works, because people don't know what they can and can't do with creative works. [Not my words, the speaker's!!]

Remix your own historical narratives
This session was delivered by three librarians from New York State - Nate, Davis and Matthew. They were clear from the start: "We're using you as guinea pigs!" They explained they are aiming to run this type of sessions for librarians to gain some web literacy skills, and for them to in turn run sessions in their libraries.

"There's a tremendous push from galleries, libraries, archives and museums to put collections online e.g. images" though some are locked down with copyright while some are open. In this workshop people learn some basic HTML and discover sources of free-to-use historical images by remixing and manipulating media to produce a zine or a comic.

The zines and comics can be created "in hard copy" by printing pictures and using paper and glue to put them together (which is what I did during the session!) but the aim is to use the zine-o-matic and comic creator templates. Using Mozilla Thimble to remix projects, you simply need to edit the code to make your own comic/zine by inserting the URL of pictures that are in the public domain or openly licensed and by changing the captions.

I loved the session as it was exactly the type of things I've been trying to do these past couple of years with the workshops part of my Commons are forever project: getting people to be creative and remix works that are freely and legally accessible while making them aware of public domain and open licences... And now I have two new tools to try out in a future workshop in my library!

Beer : a short story in 3 pictures GIF
The zine I created during the session... brought to you as a GIF

Notes from the remaining sessions will be published in a third blog post.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

MozFest, part 1: open data

Last month I went to MozFest!!! (And yes, I am still very excited about it.) MozFest is the Mozilla Foundation's Festival for an open internet. Session themes include "fuel the movement", digital arts and culture, open science, demystify the web, ... There is also a youth zone where adults are welcome and where most of the "making" happens.
MozFest 2016 took place at Ravensbourne College in London from 28th to 30th October. I was there as part of a group of six lucky librarians from across England to have received a bursary from the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL); you can still check out our adventures via Twitter under the hashtag #MozLibs. I have already written up my MozFest highlights for the SCL blog (watch out for the snapshots from the rest of our group!) but here I wanted to go in more details into some of the sessions I attended.

I happen to have attended three sessions touching on open data - I'll put all the other sessions I went to in another blog post. But before I start with the notes from my "MozFest open data Sunday afternoon" I want to share with you two quotes from Mark Surman (Mozilla Foundation Chief Exec) in his opening speech; just to get you in the mood.

"All of us has a chance to be leaders in this movement."
"Coding is a way to be an activist, to build to change the future". There are other ways: to campaign for copyright reform, privacy, through art...

Spot: six excited librarians in the MozFest crowd
Original photo (cropped here) by Paul Clarke under CC BY-NC-SA (Source: Flickr)

Open curriculum for open data training, presented by Stephanie Wright
This open data training programme has been developed by the Mozilla Science Lab; it's available on GitHub under an open license (Creative Commons Attribution). It comprises primers - short guides for self-guided learning - and instructor guides for using the primers in a group setting, with participatory exercises.
So far the topics covered include the why of open data, how to make your data open and share it, how to find data made available by others. Future topics being considered: visualisation, data ethics, privacy... The course writers are looking for feedback on the training and help from new collaborators for future topics (e.g. visualisation).

It was one of those sessions that four of our #MozLibs group attended a bit by chance, after meeting the session facilitator. Steph is a former librarian and had spotted on Twitter that there were a few of us around, so we arranged to meet up on the Sunday morning, she said she was running a demo on open data training... et voilà.
As it turns out, it's also the one session that I have already been able to do something from within my job. There are other things I have learnt at MozFest that I will be using, but this one has already had a visible impact: I have enrolled my colleagues to try out the open data training next month. I have set aside three one-hour sessions for us to explore the topics currently available as part of the course and see how useful it is for them - we may then (who knows) run sessions for other colleagues in the Council. I am also hoping to be able to give feedback to the course writers on how it worked for us and possibly inform future development.

