June 17, 2008

Thinkering Spaces in Libraries

Today I saw one pos­si­ble future for libraries, and it has me pretty excited. I can look back on my pro­fes­sional career and see a pro­gres­sion of advo­cat­ing for shift­ing ser­vices to where our users are, mak­ing our spaces more col­lab­o­ra­tive, and rein­vig­o­rat­ing libraries as the com­mu­nity cen­ter (regard­less of type of library). It’s why I’ve explored tech­nol­ogy, blog­ging, RSS, social net­works, gam­ing, and col­lab­o­ra­tive spaces. Today, many of those pieces came together for me in a pretty amaz­ing pack­age that has the power to reimag­ine the library as third place, cross some dig­i­tal divides, and inte­grate par­tic­i­pa­tory cul­ture into our ser­vice model. Even bet­ter, it involves peo­ple and books, not just technology.

Thinkering Spaces prototype So what did I see today? A project called Thinker­ing Spaces, con­ceived of by some very smart peo­ple at the Illi­nois Insti­tute of Technology’s Insti­tute of Design and funded by the MacArthur Foun­da­tion. After quite a bit of ini­tial vision­ing and research, this group has built a pro­to­type for a rel­a­tively cheap, portable, col­lab­o­ra­tive space that can be put up and taken down in libraries of any size on the fly. It’s built using an out-of-the-catalog Steel­case frame, and uses Johnny Chung Lee’s Nintedo wiimote hacks to cre­ate an inex­pen­sive, drag-and-drop envi­ron­ment. The tech­nol­ogy is as plug and play as it can be to cre­ate an open source, open con­tent space where any future tech­nol­ogy that is built on these stan­dards can be eas­ily integrated.

The point is to bring spaces into libraries that let peo­ple col­lab­o­rate around the con­tent that already exists in in our build­ings, add new con­tent to the mix, mash it all up to cre­ate some­thing new, and share it with the com­mu­nity. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a way to con­nect peo­ple with the phys­i­cal world and help them make sense of it by inter­act­ing with and chang­ing it. It’s another instance where the library adds value to the equa­tion (the same way it does with books and now games), offer­ing an expe­ri­ence you can’t repli­cate at home, borne of the com­mu­nity. TJ, the pro­gram­ming wiz­ard behind the cur­tain, called it a “human inter­face envi­ron­ment,” rather than a “human com­puter inter­ac­tion.” It takes the focus off tech­nol­ogy and puts it back onto the people.

dragging images on the left into the story frame on the right The var­i­ous pieces are designed for dif­fer­ent types of inter­ac­tions, including:

  • asynchronous
  • synchronous
  • sub­scribe to a men­tor (one-to-many)
  • col­lab­o­ra­tive storytelling/joint commentary
  • cumu­la­tive expe­ri­ence (see what oth­ers have done and build on it or change it)

Because the space is scal­able down to 5’x5’ or expand­able up to 12’x12’, it should fit in most build­ings in some form. Libraries could assem­ble the full ver­sion one day and only cer­tain pieces the next week. It could be used at spe­cific times for cer­tain pro­gram­ming and then bro­ken down and stored until the next ses­sion. It has its own con­tained wire­less net­work, or it could access the library’s wifi. It’s designed to cre­ate a dis­tinct, exploratory envi­ron­ment that doesn’t require any­one to run it.

collaborative drawing table Out of all of the dis­cus­sions and demon­stra­tions today, TJ summed it up best when he said the project is about ” ‘look at what I did,’ as opposed to ‘look at what I bought.’ ” To pro­vide that type of inter­ac­tion in the safe, non-commercialized third place of the library for the entire com­mu­nity is a pretty excit­ing prospect. No other entity in the com­mu­nity could pro­vide the breadth and depth of this type of expe­ri­ence. The team at IIT — Dale Fahn­strom, Greg Pry­grocki, Heloisa Moura, and TJ McLeish — has cre­ated a work­ing pro­to­type that daz­zles the imag­i­na­tion for the next gen­er­a­tion of library services.

