Exciting Award for Digilab


Lorraine and Ros with a LIBER mug

Congratulations to Lorraine Beard and Ros Bell who won an award at the the LIBER 2016 conference for the abstract “Digilab: experiment, play, learn”, which won one of three Library Innovation awards.

LIBER includes more than 400 national, university and other libraries from over 40 countries and is the main network for research libraries in Europe. This year the conference was in Helsinki, where Lorraine accepted the award on behalf of Digilab

Digilab, which is just beginning its third year, is an opportunity to allow the students (and staff) of the University of Manchester to explore new technologies through a number of events and workshops.

Digilab stats

An informative slide from the abstract.

Ros is the project manager for Digilab and Lorraine is the project sponsor. I asked them why they thought Digilab stood out from the crowd.

“Libraries don’t tend to be doing this sort of thing. The Universities are, but it’s far rarer for a Library to be taking the lead.”

“Also one of the conference themes this year was The Library as laboratory, so Digilab fitted right in.”

And what is next for Digilab?

“Do it again, more!”

“We’ll be looking at moving Digilab away from the early experimental project stage and we have a steering group looking at how to keep the momentum going.” 


Are you ready to Rock(heim)?

As a massive music fan and technology nerd, it would have been remiss of me not to visit the incredible spectacle of Rockheim, one of Trondheim’s two museums dedicated to music. Catering to the more popular side of music, and taking in humour, children’s music, hiphop, prog, black metal, pop, rap and more, Rockheim gives the visitor a comprehensive overview of Nowarys musical past and present in an arresting building, using incredible, innovative and inventive installations.

I smiled patiently as the helpful museum worker told me that Rockheim is a little more technological than most museums. I listened as he showed me the floor plan, with its little symbols denoting how visitors could interact with each area. What I expected was a museum with some interactivity, what I realised as I exited the lift on the 6th floor, was that interactivity isn’t just a bonus of Rockheim‘s installations, it is the lynchpin.

Six huge screens greet you after exiting the lift, they scroll periodically with Norwegian musicians, and it is your job to select who you want to listen to by standing in a designated circle. Motion sensors then react to your movement and breakdown the image of your chosen musician, shattering them, and when you move away from the circle, an excerpt of one of their songs is played. To stop it you stand on the circle again. It is a wonderfully interactive introduction to the museum, even if it does mean forcing other patrons to listen to your music choices.

Laser pointers play a big part in the experience of Rockheim. In the next section I used one to learn about how different developments in musical instruments and equipment have affected Norwegian music. By aiming the laser pointer at a sensor, visitors are able to cycle through various examples of the instrument. Half the fun is finding which sensor applies to your screen and ‘accidentally’ switching the content on someone else’s screen by ‘mistake’.

The 50s garage room, fully equipped with garage-like contents such as a convertible, tools and a picnic set, was punctuated with screens which acted like windows when they weren’t being used. If you looked through the ‘door’ of the garage, you could even see a woman baking a cake. This ‘screen as window’ idea is used throughout Rochkheim and is a really effective use of displays. Using screens this way integrates them into the exhibition rather than using them just as simply a means to display information.

The tour bus was another highlight, utilising recreated music newspapers on interactive screens and more screens-as-windows to display articles and videos. But don’t take my word for it, check out the promotional video:

The following video is one I took in my favourite room. Norway has a rich history of black metal bands, and this room was set up like one of their rehearsal rooms. There was beer bottles strewn all over the foor, and the entire room looked and felt like a dark, dingy log cabin in the middle of nowhere.

Rockheim is an incredible experience, it’s innovative, memorable and fun. A perfect example of integrating technology into an experience, suitable for adults and children, Norwegians and visitors alike. 5 stars.

Innovation and Ice-cream: Northern Collaboration Conference 2014

NC NC          CT NC

Ciaran and I presented at the 2014 Northern Collaboration conference last week. The title of the conference was “Engagement & Audiences” and our host was Teesside University, the event was held at their Darlington Campus.

Our presentation focused on Eureka! and the “BookedIn” library game ; two of the key projects powered by the University of Manchester Library’s Innovation Group. Both seek to engage with students and enhance the Library experience in exciting new ways. I detailed how the ‘Eureka! Library Innovation Challenge’ competition encourages students to submit their ideas to improve the Library experience. We showed how ideas were shortlisted and how finalists were asked to pitch their idea to a panel of expert judges in a tense 5 minute presentation. Ice-cream featued heavily too as the audience in 2013 were able to testify in our videos as they enjoyed a scoop or two of the cold stuff whilst watching the event in The Manchester Museum.