Let's construct open data initiatives that last, facilitated by Rory Gianni
Open data is a common infrastructure. To make it last, it needs to offer value to everybody using it.
There may be issues around sustainability: if an organisation folds, the data needs to still be available so published on a platform that continues to exist. There is also the need to expand the data, i.e. update it regularly - it can't be something set up by one person that will stop being updated when that person leaves the organisation.
Note: the European Data Portal has an e-learning programme which includes a module on sustainability.

Rory made us discuss in small groups different aspects of open data within our organisations and how to make it sustainable. I was sitting next to @biblioluke so of course we unpicked Newcastle Libraries' open data, helped in our thinking by the people around us. Rory's questions - what's the vision for open data in your organisation? Who's involved? How will they succeed? - and examples made Luke and I feel good that we seem to be on the right track!
A conclusion to the session or next step for us could be: "Go to where people involved in your open data vision are and tell them what you're doing"!

For examples of what was discussed within the groups check out the session's collaborative notes.

Rory giving examples of what could be part of an organisation's vision regarding open data

Creating data literacy, facilitated by Dirk Slater
In this session we discussed how to "make data accessible for people who don't understand spreadsheets" by connecting different actors doing similar things for their own communities e.g. journalists, government, universities. Below are some of the points mentioned.

  • In libraries we are both data publishers and intermediaries. As an intermediary it is important to have a neutral position when doing data literacy work. 
  • Intermediaries need to show the result or tale that can be told from understanding or knowing how to use data, rather than just telling people: "these are the tools you could want or need to use" otherwise people are not going to be interested in learning about data or will not use the tools nor remember about them.
  • A problem may be that the quality of the data is linked to where you got the data from - being data literate is definitely a part of being information literate and knowing to differentiate between sources of data and information based on whether they are an authority in the sector discussed, what is their interest in publishing the information, etc.
  • Data literacy: a way to be a better citizen, exercise your democratic rights and duties better. If you can make sense of the data that is being published you can better understand how your environment works and what the stakes are when making decisions and participating in public consultations.
  • There are groups that have experience of connecting with citizens i.e. advocacy groups, activists group - would there be scope to partner with those groups?
  • There is a role to be played by data regulators, people looking at how data is being used.

Note: Tabitha, another of the #MozLibs, has also blogged about the open data training programme - on her site there are write-ups of some of the sessions she attended.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The WHY of libraries and librarians

Funnily enough, in the middle of writing this (which was actually months after finishing the book mentioned further down and starting thinking about it all), I discovered a library consultant had just written a blog post in which he says how important Simon Sinek's concept is for him. So it's not just me, Andy Priestner says it too!!

It starts with the Carnegie Library Lab online learning programme. Tom Forrest made our little group of Carnegie Partners watch a video by Simon Sinek then put into words the WHY, HOW and WHAT of our projects. I'll let you watch the video below so you understand what I'm talking about (it's 18:34 long and totally worth your time, but if you're in a hurry you can go for just the first 6 minutes).

Simon Sinek makes the point that most organisations know WHAT they do and HOW they do it, but not always WHY they do it - the WHY being their purpose, their beliefs, their reasons for doing what they do the way they do it. This WHY is essential as "people don't buy what you do - they buy why you do it"; it is the WHY that inspires people to "buy" into what you do and creates loyalty for your organisation (from both staff and customers). When you communicate you should communicate your WHY first not your WHAT, because your WHY is what people will react to the most. On another level, if you act according to your beliefs (your WHY) in HOW you do things and WHAT you make, it means WHAT you do to achieve your WHY can take many forms but still makes sense, for example branching into different products or services. What you do in your organisation proves what you believe in, what people do by buying into your products or services proves what they believe in.

Ok, that's a very quick summary (you should really watch the full video!) Simon Sinek wrote a whole book about this topic, entitled Start with Why. I don't often read non-fiction books, but this one came warmly recommended by a fellow Carnegie Partner so I stuck my teeth into it (no, no literally! Who do you think I am - I would never do that to a library book); it took me ages but I read it.

