inspiration making sharing

Tales of Things

Andy demonstrating Tales of Things at Be2Camp Brum 2010; via Meshed Media

Today’s post is another presentation I heard at Be2camp Brum 2010 last week. (It was truly an inspiring and thought-provoking day!) Tales of Things was presented by Andy Hudson-Smith from the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL. Tales of Things explores social memory and asks what happens if we can tag objects in our everyday environment and track these objects – even after we’ve passed them on to someone else.

Entering details of an object into the Tales of Things website allows you to generate a unique QR code for that item which can be printed out and attached to the object. When the QR code is ‘read’ by a camera the web page for that object is triggered. Because Be2Camp Brum was loosely focused around the theme of libraries Andy used tagging books as an example, suggesting that tagged books would be able to use Twitter to keep previous owners up to date with the book’s current location and status.

The Tales of Things website suggests that:

“The project will offer a new way for people to place more value on their own objects in an increasingly disposable economy. As more importance is placed on the objects that are already parts of people’s lives it is hoped that family or friends may find new uses for old objects and encourage people to think twice before throwing something away.”

Promoting the sharing and exchange of objects in this way is obviously interesting in the context of bookleteer and I did actually tag a couple of eBooks with QR codes generated by Tales of Things for Pitch Up & Publish 10: Augmented Reading a few weeks back. Perhaps it’s time for me to go back and revisit that and see where it might lead..

If you want to read more about the project see here, or if you just want to get on and tag your stuff then look here..


Accessible Reading

While bookleteer works to make publishing accessible to everyone regardless of skill, software or money, Pesky People are working to make online reading accessible to everyone. For Pesky People accessibility is about highlighting and campaigning for equal access to the internet for deaf and disabled people.

Alison Smith, the founder of Pesky People spoke at Be2camp Brum 2010 last week and gave us a sense of the difficulties faced by deaf and disabled people everyday as they access the web. For example, very few online videos are subtitled making them often inaccessible to deaf people. As this was an ‘unconference’ about where the built environment meets Web 2.0 architects didn’t get off the hook either as she pointed out that fire alarm systems that rely purely on sound can easily be missed by deaf people and illustrated the difficulties that even supposedly accessible toilets raise for disabled people. She also showed this short film imagining equal access for deaf criminals..

I found this a powerful presentation and it certainly made me realise once again how much I take for granted and how easy it is for this to slip into design decisions that unintentionally marginalise deaf and disabled people. And if you’re a web designer and a warm and fuzzy feeling of being good to fellow humans isn’t enough to persuade you that we should work towards accessibility for everyone then Alison pointed out there is also a legal responsibility to make your website accessible…

Lots more information on the Pesky People website including Alison’s Top Tips for maximising the accessibility of your website.

And if you want to add subtitles to your videos then Alison suggested checking out the accessible media player provided by The Workshop.

inspiration making

Kevin Harris: eBook Treasure Hunt

eBook Treasure Hunt at Manningham library; via

Even though the eBook Treasure Hunt took place in 2009 I hadn’t come across it until I was looking for projects for my talk at Be2camp Brum 2010 last week. I used this project to help me explain the idea that eBooks facilitate shared making. I thought it was really great and I wanted to share it with you here too.

The  eBook Treasure Hunt was designed and implemented by Kevin Harris of Local Level with Manningham Library in Bradford. The library was undergoing refurbishment and the Treasure Hunt was part of a public event to engage people with the refurbishment project and open up a period of consultation.

Completed eBook from the Treasure Hunt; via

Treasure Hunt participants followed clues that sent them to specific spots around the library that would be affected by the refurbishment. The first clue was printed in the eBook and asked “Where are the books about Bradford?” Answers to the questions were written into the eBook and supplementary questions were designed to solicit ideas for the new building. The supplementary question for the first clue read “How else might the new library be used to celebrate Bradford and Manningham?” When they found the place in the library that held the answer participants were handed a sticky label with the next clue on. This was stuck onto a new page in the eBook.

In this post on Kevin writes that the eBook Treasure Hunt worked well and no-one had difficulty following the clues or the instructions about where to place the sticky labels. He goes onto say that, in part, the success was because the activity took place in an ongoing mix of engagement activities and processes. Library staff were on hand at the event to hand out clues, give hints and generally smooth the process. He also wrote this post on his own blog about how the eBooks and questions were designed. I think this is such a thoughtful well-considered approach to engagement and consultation I encourage you to read the rest of the post.