It was great to share with other academic libraries how Eureka! has enabled us to promote student driven innovation and also boosted the status of the Library as a driver for positive change across the University as a whole.

Spinning off from Eureka, Ciaran presented on the BookedIn project. In collaboration with the University of Glasgow and software developers Running In The Halls, he discussed how BookedIn is seeking to gamify users’ library activities. Via the project students will gain points for visiting libraries and borrowing books, whilst achieving badges for particular challenges. We shared also how the social element of the game provides a platform for students to rate, review and recommend resources to friends whilst viewing and sharing all these activities.

Our session was the most highly attended for its afternoon slot and the feedback for the session was very positive with lots of twitter activity going on throughout the day.

Other break-out session included “Mobile First: The Library in your pocket” from the University of Salford, “Research cafes at Liverpool John Moores University” and the use of “roving student assistants at Edge Hill University”.

Twitter images of the day:



Innovation and LIBER

We attended the LIBER conference last week, held at the National Library of Latvia in Riga. LIBER is Europe’s largest network of research libraries with over 400 member organisations. The aim of the conference is to enable delegates to build links with one another and form new collaborative groups. It also identifies the most key issues for research libraries and shares information and ideas about how libraries might address them. Jan was also attending the conference as she is one of the Programme Directors on LIBER’s highly successful Emerging Leadership Programme.

Our workshop focussed on some of the projects that have emerged from the Library’s Innovation Group, including Eureka, Text-book Rescue and the popular Wellbeing campaign. Only 30% of abstracts submitted for the conference were accepted as presentations, so we were delighted to be able to share our experiences with libraries from across Europe. We also detailed what we have found makes innovation successful within a library context, as well as demonstrating how innovative ideas can have most impact when linked to existing strategies.

The feedback we received from the presentation was excellent and we were delighted to be informed that the session was the highest attended of those on offer that afternoon. Other hot topics at the conference included open access, crowd sourcing and gamification.

Lorraine Beard and Nick Campbell


i2c2 conference

The i2c2 conference was seemingly tailor made for the Library Innovation Group. It was a Library Innovation Conference in Manchester, with emphasis on positive disruption and change. The University represented well in the presentations, with three of the sessions being run, or co-run by employees of the Library.

Here is the write up: i2c2 Conference

FuturEverything pt1.

On Monday, 31 March and Tuesday, 1 April I had the pleasure of going to the FuturEverything conference. In the next few days I’ll be posting about my findings and the interesting information and projects I found out about. I’m going to try and make it as interactive as possible, so it’s less like a report and more of a sample of what was presented at the conference. You’ll be seeing videos, Twitter posts, photos and graphics from presentations.

First up: Critical Making with Golan Levin and Garnet Hertz; one of my favourite sessions of the conference.  Both speakers were erudite and engaging, clearly at ease with being on stage.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ll give you a quick run down of what “Critical Making” actually means. Mat Ratto, who popularised the phrase, runs the Critical Making Lab at the University of Toronto. Critical Making is the act of understanding technology, and its relationship to society, by building and creating it. This is often in a group environment (at a hack day, for example) with an open-design (using both hardware and software) framework. The actual process of creating in this way is, in many ways, more important than the final object, and involves reflecting on the process in order to learn from it.

Some of the tools of a Critical Making Lab might include:

3D Printer
Laser cutter
Many, many circuit boards and LEDs

Garnet spoke first about his handmade ‘Critical Making’ book. Which “explores how hands-on productive work ‐ making ‐ can supplement and extend critical reflection on technology and society.” It has 70 contributors and was hand made in a zine style. He recalled, wincing, the amount of stapling and folding he had to do, though I doubt he was working alone!

From there, it got slightly more weird. Cockroach operated robot, anyone?

Garnet spoke of critical making demystifying processes and this was something that really appealed to me. I feel that by enabling makers to create with understanding, they equip themselves with the skills to contribute rather than just consume.

Golan Levin was next to speak. His many years of teaching has gifted him an exceptional stage presence and he spoke thoughtfully about a topic I found genuinely joyful. Golan is responsible for creating the Free Universal Construction kit, as an answer to his son’s construction play problems.