And it made me think. (I know, it's unbelievable - right!?)
It made me think about the WHY of libraries, their raison d'être, and people's perceptions of it. And it also made me think about WHY I am a librarian, what it is in me that makes me passionate about the role of libraries.

The WHY of libraries
It's not easy to phrase in a definite way what public libraries are for - in the profession and outside of it everyone has their own variation on the matter. A couple of years ago I was at a debate organised by CILIP North East on volunteer-run libraries; on one side were founders of a volunteer-run library, while on the other were professional librarians. I was struck by the fact the volunteer library people seemed to think a library was about books, whereas the librarians defined the library as being about access to information. I think the librarians' point of view then is representative of our profession: we do not believe libraries are about books - and yet so many of our residents (even those taking our defense), stakeholders, decision-makers think so. Where does this discrepancy come from? Where did we go wrong?

Could we have made the mistake of communicating too much on WHAT we do, rather than on WHY we do it? No wonder some of our customers or stakeholders don't understand why we are introducing digital and making activities in our libraries, if we have made them believe we were mainly about books. No wonder politicians say things like: "Public libraries are outdated; they have been replaced by the Internet" if we have made them believe the wrong thing about libraries' role. No wonder we're struggling for survival, if most people have no clue WHY we're essential to our communities.

In my last job interview - the one where I was actually re-applying for my own post, and if I failed I was being made redundant - I suggested re-writing the library service's vision and mission statement. It was probably a bit of a risky thing to say in those circumstances (!) but I ask you: does your library's vision statement say why the library service exist, what is its raison d'être? Mine doesn't. It jumps straight into the WHAT. It says " we do", "we will", "we have". It doesn't say "we believe in", "we are here for". It looks good but it's not enough: it's not inspiring, it's not going to make anyone think twice about cutting our budget again. Because it doesn't say WHY we do what we do, and it doesn't leave scope for our potential to do other things, to adapt to our customers' needs.

WHY I am a librarian
Now I'm not saying changing the way we talk about our libraries will save us from budget cuts - but if it helps change perceptions, wouldn't it be worth a try? Maybe something like this...
{WHY} * Libraries exist to defend people’s rights to enrich and improve their own lives, their environment and society.
[HOW] Our library staff make this happen by facilitating access to and the sharing of information, knowledge and culture.
[WHAT] We keep our buildings safe and welcoming, we maintain collections for members of the community to consult and borrow, we organise and host learning and social activities.
How's that?

Start with Why also made me think about WHY I am a librarian and why I am now so committed to public libraries it is hard for me to think of leaving them. The answer is easy: I believe in them. I believe in the role of public libraries; public libraries' WHY align with my personal principles and interests. Public libraries defend people's rights; I think if I wasn't working in a public library I might want to work for a civil rights association, or - as one of my friends once suggested to me - for a politician! (I did laugh in his face.)

Thinking about the WHY of libraries and of myself as a librarian has made me change the way I introduce myself and talk about libraries outside of the library sector. In my current role I regularly deliver workshops for entrepreneurs, inventors and established businesses - I always explain that I am an information professional (think Mystique in X-Men : First Class: "Mutant Librarian, and proud") and why I'm the person they need. But it is a stance I am now also using within my own library service, especially with frontline staff: explaining that this is what we stand for, all of us, together; this is why we exist and we do those things.
I have started using what I believe is the WHY of libraries to promote and explain the events I've recently organised - for example the hackathon. Organising a hackathon in a library, using library data released under an open licence makes sense: because libraries' raison d'être is to enable people to improve their circumstances and environment, by sharing information.
I've started using the WHY / HOW / WHAT structure in articles (though not in this one, otherwise it would be less chaotic!) and in presentations - and I should probably use it more.

And what about you?

