inspiration sharing

Library in a Box

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a couple of posts about libraries, librarians and what services and characteristics they might provide in the future based on the talks and discussion at Be2camp Brum 2010.

To my mind,  a  library’s primary function is to lend books to people and this service of sharing books in a community is beautifully carried out by this library-in-a-phone-box in Westbury-sub-Mendip, Somerset.

The phone box was bought from BT for £1 in 2009 and then a tea party was held to decide what to do with it. The idea of a mini-library was instantly popular as the nearest public library is four miles away and the mobile library stopped visiting the year before.

There is no full-time librarian and the phone box is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for members of the village to pop by and drop off books and borrow new ones. There are four wooden shelves of books and the children’s section is a red box on the floor.

I think it’s a great reminder that libraries don’t have to be huge to be valued and makes me wonder what an eBook library might look like and where it might be located. Perhaps a cardboard box in the corner of a café or an old cupboard at the end of the street is all that is needed..

examples inspiration sharing

ScrapBooks as Tangible Souvenirs

… And ways to document events and projects

A few days ago we published a ScrapBook made at the Vintage Festival for a project Proboscis is participating in called Graffito – a collaborative iPhone/iPad app that lets people draw on a shared canvas. It was used in the Warehouse tent (which had a 1980s theme) as a collaborative VJ system displayed on a giant LED screen. A number of iPhones were lent out to people to draw with, as well as remote users playing from all over the world (the App is free to download from the AppStore).

For part of the 3 day festival, Jennifer Sheridan (Graffito’s project lead) sat in the control booth capturing snapshots of the screen and printing them off using a Polaroid PoGo printer (a very small portable printer that uses USB & Bluetooth to print ‘zero ink’ pictures from mobiles or digital cameras). She then stuck them into a blank eNoteBook I had designed especially for Graffito. Once back from the festival we disassembled the ‘ScrapBook’, scanned it in and republished it so anyone (whether at the festival, a remote participant or just someone interested) could have a hand made tangible souvenir of the project and the event. The process was very simple (though not helped by Apple’s blocking of Bluetooth connection to the PoGo printer on the iPhone) and points the way to similar uses for lots of other projects. In fact the whole process could easily be copied by anyone with an iPhone : simply download the Graffito app, start drawing and use the ‘snapshot’ feature to capture pictures of your favourite screens. Then download the blank version of the Graffito ScrapBook from, print out and stick in the screen shots to make your own personal Graffito ScrapBook. You don’t need a PoGo printer (though they’re now very cheap to buy, around £20) – you could just print out the pictures on normal paper and glue them in.

As we develop Graffito further, part of our thinking will focus around how to personalise the creation of tangible souvenirs from the project even further. It could be possible, for instance, to request a series of screen shots to be taken from a particular time sequence and made into an eBook or StoryCube. This could be particularly fun for a group of people using it to draw collaboratively and could be combined with maps of where users are located in the world (there’s a short movie demonstrating this on the Graffito website).

I think this ScrapBook is a great example of just how simple it can be to design and make custom eNoteBooks or ScrapBooks for projects and events with bookleteer. Using simple and cheap tools like the PoGo printer, its possible to capture and print images using mobile phones (or cameras via USB) which can be stuck in and notes written around them. Whether its for festivals, art events, schools projects, field research or sports events, its possible to create beautiful and engaging ScrapBooks ‘in the field’ – as they are happening – that can be shared with anyone afterwards.

Get in touch if you’d like us to design a way of creating tangible souvenirs like this for your project or event.

residencies sharing

Words as Texture

One of my favourite sets of Story Cubes is the Pharmaceutical Cubes created by Kenneth Goldsmith in 2008.

Inspired and intrigued by the extensive warnings and disclaimers that accompany advertisements of pharmaceutical drugs, he found that these documents sometimes covered 43 pages or almost 7000 words. Kenneth took six of these documents and re-formatted them for the Story Cubes. Fitting all of the text on one cube meant that the font had to be reduced to 1-point. When justified and coloured the result is a set of unreadable Story Cubes created entirely out of words.