Equipped with construction toys of different brands, a 3D printer and these files, you too can own the kit which allows 10 different construction toy brands to speak to each other. This, for me, is the very definition of innovation. By using the technology available to him, Golan solves an everyday issue that these large companies are not bast placed to solve. Lego has no incentive to make a kit that helps users integrate their system with a competitor’s, but a Dad certainly does. By reverse engineering, Golan has created this open source kit that promotes interoperability where previously there was none.

Another project he spoke of was Information Graffiti and putting information in context. Inspired by Hobo codes – the symbols that homeless people draw to indicate a welcoming host or a scary guard dog – Golan developed a way of printing QR codes as stencils. These can be spray painted onto buildings and used to notify people of places that have good wifi, bad coffee, rude/excellent staff etc. Of course, spray painting directly onto buildings is a bit illegal, but he didn’t go into that aspect. Having said that, I really enjoyed the community spirit that this project has the power to engender. It equips everyone with the capability to contextualise data at the exact place where it is useful.

As someone who has always wanted to be an artist, the NeoLucida project was something that genuinely made my heart soar. Camera Lucidas are said to be one of the tools frequently used by the early masters in their work. However, original Camera Lucidas are antiques, and come with antique price tags. Enter the NeoLucida.

A successful Kickstarter campaign later and these little beauties are being sold on Amazon. Though sadly they won’t ship to the UK as yet. I live in hope.

So many people encounter issues that are eminently solvable, but retreat when it comes to the actual making of the physical thing that would solve their problem. There is a barrier, whether perceived or existent, that prevents them from making. Critical Making aims to equip people with the ability to no longer see creating something as a barrier to solving problems.

Here’s some of the Twitter action that was happening during this session

Favourite Quotes: 
“10 years ago if you spoke about a maker, you were probably talking about God” –  Justin McGuirk (Moderator)

“The maker movement is folk art for engineers” – Garnet Hertz

“What’s worth making and why?” – Golan Levin

Playing For Change event

Rosie and myself were fortunate to attend the Playing For Change event at the Manchester Metropolitan University on the 19 February. The event was organised by Scott Gaule and Nicola Whitton to mark the creation of the Games and Social Change Network, a project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. Nicola Whitton is a Research Fellow in the Education and Social Research at MMU and recently ran a game-building workshop for us here at the Library.

What is the Games and Social Change Network about? Well:

Outside of the world of sport, the potentials of play and games as agents of change are seldom acknowledged and explored. However, the landscape of game making and playing is undergoing a radical transformation. Recent developments are highlighting the possibilities of game design in engaging wider social processes, aligned to activism, journalism, public pedagogy, interpersonal communication and community development, for example.

Read more here. I attended Playing For Change from the perspective of the BookedIn project, something we are hypothesizing may be able to change behaviour.

Playing for change: The transformative power of gaming

The keynote was by Joost Raessens from the Center for the Study of Digital Games and Play, Utrecht University. Joost spoke in some depth about how to validate whether gaming is having a societal change. Joost used the example of Darfur is Dying, a viral computer game where you play a Darfurian refugee who must forage for water. The idea behind the game is to raise awareness of the plight of Darfurian refugees and to encourage people to help in some way. On an individual level you might be able to measure how many people have played the game and how many of those donate money, but he began to demonstrate how hard it is to measure societal change as a result of such games. Joost covered discourse analysis and George Lakoff’s concept of framing. Framing is the idea that in most situations we have an expectation of how things pan out; a script that is followed. Depending on how we frame gaming will effect how we can begin to measure any societal change. He questioned whether games should incite change. Are we using coercion or being duplicitous in using games to try and affect behaviour? It all got quite deep quite fast!

Darfur is Dying

Darfur is Dying

Alternate reality gaming as a support network

I attended this session by Fran Ilich, at which point all lines between real life and virtual got rather blurred. Fran is a Mexican writer and media artist who has created a virtual community and bank to go with it. Fran spoke about an Alternate Reality game he (and possibly his virtual community) created called Raiders of the Lost Crown. However, the game could get very real, as hinted by this disclaimer:

You have been chosen to participate in the “Raiders of the Lost Crown”, an Alternate Reality Game. By hitting the return button, you will automatically sign up for the game. You will not be charged for this service but you will need to travel to Austria, where the play exercise will become very very real.