As far as shared making goes I think this is a great example of how different types of making can come together in an eBook. Kevin designed the eBook and entered the content into bookleteer, librarians at Manningham then printed out the A4 eBook sheets and made them up into the A6 eBooks. Finally, the treasure hunt participants took these eNotebooks and made them unique and personal with their answers and ideas. Three types of making, one eBook!

The Manningham Library Treasure Hunt eBook is available for download here.

events sharing

What is a librarian?

The final picture of what a librarian might do if their library was taken away, as drawn by Alex Hughes via Meshed Media

Continuing yesterday’s library theme, I thought I’d tell you about Nick Booth’s (from Podnosh) talk at Be2camp Brum 2010 last week. Nick asked, what could a librarian do if their libraries close as a result of digital technologies?

Nick roved the audience collecting answers while Alex Hughes represented them as cartoon images drawing live onstage.

Answers from the audience suggested that librarians carry out searches, that they act as signposts pointing people towards the information they are looking for, they host public meetings, they have indexing and cataloguing skills, they provide social contact.

Two answers didn’t make it onto the picture. One was that librarians watch over a quiet and neutral space and the other was that they watch over a potential dating space. Perhaps these didn’t make it into the cartoon because these are roles played by the library building as much as the librarian. To me this suggests that spaces have important social roles to play as well as people. If mobilising services means losing these spaces then I wonder what the social consequences of this might be? I feel that this is in some way related to the discussion we’ve been having about the role of books and eReaders. From finding that books have a number of roles that eReaders haven’t taken on I wonder if this is also the case for libraries and librarians where the relationship between the two has a very particular role beyond the obvious one of being a place where you go to borrow books.


Library of Birmingham at Be2Camp Brum 2010

Design for Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo architects

Be2camp Brum 2010 was loosely themed around libraries. A new building for Birmingham Central Library (where Be2camp Brum 2010 was held) is currently under construction and due to open in 2013 and the first three presentations at Be2camp Brum were concerned with how digital technologies are being integrated into the planning and construction process as well as into the library services and building itself.

Brian Gambles speaking at Be2camp Brum 2010 via Meshed Media

Brian Gambles, head of BCC Library Services, outlined the broad overview that is being taken to the use of digital technologies, emphasising that they are designing for maximum flexibility and adaptability and aiming not to be platform-specific as they assume that digital infrastructures and technologies will change over the lifetime of the building. Brian emphasised that the aim is to redefine and reimagine the relationship between library services, the library building and library users through digital technologies.

Tom Epps speaking at Be2camp Brum 2010 via Meshed Media

Tom Epps then spoke about one of the ways this is taking place. Alongside the construction of the new building,  a virtual model of the new Library of Birmingham building is being built in Second Life. This model is to scale and Tom spoke about how this is providing a better sense of the relationships between different elements of the building than it’s possible to get from architects plans or non-interactive 3-D model. Once the Second Life Library goes live it will also be used for public consultations to gather people’s opinions on the new design via polls and feedback points, and possibly to host events paralleling the physical Library building and services. (And it was so impressive that the whole presentation was done while we were being expertly navigated live around the Second Life model live!)

We then heard a little about the role of mobile technologies in re-imagining library services (I’m afraid I didn’t get the speaker’s name) and a description of how library services and activities will be augmented by mobile personal devices and applications.

All in all it was great to hear that the Library are taking such an imaginative approach to the integration of digital technologies and working on platform neutrality and personalised services that open up great library resources – such as their archive of photographs – to city residents and library visitors. I really hope that this emphasis on the experience people have in the library will continue to inform all of their decisions. And I was only slightly disturbed that their Second Life model which professes to show how the library will be doesn’t actually have any people in it yet…


bookleteer at Be2camp Brum 2010

No pics yet so thought I’d show you Bubblino (via Roo Reynolds on Flickr) of Bubblino who accompanied every be2camp tweet with a flurry of bubbles

Yesterday I presented bookleteer at Be2camp Brum 2010, an ‘unconference’ looking at where Web 2.0 meets the built environment. I was a bit nervous about my talk as it felt so, well, paper-based and analogue! However, going by the conversations I had afterwards I needn’t have worried. Seems like people understood the concept and had some super-interesting ideas for what the eBooks and Story Cubes might be used for.