Over the next few days, I’ll write more about the details, the plan, and what I hope is the future of the project, but for now you can see my Flickr set of pic­tures from today’s visit to get an idea of what it looks like and what it can do. Keep­ing in mind that it’s still in the pro­to­type phase, it’s still pretty inspiring.

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11:20 pm Comments (18)

18 Comments

  1. This is awe­some! IIT seems like a really cool place. I love pro­to­type ver­sions of things — and a pro­to­type library space, even more so! Your flickr pho­tos are great, too. You should have snagged some video footage! I’m look­ing for­ward to your future blog posts about this project.

    Comment by Timothy Greig — June 18, 2008 @ 12:13 am

  2. Thanks, Tim­o­thy — hope­fully we’ll be a lot more involved in this project going for­ward, so I’ll def­i­nitely take some video next time!

    Comment by jenny — June 18, 2008 @ 5:54 am

  3. Is it wrong to drool over a blog post­ing about library tech­nol­ogy? ‘cos if it is then, well, I’ve just done wrong.

    Comment by John Kirriemuir — June 18, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

  4. Some­how, it reminds me of the effort and money NASA put into devel­op­ing a writ­ing instru­ment for outer space. It had to write in every con­ceiv­able envi­ron­ment, zero grav­ity, under water, upside down, etc. The Rus­sians sim­ply sup­plied their cos­mo­nauts with pen­cils. The IIT folks need some reed­u­ca­tion ses­sions with Wen­dell Berry.

    Comment by Joseph McDonald — June 18, 2008 @ 5:10 pm

  5. You’re not the only one, John! :)

    Joseph, I think it’s a shame you’re mak­ing up your mind based on one short overview, and I don’t find your anal­ogy very com­pelling, but that won’t come as a sur­prise. Com­pared to solu­tions like Microsoft’s Sur­face, the chal­lenge of rebuild­ing spaces for col­lab­o­ra­tive work, and the lack of these types of resources in libraries, this *is* the pencil.

    Comment by jenny — June 18, 2008 @ 8:31 pm

  6. […] I gave an overview of the Thinker­ing Spaces project, so today I want to explain a lit­tle more about how we were able to manip­u­late con­tent using the […]

    Pingback by The Shifted Librarian » Mashing Up Content in the Library (Thinkering Spaces II) — June 18, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

  7. […] Jenny Levine at The Shifted Librar­ian has posted about her expe­ri­ence with Thinker­ing­Spaces, a beta ver­sion of a portable, scal­able, learning/teaching/interactive space to be used in libraries. Some of the things they have incor­po­rated so far is using RFID tech­nol­ogy to let users add infor­ma­tion to library resources, using Wii video game tech­nol­ogy to allow users to manip­u­late library con­tent in dif­fer­ent ways, pro­jec­tors and screens for con­tent dis­play, and a self-contained LAN. The point is to bring spaces into libraries that let peo­ple col­lab­o­rate around the con­tent that already exists in in our build­ings, add new con­tent to the mix, mash it all up to cre­ate some­thing new, and share it with the com­mu­nity. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a way to con­nect peo­ple with the phys­i­cal world and help them make sense of it by inter­act­ing with and chang­ing it. […]

    Pingback by The Biblio File » Portable Tech/Ed Spaces in Libraries — June 19, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

  8. Jenny,
    This is such a cool idea! I can’t wait to see more and hear more about how you think libraries can inte­grate it into their ser­vices. Of course I agree with you libraries would make the best use of this –but it could be use­ful for busi­nesses in plan­ning too which means there may be money to develop it.

