Tuesday June 5th through Friday June 8th 2012, 500 creatives from numerous fields such as, computer science, art, design, data visualization, gathered together to listen, converse, and participate in the second Eyeo Festival. Held in Minneapolis, MN at the Walker Art Center, the event organizers created an environment of learning, exchange, exploration, and fun. There were various workshops with some top names leading the way. Thoughtfully curated presentations throughout the day complemented keynotes held nightly in party-like atmospheres: Eyeo was an event not to be missed. Ranging from independent artists to the highest levels of innovative companies, Eyeo offered inspiration on many levels.
Why the Eyeo Festival?
As I began to think about what I experienced at the Eyeo Festival, I struggled to express exactly how impactful this event was for me and those I connected with. In a way, Eyeo is like TED and in fact, many presenters have given TED talks. Eyeo has a more targeted focus on art, design, data, and creative code but it is also so much more than that. With an interactive art and sound installation, Zygotes, by Tangible Interaction kicking off the festival, though the video is a poor substitute to actually being there, it still evokes a sense of wonder and possibility. I strongly encourage anyone who is drawn to design, data, art, interaction or to express their creativity through code to attend this outstanding creative event and follow the incredible people that make up the impressive speaker list.
I went to the Eyeo Festival because I like to seek out what professionals in other fields are doing. I like staying curious and stretching outside my comfort zone in big ways, surrounding myself with people doing things I don’t understand, and then trying to understand them. Over the years I’ve been to many library conferences and there are some amazing events with excellent programming but they are, understandably, very library-centric. So, to challenge myself, I decided to go to a conference where there would be some content related to libraries but that was not a library conference. There are many individuals and professions outside of libraries that care about many of the same values and initiatives we do, that work on similar kinds of problems, and have the same drive to make the world a better place. So why not talk to them, ask questions, learn, and see what their perspective is? How do they approach and solve problems? What is their process in creating? What is their perspective and attitude? What kind of communities are they part of and work with?
I was greatly inspired by the group of librarians who have attended the SXSWi Festival which has grown further over the years. There are a now a rather large number of librarians speaking about and advocating for libraries in such an innovative and elevated platform. There is even a Facebook Group where professionals working in libraries, archives, and museums can connect with each other for encouragement, support, and collaborations in relation to SXSWi. Andrea Davis, Reference & Instruction Librarian at the Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, has been heavily involved in offering leadership in getting librarians to collaborate at SXSW. She states, “I’ve found it absolutely invigorating to get outside of library circles to learn from others, and to test the waters on what changes and effects are having on those not so intimately involved in libraries. Getting outside of library conferences keeps the blood flowing across tech, publishing, education. Insularity doesn’t do much for growth and learning.”
I’ve also been inspired by librarians who have been involved in the TED community, such as Janie Herman and her leadership with Princeton Public Library’s local TEDx in addition to her participation in the TEDxSummit in Doha, Qatar. Additionally, Chrystie Hill, the Community Relations Director at OCLC, has given more than one TedX talk about libraries. Seeing our library colleagues represent our profession in arenas broader than libraries is energizing and infectious.
Librarians having a seat at the table and a voice at two of the premier innovative gatherings in the world is powerful. This concept of librarians embedding themselves in communities outside of librarianship has been discussed in a number of articles including The Undergraduate Science Librarian and In the Library With the Lead Pipe.
Rather than giving detailed comprehensive coverage of Eyeo, you’ll see a glimpse of a few presentations plus a number of resources so that you can see for yourself some of the amazing, collaborative work being done. Presenter’s names link to the full talk that you can watch for yourself. Because a lot of the work being done is interactive and participatory in some way, I encourage you to seek these projects out and interact with them. The organizers are in the midst of processing a lot of videos and putting them up on the Eyeo Festival Vimeo channel; I highly recommend watching them and checking back for more.
Principal of Fathom, a Boston based design and data visualization firm, and co-initiator of the programming language Processing, Ben Fry’s work in data visualization and design is worth delving into. In his Eyeo presentation, 3 Things, the project that most stood out was the digitization project Fathom produced for GE: http://fathom.info/latest/category/ge. Years of annual reports were beautifully digitized and incorporated into an interactive web application they built from scratch. When faced with scanning issues, they built a tool that improved the scanned results.
Data artist in residence for the New York Times, and former geneticist, Jer Thorp’s range in working with data, art, and design is far and wide. Thorp is one of the few founders of the Eyeo Festival and in his presentation Near/Far he discussed several data visualization projects with the focus on storytelling. The two main pieces that stood out from Jer’s talk was his encouragement to dive into data visualization. He even included 10 year old, Theodore Zaballos’ handmade visualization of The Illiad which was rather impressive. The other piece that stood out was his focus on data visualization in context to location and people owning their own data versus a third party. This lead into the Open Paths project he showcased. He has also presented to librarians at the Canadian library conference, Access 2011.
Jen Lowe was by far the standout from all of the amazing Ignite Eyeo talks. She spoke about how people are intrinsically inspired by storytelling and the need for those working with data to focus on storytelling through the use of visualizing data and the story it tells. She works for the Open Knowledge Foundation in addition to running Datatelling and she has her library degree (she’s one of us!).