So thanks to Rob and Laura for all their work organising the event and thanks to the inspiring presenters, twitter commentators and audience. I’ll write more about the talks over the next few days.

inspiration making

The collage illustrations of Dave McKean

Last week I began to draft a post about digital artist Dave McKean’s illustrations. I was planning to return to the half-written post when I got an email from Giles saying did I know that Dave McKean illustrated a piece of writing for COIL (the Journal of the Moving Image which Giles founded and edited) in the late 1990’s? Well, no, I didn’t. But now I do, this makes a perfect focus for writing about his work. All images below are from The Entrapment from COIL 7 | 1998. Thanks for the tip Giles!

Since 1994 Dave McKean’s been producing extensively layered images using computers and digital manipulation. In his collaborations with writers, illustrations and text appear to be intertwined so that the paper becomes part of the content and I was interested to find out how he achieves this effect.  In an interview on Apple’s website he describes how his approach has changed with the increasing sophistication of digital technologies.

“The major things that have changed … are the tools and materials I’ve been able to use. When I started on ‘The Sandman,’ I was aiming toward a translucent collage, a layered look, an insubstantial feeling where you’ve just got an atmosphere. I tried to do that with things like double exposures and different printing techniques. To a degree, this approach is always pretty limited by the fact that the illustration has to be a physical object and, if I have to photograph it, limited by gravity.”

The illustrations for COIL were made in 1998 (COIL 7) for a supposedly ‘anonymous’ piece actually written by legendary indie producer Keith Griffiths (of Koninck fame) about a film he produced by Iain Sinclair & Chris Petit called the Falconer – itself about another ‘legendary’ 60s filmmaker called Peter Whitehead. Its a many-layered piece about becoming trapped in the layers of legend and hype spun around Whitehead and the narrator’s (“Darke”) attempt to unravel the story. Darke is a thinly veiled characterisation of the Falconer’s script writer (and 90s film critic) Chris Darke. The techniques of double exposure and layering that Dave McKean mentions in the interview with Apple are clearly visible in the collages of text and images he produced for this.

The process of creating these illustration begins with “endless drawings.” Out of these, one is chosen and painted onto a backboard of colour photographs and paper collages, a basic canvas already with a life to it, containing interesting textures, colours and shapes. Illustration comes next where McKean paints the characters onto the canvas. From here, the process moves onto the computer. “Sometimes I finish it [the painting] quite well and sometimes I leave it open and rough, scan it and make sense of it in the computer. The compositing is the fun bit, really, and dragging all these elements together all happens very quickly.” As McKean writes, it’s an explorative way of working, “I like the fact that I don’t really know what I’m aiming toward completely. I have an idea, but it’s also the shapes shifted and composited in the computer that allow me to find a nice blend.”

In fact, it seems that his process and approach has remained surprisingly constant as tools and materials have evolved. In this article, he suggests this goes back to his college days at Berkshire College of Art and Design, “Before drawing anything we had to have a clear idea of what we were trying to achieve. So to this day, I still write personal briefs for myself. I still need to be clear in my own mind what I’m doing.”

For me, what is so inspiring about this description of the process is that having a clear plan from the outset in no way constrains the experimental, organic nature of the final illustrations. As he writes, “Techniques may change and go in and out of fashion, but ideas are always worth exploring and re-interpreting.” I wonder if we could get him to design an eBook…

publishing on demand

Be2camp Brum 2010

Date: Thursday 12 August 2010
Time: 12.15 til 8pm
Place: Library Theatre, Paradise Place, Birmingham, B3 3HQ
Price: Free!

On Thursday I’ll be talking about bookeleteer at Be2camp Brum 2010. Be2camp Brum is organised by Rob Annable of Axis Design Architects and is described as “an ‘unconference’ about social media, digital tools and the built environment”.

Be2camp Brum 2010 builds on the success of Be2camp Brum 2009 which explored the relationship between digital technologies and the built environment.

Photos of Be2camp Brum 2009

Part of the agenda this year will aim to explore the possibilities for the new Library of Birmingham building and discuss how digital tools might change the way we experience a 21st century library. I’ll be talking about how bookleteer might contribute to these changes and possibilities, especially in relation to library archives.

