Category: Inspiration

Gazing into the cristal ball: NMC Horizon report for libraries

The New Media Corporation (NMC), in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences (HTW) Chur, Technische
Informationsbibliothek (TIB) Hannover, and ETH-Bibliothek Zurich, announces the publication of the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Library Edition (PDF, 56 pages).

This report outlines the technicological changes as well as the solvable, difficult and wicked challenges facing libraries in the next 5+ years. For example, under trends affecting libraries in the next 2 years, they cite the increasing focus on research data management for publications and the prioritization of mobile content and delivery.

Under “solvable” challenges, they indicate embedding academic and research libraries in the curriculum and rethinking the roles and skills of librarians.

I’ve followed these Horizon repprts before and I am happy to now see a report on libraries. The education ones provided for interesting matter to reflect upon.

Instruction meets the carnival

Yesterday was my home institution’s Librarians’ Forum – a very interesting mix of new and not so new librarians presenting their ongoing research projects, held mid-April for the past 12 years.

There were many fascinating research projects presented, but one of them struck a chord. My colleagues Rosarie Coughlan, Information Literacy Librarian, & Isabelle Roy, Special Projects Manager & Architect both at Concordia University Libraries were presenting on the various semi-directed focus group sessions that aimed to design our new classrooms in the Webster Library. I remember being invited to such a session but I had to rush out because of an emergency.

So, here is my unsolicited rather off the wall thoughts on the topic of “dreaming up a classroom – no budget restrictions” under the theme of instruction meets carnival.

What is more fun than a carnival? I remember when it came to town, I would love the bumper cars and the small, rickety roller coasters one could ride for a few tickets. So, if PT Barnum could design a classroom, here is what it would look like.

This spacious room with very high ceiling would have many desks, say about 50 0or 60. Each one would look like a bumper car, single seat narrower at the front and larger in the back, like a triangle with the front cut off (trapeze). Instead of a steering wheel, you would have a console comprised of a screen, keyboard, joystick, camera, microphone and speakers. There would also have enough room for a book, tablet or laptop on each side of the keyboard (it could be fixed to the console table).

These pods would be mounted on a network of rails (you still need wires to get electricity to the IT equipment, one could get batteries on these pods, but then you get into recharging & capacity issues). These rails would actually be mounted as a network of square tiles with perpendicular ovals rails in the middle to allow for lateral movement. This flexible smart grid would be the “under-floor” and would allow pods to rotate in their axis or move around the room in a fluid motion.

The floor would have a synthetic self-cleaning and regenerating grass-like covering, soft to the naked foot but robust enough to survive the wear and tear of the rails from the pods. It would smell like grass too if you stepped in it. Fresh grass is just the happiest smell.

Because of their shape, pods could come together to form hexagons or octagons of inward-facing occupants, allowing for group work. They could also form a square matrix and face in any direction. Actually, because of the shape of the networked tiles-as-rails, they could form any classroom structure.

Pods would be equipped with detachable wall & ceiling mounted zip-lines attached to the torso of occupants. Occupants would be able to leap from their pods to traverse the room in any fashion, assisted with cervo-motors and a really small, cool, hand-held controller.

All the walls are actually retractable smart glass that can become clear or opaque as well as become a projection space, a tactile smart screen. They could also be embedded with two-way capture technology, tiny cameras every few decimeters to record motion around them, but also an easy occupant-controlled “print-screen” function. So, you can use your finger or any object to write on these glass-screens, but also project, capture and share content on them or in front of them.

The environment would be controlled by really smart software. Heuristics could determine the best temperature, humidity or air pressure based on historical or actual outside weather, season or based on the biometrics from occupants (heart-rate, temperature, clothing they are wearing, etc.) or any other aspect (elections? winning local sports team? earthquake?) using the capture devices embedded in the smart glass-screen or open web datasets.

Of course, the synthetic grass floor-covering would emit the appropriate smell based on the heuristics of the environmental control (wet soil in spring, chlorophyll for summer, damp hay for fall or even snowy cool).

The classroom would be at the ground floor of the building or close to a busy passageway. Smart-glass walls are retractable so that passers by can look into or engage with the occupants of the classroom.

All pods double as podiums or desks. They are all equal but successful completion of classroom objectives or learning outcomes allow for badges that allow the occupant to pimp their pod. Of course, pods have an customizable exterior made of smart materials that would allow to show badges or tchatchkas earned from the learning process. If occupants misbehave, so would their pods, disabling certain features or even ejecting them (remember the zip-lines?) if they really fall out of line.

You could also have Pods without occupants. These could be rail-mounted or not – in that case, they would be robots. They can deliver print jobs (old fashion paper or 3D printouts of objects) as well as refreshments or other equipment.

