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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