Interactive Libraries: the New Halifax Central Library

Image from Wikimedia Commons, Citobun

The Current on CBC has been running a series recently focused on all elements of design.  By Design looks at traditional design as well as new technologies, education practices, and other human constructed ideas that shape our world.  This week By Design featured a segment on designing libraries in a digital era.

The feature focused on the design of the new Halifax Central Library.  Set to open in the fall of 2014 the library is the first of scale to be built in Canada in many years.  The library features gaming stations, meetings rooms, community spaces, cafes, and takes the approach of libraries as gathering spaces and communal spaces of knowledge.

The discussion questioned the future of libraries and placed libraries as much more than a place for books, but as an actively engaged center of a community. This sense of community engagement was integrated into the design process for the Halifax Library. Five public consultations were held which invited Halifax residents to provide input on the design and components of the library. Many of these sessions were interactive.  For example in 2008 library patrons were asked to write down what they wanted in a new library on a ‘graffiti wall.’

Interactive events including knit-ins, talking fences, and community art projects are other examples of the Halifax Library already beginning to engage the community through non-traditional means. The library is position itself as a welcoming multipurpose environment that encourage conversation.

It is great to see such a large scale library project being funded and supported by a community.  As the library opens it will be interesting to hear feedback from the community and see how this new community oriented space is being used.  

For those interested in checking out the design of the new Halifax Central Library a virtual tour is available:

Archival Outreach and Community Based Heritage

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the role archives can play in community based heritage initiatives.  The bulk of my thoughts have centered on the idea that archives have the potential to become community heritage hubs and places of active history. Of course, just because archives have the potential to do this doesn’t mean they instantly become centers for community heritage.  A tremendous amount of effort, planning, and outreach needs to occur for archives to become more than repositories and facilities for occasional researchers.

 A colleague and I recently ran a professional development workshop on community based heritage projects.  The workshop spent a great deal of time focusing on outreach and education programming our archive has undertaken in the past; while highlighting the resulting successes and failures of these efforts.

This presentation and audience questions pointed out the importance of archives knowing their audience and creating outreach geared to their audience.  Similarly, most archives serve more than one type of patron and as such they require more than one type of outreach if they wish to appeal to a range of people.   That being said, due to limited budgets and staff time a lot of archival outreach has a tendency to be broad ranging and not geared to a particular user group.

How can archives and other heritage organizations take an existing outreach initiative and efficiently make that initiative tailored to a range of users? Content development is probably the most important part of this process. It also tends to be the most labour intensive process. If you only have one handout for your archive or one set of research guidelines, consider spending some time creating additional content which can supplement existing handouts.

This might be as simple as creating different archive worksheets for genealogists, professional researchers, and students.  Front-line staff most likely already know which resources are used most by each of these groups and what common questions are asked by each group – it is a matter of committing it to paper or online resources.

Picking the right medium for their message can be just as important as the content archives with to deliver.  Paper resources are good for onsite visitors, digital content tends to appeal to students and distance researchers, interactive workshops may appeal more to community based researchers and genealogists than to academic researchers.

It might be tempting to do so for cost saving and efficiency’s sake but creating all your content in one medium simply doesn’t work.   Different user groups want different types of information.  It might be useful to conduct a user survey or to have front-line staff share user observations over a period of time prior to selecting a medium.  There is no point in creating content in a format that people don’t find accessible.

Keep it simple.  Outreach activities do not need to be these elaborately complex schemes that take years to bring to fruition.  Start small and work towards larger outreach goals.  This could mean starting by creating a facebook page, creating bookmarks with hours/archive info on them, or creating simple handouts that are given to new researchers when they arrive at the archive. 

Outreach has the potential to be an enlightening and rewarding experience. Planning, thought, and time is required to create successful archival outreach programs.  But, increased outreach can help archives learn more about how to better cater to their users, can help increase use of the archive, and can raise awareness about historical issues.  

Photo credit: artofdreaming,…tanja…, and nick wright planning

Parks Canada’s Digital Move

Parks Canada recently announced intentions to provide location specific content to park visitors using GPS technology and a program called Explora. Explora includes location specific ‘pop-ups’ with information pertaining to the area visitors are in, it also includes an interactive quiz type feature.

During the pilot phase of the project Parks Canada handed out devices loaded with the app to visitors to a select number of parks. Parks Canada is still working on making the Explora program available on a wider scale and is working on expanding the number of mobile apps offered by Parks Canada. There has been some indication that these new apps will contain historical content, which would be a great way of updating traditional methods interpretation.

It will be interesting to see how this project expands. Using digital apps has the potential to inform parks visitors of their surroundings in a way which is more accessible and engaging than a traditional text panel. However, I think there needs to be a balance between enjoying the natural beauty of Canada’s parks and learning more about one’s surroundings through technology.