Try this at home
Take a pen and a piece of paper - or grab your nearest device with a notebook function. And type/write down:
  1. The WHY of your library or information service - why does it exist in the first place, what is its raison d'être? What, as an organisation, does it believe in?
  2. HOW is your organisation achieving this? In what ways does it put its WHY into practice?
  3. WHAT are the kind of things you are actually doing, at the end of the line? WHAT services do you propose to your users?
Then take a breath, jump a few lines, whatever - have a little pause. And continue.
4. WHY are you, personally, in libraries? What is it you believe in that aligns with your organisation's purpose?
Then be ready to shout about it. Be an advocate for what you believe.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

CryptoParty Newcastle round-up

The first CryptoParty Newcastle took place at Newcastle City Library on 22 May. It was organised via the Open Rights Group North East by a core group of four individuals (including me!) who care about privacy and sharing knowledge of how to protect one's electronic communications.

"Attend a CryptoParty to learn and teach how to use basic cryptography tools. A CryptoParty is free, public and fun. It is an open format where everyone is welcome independent of their age, gender or knowledge. People bring their computers, mobile devices, and a willingness to learn!"

Here is a round-up of posts and pages about the event.

  • Planning page on the cryptoparty website
  • Some visuals to promote the event
  • The event's page on the cryptoparty website (likely to be re-used for future events)
  • Crypto Party…in a public library…in the UK by Ian Clark on his blog
    Ian has been making the case that part of librarians' role is to help citizens protect their intellectual freedoms, including the right to privacy. In this article, he praises the fact this cryptoparty is hosted and promoted by Newcastle Libraries and hopes that other librarians and libraries will follow in our footsteps.

Below are some of the social media posts that helped promote the event (my sincere apologies for the video!! I'm still embarrassed about it, but it was great that Newcastle City Council Comms team took such an interest that they asked about doing a video and posted it on social media).

"Cypherpunks. Newcastle Library is hosting a #CryptoParty, this Sunday"
Newcastle City Council video


To protect our participants' privacy, we didn't take pictures during the event ;-)

Alex, one of the organisers, had prepared handouts which were distributed to people, and are now online ready to be used by everyone who needs them.


  • Cryptoparty hosted by Newcastle City Library by Shannon Robalino, one of the CryptoParty Newcastle participants and a librarian by profession, on her blog
    Shannon describes what happened at the cryptoparty and her experience of some of the tools. She also mentions the perception a majority of the population seems to have, that they do not need to protect their privacy, making cryptoparties a bit of an echo chamber. At the end of her post she points to some further reading and to the Radical Librarians Collective and the Library Freedom project.
  • What we learned from hosting our cryptoparty by Alex Haydock, one of the organisers, on Medium
    Alex explains the reasons behind cryptoparties and gives recommendations on how to organise one, with examples based on our experience in Newcastle. "In many ways, libraries are the perfect venue for an event like a CryptoParty", he writes. His article covers finding a venue, what groups to reach out to help organise and promote the event, what online resources are available, as well as what the plan is for the "after-CryptoParty Newcastle".
  • CryptoParty Newcastle and user privacy in libraries by, erm, *me* on Informed
    Starting with a definition of what a cryptoparty is, I explain why we held one in a public library by showing how it fits with the role of libraries and librarians. I then tell of how CryptoParty Newcastle was actually organised and what we did on the day. To conclude, I make suggestions on what librarians can do for user privacy in their institutions.

That's all folks! (except now you may have the Looney Tunes theme tune stuck in your head. Sorry!!)

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The SCL Learning Offer in the North East

Last Friday 6 May I had the opportunity to attend the Society of Chief Librarians' Universal Offers roadshow at Newcastle City Library.
My understanding is that the Universal Offers have been developed by the SCL to better promote what public libraries do but also help library services understand where they might be lacking or leading compared to others in England. When a public library signs up to an Offer they agree to provide a core package of services linked to a particular area. For example, the Digital Offer includes: "free internet access (for a minimum period of time), clear and accessible online information about library services, staff trained to help customers access digital information". The Offers are continously expanded and new ones are developed.