Jonathan Harris gave one of the most personal and poignant presentations at Eyeo. In a retrospective of his work, Jonathan covered years of work interwoven with personal stories from his life. Jonathan is an artist and designer and his work life and personal life are rarely separated. Each project began with the initial intention and ended with a more critical inward examination from the artist. The presentation led to his most recent endeavor, the Cowbird project, where storytelling once again emerges strongly. In describing this project he focused on the idea that technology and software could be used for good, in a more human way, created by “social engineers” to build a community of storytellers. He describes Cowbird as “a community of storytellers working to build a public library of human experience.”
Additional people + projects to delve into:
Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg of the Google Big Picture data visualization group. Wind Map: http://hint.fm/wind/
Kyle McDonald: http://kylemcdonald.net/
Tahir Temphill: http://tahirhemphill.com/ and his latest work, Hip Hop Word Count: http://staplecrops.com/index.php/hiphop_wordcount/
Julian Oliver: http://julianoliver.com/
Nicholas Felton of Facebook: http://feltron.com/
Local Projects: http://localprojects.net/
Oblong Industries: http://oblong.com/
Eyebeam Art + Technology Center: http://eyebeam.org/
What can libraries get from the Eyeo Festival?
Libraries and library work are everywhere at this conference. That this eclectic group of creative people were often thinking about and producing work similar to librarians is thrilling. There is incredible potential for libraries to embrace some of the concepts and problems in many of the presentations I saw and conversations I was part of. There are multiple ways that libraries could learn from and perhaps participate in this broader community and work across fields.
People love libraries and these attendees were no exception. There were attendees from numerous private/corporate companies, newspapers, museums, government, libraries, and more. I was not the only library professional in attendance so I suspect those individuals might see the potential I see, which I also find really exciting. The drive behind every presenter and attendee was by far creativity in some form, the desire to make something, and communicate. The breadth of creativity and imagination that I saw reminded me of a quote from David Lankes in his keynote from the New England Library Association Annual Conference:
“What might kill our profession is not ebooks, Amazon or Google, but a lack of imagination. We must envision a bright future for librarians and the communities they serve, then fight to make that vision a reality. We need a new activist librarianship focused on solving the grand challenges of our communities. Without action we will kill librarianship.”
If librarianship is in need of more imagination and perhaps creativity too, there is a world of wonder out there in terms of resources to help us achieve this vision.
The Eyeo Festival is but one place where we can become inspired, learn, and dream and then bring that experience back to our libraries and inject our own imagination, ideas, experimentation, and creativity into the work we do. By doing the most creative, imaginative library work we can do will inspire our communities; I have seen it first hand. Eyeo personally taught me that I need to fail more, focus more, make more, and have more fun doing it all.
Eating Your Own Dog Food
One of the most memorable experiences I had as a library student was becoming a patron of my own library. As on online library school student* I usually worked either in my office at pre-approved times, or at home. However, depending on the assignment, sometimes I worked out at the reference area public access computers. It nearly drove me mad, for a very simple reason – this was in the day before optical mouse devices, and the trackballs on our mice were incredibly sticky and jerky, despite regular cleaning routines. It was so bad I wondered how students could stand to work on our workstations, and how it made them feel about the library in general, since there is nothing like a solid hour or so of constantly repeated, albeit small, irritations to make a person develop indelible negative feelings towards a particular environment.
I’ve heard the same thing from colleagues that have started graduate programs here at my university; they are shocked at how hard it can be to be a student in the library, even with insider knowledge, and it can be demoralizing (and galvanizing) to watch classmates and even instructors dismiss library services and resources with “too confusing” or “learning curve too steep” as they ruthlessly practice least-effort satisficing for their information needs.
In information technology circles, the concept of having to use your own platforms/services is known as “eating your own dog food” or “dogfooding.” While there are pitfalls to relying too heavily on it as an assessment tool (we all have insider knowledge about libraries, software, and resources that can smooth the process for us), it is an eye-opening exercise, especially to listen to our users be brutally frank about what we offer — or don’t.
DIY Universities and Open Education
I am suggesting something related but complementary to dogfooding — sampling the models and platforms of a burgeoning movement that has the potential to be a disruptive force in higher education. DIY U and the coming transformation of education are all the rage (pun intended) these days, as prestigious universities and professors, Edupunks, loose collaboratives, and start-ups participate in collaborative free online offerings through various platforms and with different aims: Coursera, Khan Academy, P2PU, MIT OpenCourseWare, Udacity, NYU Open Education, and many more. This is a call to action for us as librarians. Instead of endlessly debating what this might mean, or where it might be going, and this movement’s possible effect on academic libraries, I suggest actually signing up for a course and experiencing it first-hand.
For library technologists facing the brave new world of higher education in the 21st century, there are three major advantages to taking a class in one of the new experimental DIY universities. We get to experience new platforms, delivery mechanisms, and modes of teaching, some of which may be applicable to the work of the academic library. In addition, many of the courses offered are technical courses that are directly applicable to our daily work. Thirdly, it allows us as academic participants to personally assess the often intemperate and hyperbolic language on both sides of the debate: “can’t possibly be as good as institutional campus-based face-to-face EVER” versus “This changes everything, FOREVER.” How many faculty on your campuses do you think have actually taken an online class, especially in one of these open educational initiatives? This is an opportunity to become an informed voice in any local campus debates and conversations. These conversations and debates will involve our core services, whether faculty and administrators realize it or not.
