EVENT 1: Localism

Group shot of Localism event

The first Story Mode event, ‘Localism’ took place at Gateshead Central Library on Wednesday 16 November 2016. Speakers, Jason Griffey (Technologist, US), and Aude Charillon (Librarian, UK) explored the theme by bringing their own perspectives, practice and thoughts on how libraries can understand their communities and promote local history, culture and identity, and investigate the role technology plays in local engagement.

Localism: Key ideas from the first Story Mode event


Karolynne Hart, Arts Development Manager, Gateshead Libraries and Culture team (Gateshead Council):

Digital Makings is a year-long programme led by Gateshead Libraries consisting of residences, events, talks, and participatory workshops. It aims to promote digital arts and libraries. It attempts to find new connections and methods of engagement between local communities and libraries in the context of challenging times.

Stephen Walters, Principal Libraries Manager, Gateshead Libraries and Culture team (Gateshead Council):

Libraries are under pressure. Gateshead Council conducted a public consultation, which focussed on trying to understand what the loss and impact of a local library might mean to local people. People strongly value local libraries as a place to meet others, to engage and talk, make friends, reduce social isolation, etc. People don’t want to see technological outreach as a f reason not to go to libraries but they are interested in sharing experiences at libraries through technology.

Dominic Smith, Artist and Curator, Producer of Story Mode:

Engagement with the arts always present a challenge. In galleries, there is an invisible threshold at work (Reference to German term: schwellenangst meaning fear of crossing thresholds). The barriers to engagement are numerous and include the lack of engagement with community concerns, that we are not taught about visual literacy in schools – so anxiety will pervade engaging in such a context if you don’t know it. Libraries are different. They do not have the same thresholds as galleries.

Localism is a response to the changing political climates, examining technical innovations and critical approaches  to the identity and safe exchange of ideas. What artists do is gauge a sense of the climate and engaging communities with difficult themes and areas. Artists are good at creating other spaces.

Reference to Hetrotopia (Michel Foucault):

Foucault uses the term “heterotopia” (French: hétérotopie) to describe spaces that have more layers of meaning or relationships to other places than immediately meet the eye. 

Libraries can do this in a positive way.

Introduction to speakers:

Kerry Morrison is an artist and part of a collective InSitu, who use technology to foster communities. Their work is based in libraries.  (Kerry was unable to attend today).

Jason Griffey is the creator of Library Box.

Aude Charillion is Library and Information Officer: Business & IP Centre Newcastle, based at Newcastle City Library.

Aude Charillion Talking

Presentation by Aude CharillionCommons are Forever, a project supported by the Carnegie UK Trust

Librarians have a role to play and a strong place in the community. They share knowledge, information and culture.

Main role in Business and IT Centre at Newcastle City Library is to talk to people about Intellectual Property, copyright and public domain intellectual property rights. The aim of the Commons are Forever was to flip copyright issues on its head and not deter people.

By definition:

Works in the public domain are those whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired,[1] have been forfeited,  or are inapplicable.

A free online tool producing accessible copyright licenses which provide a simple, standardized way to give you permission to share and use your creative work— on conditions of your choice.

Commons are Forever was a series of events where people were given the opportunity to come together and think. Workshops were offered where people could be creative with the use of collections in the public domain and material under open licences. The workshops explored how such material could be shared creatively, led by local artists working in digital media. They included ideas linked to ‘Coding the Past, Coding the Future’, archive cut and paste, the production of gifs (inspired by annual gif-making competition, Gif It Up!) and Live Coding with sound and music.

Newcastle Library has also launched  the photography competition, We love Monuments! inspired by Wiki Love Monuments .The aim is to send people out in local community to take pictures of listed buildings within the geographical boundaries  of Newcastle City Council. It inspires individuals to find out more about their local environment.

Library Box was also used throughout the project as an open network –  ToonLibraryBox. It  is available to use at Newcastle City Library to access documentation from the Commons are Forever project and Newcastle Library data. Often it is easier to come to the library to view this information than attempt to find it remotely. Library Box gives a centralised presence but it is not currently being used to its full potential.

Jason Griffey Talking at Localism Event

Presentation by Jason GriffeyLibrary Box

A short history of Library Box. The project started in 2012 with an interest in how libraries could more easily take digital goods out into the world in areas where there was no connectivity or technological infrastructure. In many parts of the US this is still an issue, especially in rural areas.

The solution was inspired by a project called Pirate Box, by Professor David Darts. It was an art project designed to be an anti-copyright/ activist statement. It was built as a portable file sharing box with no intermediary using open code. Jason took it and tinkered with it to make a friendlier version for libraries and educators.

In mid 2012, the code was able to run on small routers (eg: MI 2030), a mobile and inexpensive option that could convert into local web servers. In 2013, a successful Kickstart campaign raised 30,000USD to pay developers to complete Library Box and make widely available. The keystone of the project is that the code and installation instructions are freely available. The box runs on USB power.