So, there are a few examples from fictional works. Remember the flying pods in the Imperial Senate from the Star Wars saga (Episodes 1-3)? I also like the devices soldiers use in Attack on Titan to move around. Also, I’d like to thank the late French Bande dessinée articst Moebius (Jean Giraud) for his graphic style of science fiction. And of course, just classic bumper cars and roller coasters…

What about grads?

I’ve been working hard on an information literacy program for undergraduate students in the marketing and management departments at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business (more on that later) but, in recent email exchange with a colleague, I came up with the following themes for graduate students:

Off the cuff, this curriculum would obviously discuss important academic resources such as peer-reviewed articles and related databases, but I feel it should also cover best practices with regards to managing one’s information need at the graduate level, well beyond “just” searching for information. This should include: using social media for graduate studies, active information discovery, advanced text processing, bibliographic management software, coping with information overload, etc.

Will come back to that later…

InfoLit Best Practices looking for example cases

According to the Information Literacy Blog, the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Information Literacy Best Practices Committee “is looking for information literacy programs that are exemplary in any of the categories outlined in Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline.”
More information here:

Power of/on e-learning

Sometimes, all one needs is a name to get started on researching a topic. Here is one: Michael Power.

I stumbled on his e-learning diary published in open access from Athabasca University Press in both French & English, called: A Designer’s Log: Case Studies in Instructional Design.

Already there are great insights in this book, including a thorough bibliography. It seems professor Power has been active within the Journal of distance education, such as:

Redesigning Online Learning for Graduate Seminar Delivery Vol 24, No 2 (2010) 
Générations d’enseignement à distance, technologies éducatives et médiatisation de l’enseignement supérieur Vol 17, No 2 (2002) 

Musings on Open Data, MineCraft and Libraries

This is a vision I had a few weeks ago, that I shared with colleagues at the Technoculture Art and Games (TAG) research group at Concordia University. It also fits with a conversation I’ve had with Marius Buliga on his blog chorasimilarity about
data visualization, apps and open data (and much more).

It is a bit of a rant, but I wouldn’t want it stuck in some old email folder, not with this blog begging for this kind of weird, pie-in-the-sky, waking dream… essentially, this is a broad sketch of using MineCraft as a data visualization tool…

I love to be handed vague & seemingly impossible challenges. These usually involve plugging random tidbits together so that something can emerge. So, I’ve been trying to figure out something simple yet awesome to do with the […] Library project. Also, someone on this list (who shall remain nameless) said in passing: “it would be great to use minecraft for data visualisation” and that somehow stuck.

Granted, I did not quite know what minecraft was (my bad, Lynn’s lecture fixed that). But since the e.SCAPE conference, I’ve dabbled in gamification of libraries as well as experiential learning (which are related somehow). I’m also reading about the history of books, swarms and how games were used to figure them out, as well as my regular score of copyright stuff (must-write-phd-thesis). Also, something impossible happened in the past 12hrs, both my daughters slept a consecutive 7 hours, and my train was delayed long enough for me to make myself a 2nd cup of coffee. All these sources, sleep and stimulants gave birth to an epiphany (a good friend of mine would call that a brain fart, but let’s not get graphic here).

The […] library system is releasing its datasets in an open format (a friend told me that) – which means that you can download their entire catalogue via an open protocol. So, if librarians construct an intellectual edifice with the books they buy, this analogy can deliver an evolving structure in MineCraft. For example, you could use the Dewey decimal code (which is a proxy to the subject of the book) as well as the location (branch library, a proxy for neighbourhoods) to devise a form of city scape or structure. Collections evolve over time – books are bought or weeded – which makes it into a living thing as this incorporates the concept of time. Also, the library system uses standards to manage its collections (which translate into fields in the catalogue), these rules can be transposed in a virtual representation.

Now, if you think this is cool, imagine if we could get the (anonymous ) data-feed from individual loans made to patrons – we could incorporate a whole new level to the game (swarms of people borrowing swarms of books). In fact, this would allow people in the city to “play the game” by borrowing a book! I don’t know if Minecraft has en engine to run critters in its environment, but we could have a swarm of critters walking all over the place based on the book-loans… or more simply, the structures in the system could somehow change with loans as well.

I feel Borges would have been pissed off if I did not share this fascinating living evolving vivid virtual representation of a library, its use and its impact on a city with such fine folks as yourself. I will let people more adept than me explore the ramifications of such a representation on identity, institutions, swarms, gamification, representations…

The idea is that as a Librarian, we learn how to evaluate a collection – a living organism which evolves over time based on constraints (space, budget, degradation of the material with use). People read books from librarians and librarians read collections. The collection as “edifice” is a strong analogy of how I perceive librarians do their work. MineCraft can be a tool to share this vision of a librarian’s professional work with others.

I call this the Edifice ™ project (which also works nicely in French).