I’ve just completed a personal project in collaboration with my daughter Clara – Phantom Tomes, a book of imaginary titles cunningly reworked onto Victorian book covers sourced from the British Library‘s wonderful digital collection of public domain images. The book invites its readers to elaborate on the book titles by imagining their own publisher’s “blurb” or writing a review of the imaginary book. Each book cover has a blank page beside it purposefully for this storymaking task. As ever, the project is intended to inspire others to build upon our work and create their own versions of the activity, devising their own titles, covers and use of bookleteer as a simple and convenient way to share their creativity.
The titles are much inspired by the fantastic works of Edward Gorey and by long and venerable tradition of fictional books imagined by some of literature’s greats: Laurence Sterne, Jorge Luis Borges, Ursula LeGuin, Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Georges Perec & Stanislav Lem among many others.
A few months ago I met accessibility and sensory design consultant, Alastair Somerville, who was in town to demonstrate using simple and cheap visualisation tools such as the 3Doodler pen. Over coffee we chatted about 3D printing, data manifestation and some of the tools and techniques we’ve each developed. Alastair showed me a material he has been using in wayfinding for people with visual impairments: Zy.chem swell paper, a specially treated material where the black ink ‘swells’ up to create a textured surface. Alastair had been using it to make simple tactile maps and for braille. We both then became excited about the possibilities of using the Zy.chem paper with bookleteer to create simple and low-cost braille and textured publications.
Very soon afterwards Alastair experimented with a wayfunding guide for a project he was working on for the University of Sussex’s new library, The Keep. He sent me a copy printed on the Zy.chem paper which confirmed for me that this was a material with hugely exciting creative potential. I then asked Alastair if he would consider making something special for the Periodical so we could demonstrate this to others. The result is this beautiful guide to Dal Riata, an ancient Scottish kingdom in Kilmartin Glen, Argyll which has some of the most extensive neolithic earthworks and structures in the UK.
Alastair’s book uses the zy.chem paper to impart the texture of some of the neolithic stone features of Dal Riata as well as some maps of significant sites. In addition to the tactile paper, one sheet is also printed on tracing paper, overlaying the bigger map of Scotland and Northern Ireland onto a tactile map of the kingdom of Dal Riata itself, and then providing a ‘mist’ overlaying a section about the disappearance of the kingdom during the Viking raids of the early Middle Ages. At once informative and poetic, it holds its own sense of magic and mystery within its very textures.
Alastair has posted a Vine video:
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Last year Proboscis collaborated with a group of local people and a community run centre (PAG) in Pallion, Sunderland to co-create and co-design a sustainable ‘knowledge network’ that could help people respond to the bewildering array of changes taking place in the benefits system. Our project became the Pallion Ideas Exchange (PAGPIE) – weekly meetings and get togethers run by and for local people to help each other identify and address problem, share information and experience and help share the results with others in the community. A key part of our collaboration (the project was also part of the Vome research project led by Dr Lizzie Coles-Kemp at the Information Security Group of Royal Holloway University of London) was the tools we designed to help the community think through not only how they could identify problems and opportunities, but also how they could figure out what they as individuals and as a group already knew and could share with others. All the tools were designed to be easily produced/reproduced using standard office stationery or, in the case of the larger posters, could be cheaply printed at a local copy shop. Everything was also designed to be easily captured for sharing on the web via blogs, twitter, facebook etc – in whatever way was both safest and most appropriate for the local community.
We devised simple workflows, diagrams and ‘thinksheets’ as well as developing some workbooks and notebooks that individuals could use – all made with bookleteer. We printed up a batch of each using the Short Run printing service, but a key part of the design was that anyone could easily download, print out and make up more copies if they needed to, or the centre could easily order more printed copies as and when they had funding.
We are now creating generic versions of all these tools so that anyone else can set up their own version of a Neighbourhood Ideas Exchange (NIE), can download and make up the notebooks and other tools. We’ve completed versions of the existing 4 notebooks – Experiences, Managing a Problem, Communicating a solution online, Things To Do – and are writing a general guide to the toolkit and NIE concept.
We’ve also been condensing our experiences working in Pallion, as well as many years experience working with other communities both here and abroad, into a playful set of StoryCubes designed to help communities, facilitators and organisers think through the different kinds of steps needed for something like a neighbourhood ideas exchange or other community network. We’re hoping to have the whole toolkit finished in time for the AHRC Connected Communities Showcase on 12th March, where we’ll be showing materials created for our other collaboration with ISG on the Hidden Families project.
A couple of years ago we wrote about how bookleteer could be used to create shareable personal portfolios or pocketfolios. We continue to think that the eBook formats are ideal for making a simple pocket portfolio about your work to share and/or give way to prospective clients, employers, commissioners or funders. More than a business card or the generic student postcard, even the smallest eBook of 10 pages plus covers offers a chance to show what you’re capable of, what experiences you’ve had and who you could be in a highly personalised way that exceeds what any CV could indicate. Share your pocketfolio as a handmade ebook, online with bookreader or have them printed at low cost using our Short Run Printing service to stand out from the crowd and communicate something special about yourself.