Describing the ideas behind the cubes and their construction Kenneth writes:

“I have often talked about how today in writing, quantity has trumped quality; it is the writer’s job to manage the amount of available language. In sculpting these documents, I found my perfect material. Squeezed into 1-point type, then justified, I created columns of unreadable texts: words as texture. When folded into cubes, these warnings – secretly embedded into the pills we take – are reconstituted into three-dimensional forms, creating a new type of placebo.”

I love the idea of words as texture or words as material. It places writing firmly in the realm of craft and making, reminding us that through the length and flow of the text writers are shaping books as much as any designer. For example, these images by Dave McKean would probably look quite different with more or less text on the page. It’s also a reminder that when I’m thinking about the form of the eBook and Story Cubes with projects such as pop-up eBooks and cube cameras I shouldn’t forget about words entirely..

Read more by Kenneth Goldsmith about his inspiration and download the Story Cubes at

And now I’m off on holiday for a few days and Hazem is going to be writing for the bookleteer blog while I’m gone. I think I’ll let him introduce himself.. Enjoy!

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.

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.

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.

making sharing

notebooks vs notebooks

I took the photo above in the Kenrokuen gardens, Kanazawa. We were standing beside the lake at the centre of these beautiful and historic gardens when I saw these two ladies. Standing side-by-side one lady was sketching what she could see using a pencil and paper notebook, the other was using her mobile phone to photograph the same view.

I was reminded of this picture when I read this post suggesting that pen and paper are mightier than the laptop. It describes a meeting of high-powered business men in which paper notebooks outnumbered the electronic version. The blog author, David Hornik, describes what he sees as the advantages of a paper notebook.

“Notebooks have certain enviable characteristics. They are instant on — even faster than a laptop with a solid state drive. They have virtually unlimited storage — just boot a new notebook when the pages are filled. And they perform better than tape for archival storage. Direct sunlight is no problem for a bright white piece of paper. And power management is rarely a problem (although your pen may run out of ink). Notebooks don’t require any connectivity. They aren’t susceptible to viruses. And they are highly portable. [1]

[1] I realize Notebooks aren’t perfect. They perform about as well as laptops when exposed to the elements. They are a terrible collaboration tool. And I have yet to see an effective way to backup your notebooks.”

Obviously, this is a relevant topic for bookleteer which uses digital processes to produce paper notebooks and it got me thinking – what are the pluses and minuses of paper vs computer notebooks?

I love my laptop but I don’t carry it more than I have to because it’s heavy (well, heavier than a paperback book), it’s precious – I don’t want it stolen or lost, and it contains *everything* – I don’t want my photos, dissertation, emails, music and to-do lists destroyed by a wayward cup of tea! On the plus side it contains *everything* and I never find I’ve left something important at home. My paper notebooks, on the other hand, are lightweight and tend to be more focused – a work notebook, a sketchbook, a project notebook.. And they hold stuff too – flower petals, tickets, business cards and so on. They’re still vulnerable to a spilt cup of tea but the consequences are probably not so serious.

So perhaps it’s not so much about ‘better’ or ‘worse’ but about being the most appropriate object for the situation or person.

What do you think? Do you prefer paper or computer notebooks? Any opinions welcome..

inspiration sharing

For the love of a book shelf

Photographs of Macleods secondhand bookstore, Vancouver, Canada and a bookshelf, from

As if to emphasise James Bridle‘s point that books-as-objects act as souvenirs of the reading time, a few days ago I came across the blog bookshelf porn. The premise of the blog is simple – it shows photographs of bookshelves, contributed by readers, and adds a new picture of two every day. But I never would have imagined the variety of book shelves that exist, or how beautiful they look when they are collected together in this way.

This isn’t all about aesthetics – this is a blog with a message. While there’s very little text on the site occasionally, in between the photographs, there is a quote such as this one from The New Yorker’s The Book Bench writing about Bookshelf porn:

“Featuring a book on your bookshelf is akin to displaying a trophy. You’ve accomplished something in reading a book; it feels like a victory. The opportunity to display your literary conquests in unique or unexpected ways is something I will greatly miss with e-readers.”

This message – that bookshelves have a beauty and purpose that is not found in e-readers – is carried across the site. And looking at the photos I couldn’t really argue with that, however, I am excited to see how e-readers might begin to address that challenge…