Other speakers and topics confirmed so far are:

Speaker: Brian Gambles – Head of BCC Library Services
Introduction to Library of Birmingham Project

Speaker: TBC
Second Life and the Virtual Library of Birmingham

Speaker: TBC
Wifi, interaction design and the Physical Library of Birmingham

Paul Wilkinson & Martin Brown – Be2Camp
Be2Camp Awards – The final shortlist

Proboscis –
Self publishing + augmented reading

Andy Hudson-Smith –

Michael Kohn – SliderStudio
Democratic Design: StickyWorld

Andy Hartwell – Substrakt
Mobile & Web Apps in the Built Environment

Nick Corbett with Geoff Henderson – Urban Living & DNA
Web2.0 & Sense of Place urban design project

Nick Booth –
The Librarian at Large

James Thomson –
Building Information Modelling: Virtual Reality, Parametric Geometry, Google Earth

Bob Leung – Woobius
Getting your web 2.0 fix in large companies

Alison Smith – Pesky People
Disability & Digital Accessibility

residencies sharing

Seven Days in Seven Dials – eBooks

From Seven Days in Seven Dials: A week in the life of London’s Cultural Quarters

About a month ago I mentioned that Alice was spending the week in Covent Garden as part of the Seven Days in Seven Dials project organised by Dan Thompson of the Empty Shops Network. For a week ten artists and thirty young people employed on placements in some of London’s leading cultural institutions used 18 Short’s Gardens as a studio. During the week the group explored the area gathering local stories, histories and connections and captured a snapshot of life in Seven Dials in film, sound, photography and writing.

Three books made by participants in the project are now available to download at

Seven Days in Seven Dials: A week in the life of London’s Cultural Quarters, documents the project and its workshops describing the partners, artists and participants. Snapshots of the area, photographs of the making of the Seven Streets in Seven Dials film, notes and sights from A Walk Round the Cultural Quarter and pictures of the recording of the audio tour come together to give a sense of a lively area and action-packed week.

Photographs by Amelia Martin, From Seven Days in Seven Dials: Photography

Seven Days in Seven Dials: Photography shows work from the photography workshop. Photographs of the area taken by 8 workshop participants show details of architecture, food, people and signs.

Map and sights from The Alternative, Whistle Stop Tour of the West End Cultural Quarter

The Alternative, Whistle Stop Tour of the West End Cultural Quarter acts as a guide book to the area and takes you on a tour of the Culture Quarter. Written by participants the eBook combines photographs, navigational directions and local trivia including financial scandals, martinis and phone boxes.

The Seven Streets in Seven Dials film and podcasts of the audiotour can be heard on


Will there be an Oxfam for second-hand eBooks?

Thing of the past? Oxfam books in (l-r) Huddersfield, Leamington, London

Over the weekend I found myself thinking – what if eBooks (for eBook readers not the bookleteer type of eBooks..) become the dominant way of reading? What will this mean for people who buy secondhand books?

It’s clear that many people are thinking about the possibilities of secondhand eBooks – and that this fits in with the 3 ways of sharing I wrote about last week. In their posts Nick Harkaway on Future Book and Chris Meadows at teleread discuss how secondhand eBooks aren’t currently possible because of their intangibility (when you download an eBook you essentially ‘lease’ the code which you can’t legally pass onto anyone else) and because secondhand eBooks are indistinguishable from new eBooks (so their value doesn’t decrease in the same way over time). Which is very interesting but I feel it doesn’t really address the potential social effect of increasing dominance of eBooks except to mention that the lack of secondhand eBooks is bad news for second-hand booksellers. And that’s true.. but I think it’s also bad news for second-hand book readers..

What if you can’t afford full-price books? Textbooks especially can be prohibitively expensive and often aren’t needed for more than the duration of the course. At the moment the cost of the book can be regained in part by selling the book on when you graduate. This option will be lost.. As will the option to buy a secondhand textbook for less than full-price. Or what if you’re a teenager beginning to explore the wide world of literature – secondhand bookshops are fantastic sources for classic books at low-cost. Will eBooks be able to match this? Not to mention of course that the teenager would have to be able to afford an eReader in the first place..

Perhaps this will all work itself out in the future when the entire publishing / reading experience has become digital and eReaders are as accessible as library cards. However, I imagine there’s going to be a transition before this happens that might need to be negotiated if secondhand book readers aren’t going to lose out.