Library Box is not connected to internet; therefore, it is an island. Locality is a feature not a bug. When you build an interesting tool, people find interesting uses for it – libraries use it to exhibit things within the confines of one room, educators use it behind firewalls, NFP organisations have used it in remote villages in Africa to share measures and videos and PDFs related to nursing techniques. etc., artists use it as part of point of place installations.

Library Box has been used in 42 countries and across the seven continents.

Current developments include: a mobile app for Library Box to allow geographical alerts when boxes are being used in near proximity, creating more interactivity; Crowd sourcing to add more languages so user can look at material on Library Box in the language which their browser is set.


Library Box requires an administrator to upload material – why?

JG: The thinking was to make it more administrative and control sharing. To mimic or act more like a library it should be a curated collection and an important part of informational transactions. This can be difficult to control in a public situation where anyone can upload and potentially use system illegally. Library Box is also a terminology that is sanitised and feels safe.  Words matter. Tools are not neutral – you should consider ethics and realities behind it. You should think about ethical system of that tool. The fact Library Box reflects library values is a deliberate strategy.

How can group of people access information from Library Box – how do you get non-users excited?

JG: Library Box is a tool built on standards and can work with any Wi-Fi and browser enabled device. The interface shows what is available for download (new version 2.1) and you can keep track of what people click, how many people visited it in a day and which books/ materials are most popular. Statistics are not kept about people, maintaining patron privacy.

Downsides to hardware is that it is slow and not very powerful. It is also not great for searching, which is the limitation of using cheap hardware where functionality is limited to browse and download. It can hold thousands of books so thought needs to be put into how to present information for people to access easily.

The challenge from a librarian’s perspective is to think creatively about the use of Library Box.

JG: Continually surprised by the uses of Library Box and more work needs to be done to capture this.  

AC: In France, Bibliobox is a proactive Facebook group of librarians using technology and providing network. Important that users create user groups locally.

DS: It is important to introduce artists into that moment and plan what could happen.

AC: The need for statistics are also important. Are people using Library Box more? Can statistics be archived?

JG: Can offer some help but it is important to maintain stance where there is no impingement on someone’s freedom, of inquiry.

Post-event discussion:

Why Story Mode?

The title is inspired by the narrative led part of computer game, where the art lies. It attempts to bootstrap a process, where a tiny programme grows into a bigger one and this grows until you have a complete operating system.

Story Mode is a responsive event. The next event will focus on Source Fabrics online tool, Storyteller.

Further questions:

Have you built communities around Library Box since it has been at Newcastle City Library?

AC: It has only been promoted at events that have ran as part of Commons are Forever. It is not promoted widely. Connection in library may be accidental to date.

Can we connect with libraries and art venues locally as a Library Box network?

The idea of Adopt a Library Box could involve community champions. It can have a core use in facilitating how to get material to hard to reach communities. It can offer a way to access media and files that cost nothing.

The key is to stay connected to Jason to be part of how things are developed, through participating in forums.

There is a challenge connected to technology and the (often long periods of) time it takes for things to get to tipping point. Often the process of using technology is not enjoyable for many people and knowledge of use often only lies only with the few. How does it serve a purpose/ how is it useful/ can it fulfil a need?

New media is seen as some as an outdated term. But we are always using newest of new media, therefore the term is not necessarily a faux pas. We all use technology before fully understanding social impact.

You can deliberately make it playful (e.g.: play games with language and text). The result doesn’t matter. It is about capturing the ‘what if’s’

The model of the mobile library is important. Library Box could be a way people to accessing events, etc. they are not physically able to attend. It allows people to be part of a community and cultural hub, within their own locality and in their own time.

Ideas captured on how to use Library Box:

  • Consultation – break process of reflection and feedback, share ideas and thinking with your neighbours
  • Adopt a Box – time capsule idea documenting the transition from Year 6 to secondary schools/ recording data to take/reflect back on, making things accessible through local ownership of material
  • Gateshead Libraries on tour – on buses, at the Interchange, connecting with people that don’t use libraries to make connections to the service
  • Community arts development projects– capturing stories from a street through new means, breaking conventions of more known outcomes (books, exhibitions, etc)
  • How can you help people that are unable to access communal space – archive brought to group for two or three people to stimulate writing/ poetry through spoken word/ captures people’s reactions to further advance stimulus and add to that/ how do you generate reflection and story within context of social isolation?
  • Newcastle/ Gateshead connections – create a community around it
  • International community day at Civic Centre – gifting things for people to take away and promote
  • Help people use technology better- Make virtual libraries (where there aren’t libraries and no libraries anymore)
  • Enhance exhibition space – more information to access exhibitions
  • Not want to presuppose what community want – project with wider community group to find out how it can be used
  • Outreach – trying to reach people that are housebound or in care homes, can’t take objects out, connecting to collections and locality
  • Great North Exhibition trail – chat room built into Library Box, good where you trust your audience, becomes community led

This Story Mode event was attended by twelve people ranging in professional experiences and practices across libraries, open source technology, the arts and cultural services.

Thank you to Andrea Carter for compiling this documentation of the first event!


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