As a new crop of students are preparing to graduate into one of the harshest employment climates ever, and with youth unemployment at an all time high, we have a special offer for anyone wanting to make and print their own pocketfolio – taking advantage of our recent price reductions for A6 Short Run printed books and lower minimum print run of just 25 copies:
For every Short Run Printing order for 25 copies of a portfolio style eBook, we will send an additional 25 copies free. Just use the discount code “PORTFOLIO2012”.
Meanwhile here’s an excellent example by artist and lecturer, Gair Dunlop:
And check out this lovely example of using bookleteer to publish a group catalogue of work, created by Mah Rana for the 2nd Year Jewellery and Silversmithing Course at Cass, London Metropolitan University:
DOG EAR is a magazine in the form of a concertina bookmark, with ten slim pages of writing and illustration selected from online contributions. It’s available for free from independent bookshops and libraries (cunningly hidden between the pages of books to perk up surprised readers, I like to imagine).
I love the way the content must fit the unusual dimensions of the magazine. Rather than being a restriction, it seems to inspire imaginative uses of space, containing drawings akin to comic book panels, and flash fiction. There’s also snippets of funny overheard comments and quote-worthy status updates, the latter making messages borne on the most transitory of mediums appear more like transcribed responses from interviewed authors, or the one-sentence reviews that adorn film and theatre posters, simply by harnessing the fleeting digital in print.
DOG EAR reminds me of “reverse shoplifting”, where people plant copies of their books in shops or libraries – subversive D.I.Y distribution. I fancy the idea of self-publishing writers creating their own collections with bookleteer, then quietly slipping them into the bookshelves of esteemed literary establishments. Using any means to spread the word.
Being 18 in the past and today: using Bookleteer for a museum-based project with young people
by Katrina Siliprandi
Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service
Young people working on ‘Project 18’ carried out and recorded 39 interviews in people’s homes, at Norwich Castle museum and in residential care homes. They amalgamated quotes from these interviews with photographs of selected museum objects to produce both a printed booklet and an e-reader version using Bookleteer.
The project is a partnership between Norwich Castle Museum and the Mancroft Advice Project (MAP), a charity that provides help, education and training for young people through advisors, counsellors, youth workers and a drop-in centre. Project 18 helps young people to learn more about themselves, others and their community through the creation of an accessible small archive of oral history testimony about being 18 in the past and today, inspired by the museum’s collections.
Some people might expect paper copies to be of low importance and relevance to young people who are already comfortably immersed and swimming in the cyber ocean. Conversely, paper copies could be seen as important tools to present to those people who have travelled to positions of influence and governance where a more traditional background might place greater value on well-trodden methods of communication.
We found the reality to be that the young participants placed great store in the tangible form of the printed items. They valued something they could actually hold, see, feel and smell. This multiply dimensioned tangibility was something they could experience wherever and whenever they chose, rather than only when in contact with a screen. Just having something physical to keep, share and treasure was hugely important. In addition young people expressed their gratification about something that was a token, a signifier of their achievement and enhanced status. Of course this enhanced status works both in the way in which others see the young person and in the way in which they see and value themselves.
This effect was re-enforced by the good physical standard of the booklets themselves. The cost of short-run printing was impressive. We were not forced to order a huge bulk run to achieve economy (with concomitant waste), nor did we have to be miserly in distributing the booklets to the young people and their friends, museum and MAP staff, stakeholders and supporters.
At the same time, having the e-booklet available has given an easy flavour of the project and its purpose to outsiders such as funders and government agencies, both national and local. We feel this kind of attention-catching and information giving is much more likely to lead to interaction and positive responses and outcomes than just a paper communication in the general wasteful paper blizzard. In this way, perhaps counter-intuitively, the e-booklet has provided us with a more permanent resource than traditional paper copies for those that we wish to inspire and involve in financially supporting future projects.
Maybe, too, by putting the booklet on the internet we will benefit from some degree of good fortune as people anywhere in the world stumble on the project. One person’s happy discovery could be promulgated world-wide with astonishing rapidity.
At a digital agency’s briefing last week, focusing on ‘New Tools’ for publishing, part of the talk was centered around the current use of QR Codes and their implications. Whilst studies seem to show they are largely unknown and underused (and often when they are, employed for gimmicky or lazy motives) there’s certainly some interesting potential for wonder and mischief.
It’s true that the ignorant consumption of QR Codes, hastily scanned without any accompanying information and without ensuring the source is safe, could lead to malware or undesired material. However, I think the mystery of these codes – strange, enigmatic symbols, able to instantly transport the user to a digital realm which bears no relation to its signage – is their appeal. The word ‘Talisman’ can be interpreted as “to initiate into the mysteries”. In this way, QR Codes might be deemed their modern-day versions.