So, this game appeared to be about raising awareness of an Aztec crown, taken by Cortez in the 16th century, now residing in Austria, which should be repatriated to South America. Or is that what the game was for? I wasn’t really sure. Fran spoke about his wider activities and how elements of the virtual world he created has real life benefits. People spending real money to invest in Spacebank are somehow supporting Zapatista communities through the purchase of coffee. I admit I was getting lost at this point and when Fran said he had been followed and warned about his activism by a Mexican special agent, I really didn’t know what to think. But maybe that was the point?

Obscuring physical play: How to make digitally enabled folk games

Luckily I was brought very much back into the room in the following session run by Patrick Jarnfelt and Ida Toft of the Copenhagen Games Collective.

It was a great session where we thought about analogue versus digital gaming and the different ways these functioned and how we felt about them. The Copenhagen Games Collective are very much about humans playing humans in real life, but with some of their games enhanced or just changed by digital elements. For example, we played a game using Playstation Move controllers where you have to push each other about to try and knock each other out of the game. We played and compared that to an analogue game, Turtle Wushu, a game where you also have to push each other about but this time try and knock a plastic turtle from the back of the other players hands. The participants concluded you don’t always know the parameters behind a digital game, whereas it is more obvious whether the turtle is going to fall from your hand.

We played a mass blindfolded newspaper jousting game, into which we introduced the Oculus Rift. The Oculus Rift is a VR headset to which the Copenhagen Games Collective have hooked up a laptop back pack and webcam. Two people donned the Oculus outfit and replayed the newspaper joust, but this time they saw through their webcam, which we could choose where to affix about their person. Watching two people edging cautiously towards each other because they are seeing out of their knee is strangely absorbing. The Copenhagen Games Collective would be great people to have at a party and they’ve certainly given me some ideas. (As an aside, for about £250 we should look into getting an Oculus Rift to help with our investigations into Augmented Reality.)

Oculus Joust

Oculus Joust

Super Political Street Fighter

Over lunch The Larks solved various political questions through the medium of Street Fighter. This was a surprisingly good way of solving arguments.

Super Political Street Fighter

Super Political Street Fighter

Games are conversations

The closing keynote was by Matt Adams from Blast Theory, a group of interactive artists who have created some particularly immersive gaming experiences. Their work includes Ivy4Evr an ‘interactive SMS drama’ commissioned by Channel 4 Education and aimed at teenagers. After signing up you receive texts from Ivy following her day to day life until she falls pregnant and struggles to deal with the situation. Matt was able to demonstrate the depth to which participants became emotionally involved in the game through their replied texts, perhaps not realising they were only ever replying to a computer program.

I'd Hide You

I’d Hide You

He also spoke about I’d Hide You, another merging of the physical and digital. A number of ‘runners’ fully togged out with cameras streaming footage from their headcams made their way around the streets of a real city chasing and evading each other. As it happens this game was played in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Online players, from the comfort of their home, could then choose a runner from whom to view the live stream and begin to interact with that runner. The online players score points by snapping a photo of competing runners through the online interface.

And possibly the boldest game was A Machine To See With:

You sign up online and hand over your mobile phone number. On the day, you receive an automated call giving you the address you need to go to. Once you arrive on your allotted street corner your phone rings. From there a series of instructions lead you through the city. You are the lead in a heist movie; it’s all about you.

Which was exactly as is sounded. Incredibly the bank you are lead to in the climax of this heist is not in on the game. Left me questioning the distinction between game and life, if there ever was one.

In conclusion

It was a very interesting day with some profound ideas about what exactly a game or playfulness is or means, or whether it matters if it means anything. It made me realise that in the digital world where gaming is so pervasive we don’t yet have the tools to measure the societal changes it may be causing. Whilst Farmville probably doesn’t mean everyone will start keeping chickens, casual and social digital gaming will doubtless be having some kind of effect on society.

What does all this mean for BookedIn? Whilst I would love to write a PhD on the societal changes BookedIn may instigate, we should for the moment concentrate on the quantitative and qualitative data that we will gain from the project. We might not be able to save the planet, but if it can help facilitate the discovery of resources between students working in groups then it will have achieved something.

Playing for Change also had a wealth of ideas that could be weaved into workshops or sessions you might be running; Turtle Wushu could make a great ice breaker in a Project kick-off meeting…