It will also encourage some future-oriented thinking about where libraries could fit into this changing educational landscape. One of the more interesting possible effects in these collaborative, open-to-all ventures is the necessity of using free or open access high quality resources. Where will that put the library? What does that mean for instructional resources hidden behind a particular institution’s authentication wall? Academic libraries and services have been tied to a particular institution — what happens when those affiliations blur and change extremely rapidly? There are all sorts of implications for faculty, students, libraries, vendors, and open access/open educational resources platforms. As a thought exercise, take a look at these seven predictions for the future of technology-enabled universities from JISC’s Head of Innovation, Sarah Porter. Which ones DON’T involve libraries? As a profession, let’s get out on the bleeding edge and investigate the developing models.
I just signed up for “Model Thinking” through Coursera. Taught by Professor Scott E. Page from the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan, the course will cover modeling information to make sense of trends, social movements, behaviors, because “evidence shows that people who think with models consistently outperform those who don’t. And, moreover people who think with lots of models outperform people who use only one.” That sounds applicable to making decisions about e-books, collection development, workflow redesign, and changing models of higher education, et cetera.
- Coursera offers clusters of courses in Society, Networks, and Information (Model Thinking, Gamification, Social Networking Analysis, among others) and Computer Science (Algorithims, Compilers, Game Theory, etc.). If you have a music library or handle streaming media in your library, what about Listening to World Music? If you are curious about humanities subjects that have depended on traditional library materials in the past, try A History of the World since 1300 or Greek and Roman Mythology.
- Udacity offers Building a Search Engine, Design of Computer Programs, and Programming a Robotic Car (automate a bookmobile?).
- Set up your own peer class with P2PU, or take Become a Citizen Scientist, Curating Content, or Programming with the Twitter API.
- If you are in the New York City area and can attend an in-person workshop, General Assembly offers Storytelling Skills, Programming Fundamentals for Non-Programmers, and Dodging the Dangers of Copyright Law (taught by participants in Yale Law School’s Information Society Project) as part of a menu of tech and tech-business related workshops. These have fees ranging from $15 to $30.
- Before I take my Model Thinking class, I’m planning to brush up my algebra at Khan Academy.
- Try the archived lectures at Harvard’s “Building Mobile Applications“, hosted in their institutional repository.
- Health Sciences Librarian? What about Information Technology in the Health Care System of the Future from MIT OpenCourseWare?
* Full disclosure: I am a proud graduate of University of Illinois’ LEEP (5.0) MSLIS program, and I also have another master’s degree done the old fashioned way, and I am an enthusiastic supporter of online education done correctly.
This blog post is not concerned with the specific application of a technology, rather it advocates the rather post-modern idea of research and writing in library technology for career impact. I take as my departure point the fact that not all research articles are useful contributions to the field. While intellectual rigor has its place in research, if the connection to service improvements or broader big picture questions are not addressed by scholarly research outputs the profession, as a whole, will not advance.
In a sense, it is after tenure when academic librarians begin to think of notions of careers of impact. We may ask ourselves what library needs or open problems were met by our work. We ask: did our research outputs matter? Did our research stand up over time? Has the field moved forward at all?
A major problem in library and information science literature from an editorial perspective is the local-ness of any given paper. To generalize, many papers now coming into journal submission portals report how a specific local problem was addressed. The paper does its intellectual work only as far as its local institution is concerned. Broadly, what is needed in library writing — writing that is primarily driven from tenure line librarians is a need to consider practice of librarianship beyond the boundaries of a discreet study.
This underscores another significant problem which could be addressed by the right kind of mentorship in library settings: addressing the why of publishing, this would be a good corollary to the how, which veterans can teach – veteran tenured librarians will be able to speak to the methods for getting into print, getting even into the top tier journals like the Journal of Academic Librarianship. However, what is missing, and what this post is fundamentally concerned with, is the why of publishing for tenure.
When I started writing, the impulse was to sound smart. This is something I regretted deeply when I watched new library school students take notes on that paper. Now, I’m writing to communicate, since a wise person once said: “the smartest people are those who can communicate with others,” and what it is we are attempting to communicate when we publish are ways to improve practice – to move the field forward. That is why we publish. That is why we research. That is why we choose and stay on the tenure track, to have a career of impact in the field.
Can such a thing be taught? It’s like asking if morality can be taught, because it is a rather moral (and, possibly post-modern anti-ego thinking) choice to think of your profession as advancing and not yourself. While most tenure track activities can have the effect of growing ones ego, the path worth going down, the very interesting and profound path librarians must follow, if they are to remain honest, is to empty the ego, to empty any concern for the individual career and to think instead of the profession.
Our careers are not our own, anymore than the libraries we worked in and lived in were ours. The IT career of impact for librarians is that career which was made in the service to the profession.