The regional roadshows allow librarians to come together to share best practice but also provide feedback on each Offer - for a snapshot of the North East event, check out the #neroadshow hashtag on Twitter. I spent my day at the Learning Offer table, as I had been asked to share my experience of releasing and re-using library data and how the Wuthering Hacks hackathon I organised last month encouraged members of the public to "develop and share ideas and learn together" in libraries, which is one of the points in the Learning Offer.

The Learning Offer also covers "that coding and making stuff"; as library staff felt they needed more information about how to run these types of activities, the SCL has produced a toolkit called Code Green to help them.
In Newcastle we have recently invested in some kit, so my colleague @biblioluke and I had set up some (Raspberry Pi, Arduino, etc.) in the room for roadshow attendees who'd never tried these to have a go. I am afraid the first thing I did with attendees arriving to the Learning Offer table in the morning is engage them in a bit of making! They created foil sculptures - which were fantastic and included a bird, a boat, a bracelet, a dog, a caterpillar (or similar type of creature) - to show off how a MakeyMakey works!

The reason for this post is simply that I took a few notes during the day, and instead of forgetting them I thought I might as well write them all up. Below is therefore a quick roundtable of some of the things I heard from colleagues in library services across the North East.

The Learning Offer in the North East: what other libraries are doing
  • Gateshead Libraries, like many others, offer a weekly job club: in 4 to 5 weeks unemployed customers learn how to write their CV using a computer, search for jobs online... Theirs is mainly attended by people over 50 years old. They may not get a job straightaway but they get a huge confidence boost.
  • In Middlesbrough the local history volunteers are realising how valuable their local knowledge is and therefore building their confidence too. They are now presenting to other groups and doing talks, one volunteer even teaching another how to use Powerpoint when they weren't particularly IT-savvy! 
  • In Northumberland the first Code Club is about to start at Hexham Library. When the library service was looking for volunteers, most of them seemed more interested in working with schools... In the end the Council's Digital Team helped get the Code Club set up, so the library is getting benefits from the activity with minimal input. 
  • In North Tyneside the Lifelong Learning arm of the Council deliver courses in libraries and are happy to take suggestions from library staff on further courses to offer.
  • Stockton Libraries took part in the BBC Get Creative Day on 2nd April and invited local creative people to showcase their work and run workshops for customers, including one on pottery and another on book art!

Thoughts on the Learning Offer
  • Local Studies and Family History are actually a big part of most services' learning offer (more than coding!)
  • The Learning Offer gives public libraries a chance to target other groups - those that maybe don't use libraries much / that we don't cater for very well e.g. teenagers, young adults in education.
  • More and more services are being pressured into generating income, but most of our customers can't afford to pay for things including learning activities.
  • Barriers to implementing the Learning Offer: space, time, money, staff. There are also less learning providers and they are offering courses in libraries with now-reduced hours.
  • Some Councils are putting pressure on libraries by asking: "OK, the library is doing this because it fits with its role, but what does it bring to the Council as a whole?"
  • Comment on the hackathon case study: if libraries ask Councils/IT anything to do with systems and data, the first answer they'll get is no.
  • Through SCL we could work more closely together. It's great to be able to meet people at the regional roadshow and know who to ask for advice on particular topics, though more formal peer mentoring or training is needed.
  • Next steps for the Learning Offer: more stuff for adults! Coding is not just for children [I couldn't agree more!]

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Coding: what schools do...

...that libraries could take inspiration from.

Last week I got sent on a training organised by the North-East group of ASCEL, the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians. Now, I'm clearly not a children's librarian (my association wouldn't be ASCEL but more something like: ACGIFL, the Association of Copyright Geeks and Intellectual Freedom Librarians! If it existed, of course.) My colleague who was supposed to go had an emergency and basically the head of the Children's team came to me and said: "Aude, it's training about coding, robotics etc. - you're into those things, would you go so the place isn't wasted?"