    Comment by Cheryl Bryan — June 19, 2008 @ 12:28 pm

  9. […] Thinker­ing Spaces in Libraries Today I saw one pos­si­ble future for libraries, and it has me pretty excited. I can look back on my pro­fes­sional career and see a pro­gres­sion of advo­cat­ing for shift­ing ser­vices to where our users are, mak­ing our spaces more col­lab­o­ra­tive, and rein­vig­o­rat­ing libraries as the com­mu­nity cen­ter (regardl… […]

    Pingback by Books and Magazines Blog » Archive » Thinkering Spaces in Libraries — June 19, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

  10. Dear Folks,

    When I stopped recently at a DART rail sta­tion and noticed an intrigu­ing memo­r­ial to a group of peo­ple who once set­tled a small part of the city of Dal­las (a trib­ute to the Lis­bon Com­mu­nity) who hap­pened to gather many, many hours, and days per week around their arte­sian well; I thought to myself, as a librar­ian for over 30+ years, what could I do to show the com­mu­nity of Dal­las, just how rich their her­itage truly is? What multi-media, or tech­no­log­i­cal insight would I need to have to not only find a way to per­ma­nently explore the memo­r­ial mark­ers which dot the DART (our tran­sit sys­tem) sta­tions, but begin the process of wider aware­ness for the his­tory which these artis­tic pieces have con­tributed to Dal­las? Too often, our fair city has taken many neg­a­tive hits. But, now in our his­tory, and sud­den growth of pop­u­la­tion spurts, we need to be not just wor­ried about our past…but, gen­uinely con­cerned for plan­ning a pos­i­tive future.
    I think that the tech­nol­ogy which you have described would really work very well for our pub­lic libraries. They need to embrace!!

    Comment by Carol Felch — June 20, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  11. […] explained what the Thinker­ing Spaces project is about and how it works, I want to wrap up some thoughts on it by not­ing next steps. Using the MacArthur […]

    Pingback by The Shifted Librarian » Implementing the Prototype (Thinkering Spaces III) — June 24, 2008 @ 8:36 am

  12. […] Thinker­ing spaces Thinker­ing Spaces in Libraries […]

    Pingback by Thinkering spaces « Jflahiff’s Weblog — June 24, 2008 @ 11:48 am

  13. Whoah– this is BRILLIANT. So glad to read about it!

    Comment by Nate — July 5, 2008 @ 12:15 pm

  14. […] admir­ing their research, is to read the fol­low­ing posts from the Shifted Librar­ian blog in order. One. Two. […]

    Pingback by Participatory Culture, ThinkeringSpace, and the virtual “Third Place” « Catch and Release — July 6, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

  15. […] käsit­telee aihetta kolmessa kir­joituk­ses­saan, Thinker­ing Spaces in Libraries (6/2008), Mash­ing Up Con­tent in the Library (Thinker­ing Spaces II) ja Imple­ment­ing the Prototype […]

    Pingback by ThinkeringSpaces « Sorvipenkin äärellä — August 14, 2008 @ 12:26 am

  16. […] Spaces in Libraries http://theshiftedlibrarian.com/archives/2008/06/17/thinkering-spaces-in-libraries.html (Jenny Levine, The Shifted Librar­ian, 17 June 2008.) This post, and the two that fol­low it, […]

    Pingback by 2009 Horizon Report » Four to Five Years: Smart Objects — January 19, 2009 @ 12:44 am

  17. […] Spaces in Libraries http://theshiftedlibrarian.com/archives/2008/06/17/thinkering-spaces-in-libraries.html (Jenny Levine, The Shifted Librar­ian, 17 June 2008.) This post, and the two that fol­low it, […]

    Pingback by 2009 Horizon Report: The K12 Edition » Four to Five Years: Smart Objects — March 18, 2009 @ 12:20 am

  18. […] back onto the peo­ple.” If you wish to read more, please see Thinker­ing Spaces in Libraries, part one and part […]

    Pingback by Portable, collaborative spaces in libraries — "thinkering spaces" « UST Libraries Blog — October 5, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

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