After the test run for Storycube Cairn, where we used QR Coded Storycubes and mobile phones as wayfinding devices, I was inspired by ideas on how these codes might be embedded into the urban fabric of a city. The notion of encountering one of these cubes by accident in an odd location, which, when scanned, leads you on a winding quest to discover more, or reveals a short story or video piece relevant to its found location, is undeniably alluring. Perhaps even, a cube or code is partially glimpsed in a seemingly unreachable place, rewarding the explorer when they have found a means to get there – parkour and geolocation intertwined. I’ll try not to gush over the possibilities for sculpting codes into walls and pillars. Digital hieroglyphs for the modern city.
Of course, they have more traditional, functional benefits. They could be a great help for those with sight or motor skills problems when placed alongside small print, summoning an enlarged text version on whatever device is being used, as well as enabling access to links without entering complex URLs. Our recent changes to bookleteer lets readers access a digital version of a book by scanning a QR Code on the back cover; instant, free distribution of content.
I would hazard a guess that developing their capability, whilst finding innovative ways in which they might be used, will be essential for QR Codes to stick around throughout the coming years, becoming a technology that can evolve beyond novelty uses or simple shortcuts.
I focused on how technology can enhance and change our engagement with narratives in a previous post, so I’m going to step back and look at the highly immersive nature of text-based books as a medium.
After recently finishing a book and scanning my shelves for my next literary foray, my eyes settled on a fairly large book, and although initially daunted by its length, knowing that it would take me a fair while to finish even if engrossed, I soon started to relish the idea. I realised I would have a portable, episodic experience that I could dip into for the next few weeks, becoming instantly immersed as I did so – the narrative spurring ever more interest and giving heightened importance to the outcome (due to discovering more about the characters and investing in their stories), and possibly even gaining relevance to external events as I progressed.
Being able to burn through an entire book in one go makes the experience rather like watching a film; reading it in parts is more akin to a TV series, or a video game with a story that is revealed as the player moves ahead. It could be suggested the latter two allow a greater level of expectation and intrigue to build between narrative points (due to the real-world time elapsed), but all three mediums still dictate visual messages to the audience, albeit being open to multiple interpretations. Books allow the reader to paint their own visuals in their mind, forming structures within, giving characters familiar faces from their own lives, and grasping unique meanings from what is said and done, filtered through their own past and ideologies. In short, they are dictated by readers as well as authors, leading to individual, self-contained experiences which change as they are reread later on in life.
It will be interesting to see how as technology constantly moves forward and the standard of presenting stories evolves beyond text and the spoken word how this experience might be preserved. Might it even be mimicked, through bespoke forms of virtual reality systems, or audio books where the choice of narrator is tailored to the listener?
After my previous post speculating on the ways touchscreen devices will change the way readers engage with books and other texts in the future, I recalled an interesting example in the present.
The iPhone and iPad ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad‘ e-book app provides an option to re-order the hectic, backwards and forth narrative into chronological order, or even shuffle the chapters at random. However, these options are only available once the book has been read in its original order, meaning Jennifer Egan’s intended meaning won’t be lost.
This reminds me of cheat functions in video games, often unlocked once players complete the main body of the game (commonly known as “story mode”), granting them new ways to play and the ability to revisit past levels. This parallel seems like it could develop in the future – we might see e-books that reward readers for their time, or even their ways of interpreting the text, perhaps via intelligently recognised digital annotations, conceivably being used in an education context.
I suspect that being able to automate our interpretations and responses to literature and other art forms isn’t an entirely good idea, however. I think technology should facilitate and enhance engagement with them, but not instrumentalise the human element – our spontaneous, inspired, and unique reactions to works of art.
Yesterday I watched a video on YouTube of a child attempting to manipulate a magazine as if it were an iPad.
Eh? Bear with me.
As expected, the futile motions and the child’s baffled reactions are pretty funny, but it also made me ponder once again how touchscreen devices and future developments in technology will influence children’s perception of and attitude towards books, but more importantly, the act of reading itself.
Whilst digital content is currently co-existing alongside traditional printed media, it’s quite conceivable that in a decades time when it has the potential to overshadow it’s paper kin (rather than outright replace it), a child might live throughout their early years – before they have the opportunity to venture into the world alone and discover alternatives – rarely, if ever, reading “old” books and magazines.
If children only know books and applications that can employ videos, music, games and reader interactivity in a wide variety of ways, will paper and ink still be fulfilling? Will classic literature need to be remade in new digital dimensions to be valid for the next generation? There will certainly be very interesting and immersive techniques that will enable readers to connect with stories in unique ways, but I fear that older works might be neglected.
However, there’s also the possibility they will turn to printed books, and the contemplative, often passive manner of reading they foster, as an antidote to a constantly active, sometimes overloaded medium. It seems context plays a large part here – how would a reader focus on and engage with a multitude of different medias whilst braving a packed rush hour train journey, with all the physical restraints and stressful stimuli that entails?
I apologise in advance for any work put off due to random video YouTube tangents as a result of this post.