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..

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.


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.


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.

inspiration making sharing

Art Space Tokyo: Shared Making

Art Space Tokyo is an intimate guide to the Tokyo art world by Ashley Rawlings and Craig Mod and a very beautiful book describing the buildings and neighbourhoods of 12 distinctive Tokyo galleries. There are maps for each of the areas, illustrations of the galleries by Nobumasa Takahashi  (the cover is a composite map of Tokyo by Craig Mod) alongside interviews and essays.

Inside pages from Art Space Tokyo

In the Preface to Art Space Tokyo Ashley and Craig write:

“We believe that art is not just an end goal, but a process involving all manner of people. Aside from the artists themselves, the art world is made up of collectors, curators, architects, businessmen, npo organizations and the patrons — those of us who gain pleasure from simply viewing and interacting with art — all taking part in some way to foster the creation and consumption process.”

Although here they were referring to the people who work in and with galleries and art they also applied this philosophy to the creation of Art Space Tokyo. Originally printed in 2008 the book was sold out by Spring 2009. In 2010 Ashley and Craig decided that they would like to update and reprint the book as well as create a free web edition for the iPad extending the original concept with videos of the spaces and interviews with local characters, sound-recordings that reveal the ambience of the neighbourhoods and rich interactive maps.

Illustration for GA Gallery, Yoyogi / Harajuku

In the spirit of shared making, it was at this point that they turned to Kickstarter as a way to raise the money necessary to achieve their goal. Kickstarter allows people to advertise their project and ask for contributions towards realising it. Requested contributions for any project range from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars – with your reward increasing alongside your contribution. For example, a pledge of $25 Art Space Tokyo would have got you a PDF of the book plus access to all project updates. At the other end of the scale for a pledge of $2500 you would have received all of the rewards of the other pledge amounts (e.g. copy of the book, original artwork) plus a 1-day tour of the art spaces of Tokyo with Craig Mod.

Is this shared making? Well, yes, I think it is.. As they write in the preface art – or making – is a process not just a product and through Kickstarter Ashley and Craig were offering the opportunity to become part of this process. And I hope the benefits were mutual – they got to reprint the book, contributors got a tangible reward (and presumably a warm fuzzy feeling from helping out two artists).

p.s. If you were thinking of contributing you’re too late… Ashley and Craig wanted $15,000. By 1 May when the pledges closed they had 265 backers and had raised $23,790!

inspiration sharing

3 Ways to Share

I came across these three ways to share via Russell Davis who attributes them to Clay Shirky.

Sharing Goods – the hardest to do, because if you give a physical good you no longer have it, you’re deprived of it.

Sharing Services – like giving helping someone across the road – you don’t lose out on physical stuff but it’s an inconvenience.

Sharing Information – like giving someone directions – you don’t lose stuff, it doesn’t take much time, no inconvenience.

Also interesting are Russell’s further thoughts on this where he discusses the relative value of mixtapes vs playlists and how the tangibility of mixtapes actually increases their value.

I find this an incredibly useful way to think about sharing in relation to bookleteer. Give away a printed eBook or StoryCube and you lose that object – but the person you give it to feels valued as a result of that exchange. Email someone an eBook or StoryCube and you don’t lose anything except the time it takes to write the email – but the value may be diluted as a result. Sometimes you won’t have a choice about which way you distribute your eBooks (see A Little Something About Me for one example of why this might be) but when you do the question to ask might be – how do you want the recipient of your eBook to feel..?


Can A Million Penguins be wrong..

“Software is rarely written in a vacuum and indeed the “open source” movement is built on the premise that collaboration is the only way to get bugs spotted and move forward. Scientific research, too, is more often than not a collaborative activity – and peer review is key to checking and honing the development of scientific ideas.

However, is the same true in artistic fields? We are used to the romantic notion of the artist or the novelist working alone in an attic room, or in the shed at the bottom of the garden. As James Joyce memorably put it, the artist forges in the “smithy of [his] soul”. Yet many of the most highly regarded television programmes of recent years are written by teams of writers; and the majority of films go through rigorous screen testing exercises (and are often altered as a result) before they reach the paying customer. The painters Holbein and Titian, among any number of their contemporaries, used students to add the detail to their pieces before signing them, a tradition continued to this day by Damien Hirst who openly acknowledges the contribution of his studio team.

But what about the novel? Can a collective create a believable fictional voice? How does a plot find any sort of coherent trajectory when different people have a different idea about how a story should end – or even begin? And, perhaps most importantly, can writers really leave their egos at the door?”

And so it began – Penguin’s 2007 experiment into the online collaborative novel. I came across the A Million Penguins project as I begin my investigation into sharing the making of books or in this case, a novel. Penguin set up a wiki where authors could contribute, edit and delete a collaborative novel. You can read the novel – and about the process that went through – at

On the Institute for the Future of the Book blog there is an insightful and analytic post by Ben Vershbow discussing the merits of the project as an idea and as a novel. Ben concludes that a wiki is probably the wrong format for the online collaborative novel. So if not wiki – what?

not quite a million penguins (via