So there I am the next day, at the Open Zone CLC in South Shields. The Open Zone CLC team help school teachers across South Tyneside with IT. They provide support and training on the technical side of things but also deliver computing lessons for pupils as young as 4 years old and up to 18.
Interestingly, Open Zone also runs some workshops for parents, specifically on e-safety - however, they found there was a very low take-up, as the vast majority of parents don't realise how important safety and privacy online are!

Our trainer started by telling us about the new computing curriculum for Key Stage 1 & 2 (primary school, 5 to 11 year-olds), which encompasses computer science, information technology and digital literacy including e-safety. The day was then spent trialling some of the tools and devices Open Zone use to teach what the national curriculum prescribes.

Screenshot from "Daisy the dinosaur"
We started by trying out some coding apps for younger children:
 Daisy the dinosaur (free iPad app; can be used by 3-year-olds)
 Kodable (didn't try that one)
 Hopscotch (free iPad app; good but I got confused by the categories)
 Scratch junior (the little brother of the MIT platform; free app available for Android, iOS and even Kindle)

Before moving on to tools for an older age range we got to play with Bee Bots - though to be correct the ones we used were Blue Bots (connecting to a tablet via Bluetooth). These bees are programmable floor robots - and they're really fun.

Other recommended educational coding platforms for an older age range:
 Scratch (obviously!)
 Kodu (Microsoft programme that works with Xbox controllers and apparently "a bit more exciting than Scratch")
 Codecademy (free online courses for different programming languages)
 Hour of Code (yay!)

Blue Bot programmed on iPad and raring to go

I got called "swotty" several times during the day, and the first was when the trainer started talking about the Hour of Code. I totally agree when she said it is brilliant to get people started with coding and can be used for both children and adults. Where I disagree is when she recommended the Star Wars Hour of Code (in her defense, she did admit it was partly because she is a Star Wars fan!) whereas I think the Minecraft one's the best (because the squares make it easier to program how far the character needs to go. Plus Minecraft is way cooler than Star Wars - right?!  Erm, let's move on...)

Next on the agenda was Lego. Open Zone use Lego WeDo with primary school pupils and Mindstorms with secondary. We got to try the Mindstorms EV3. The programming interface still uses "blocks" of sorts but the options on the EV3 are definitely more advanced: first of all you have to figure out which motors to use (the robot has 3!) to make it move, and then there are all sorts of options and sensors to play with.
Note: if you checked out the Blue Bots and thought they were expensive, don't look at the Legos or your eyes will water.

Below is a very short video of an EV3 I programmed to: move forward, wait 3sec, turn around, move forward.  

After that (and some lunch), the trainer took us through a lesson plan she uses to teach pupils enough coding to create a game using Scratch (in a one and a half hour session). I'd played with Scratch before but not in-depth so that was my favourite part of the day!
Open Zone use the Scratch 1 offline editor (they have it installed on all the computers) rather than the web-based version.
Idea: in a library setting Scratch could be used to re-create scenes from books, for example.

Finally, we talked about the BBC Micro:bit which every Year 7 school kid is supposed to receive... at some point this year of the next, and had a look at Raspberry Pi. Open Zone had just received some Raspberry Pi kits they'd bought from their counterparts in North Tyneside. I had seen the Build IT kits demonstrated at the last Maker Faire UK but getting my hands on one I was less impressed. I guess it's handy for schools because it comes with a breadboard and the Pi mounted on a card (so less risk of losing one) plus some cables, LEDs, resistors... It also comes with a project booklet, but when 4 librarians have a look at the very first project and all conclude that it's not clear what one is supposed to do, I feel like my library didn't miss anything not getting those.

All in all it was an interesting day where I got to try out several tools - a bit like a "try before you buy"! And now it's time for a think with my colleagues to decide what we actually can and want to do in terms of offering coding activities for our customers young and old to learn in libraries.