Having access to a collection of high quality books holds great appeal for many of us. In fact, collections of anything provide a certain type of fascination that’s both powerful and difficult to explain. A good collection of artefacts stimulates the imagination and prompts conversation, but it’s not just about the items in the collection—their arrangement is crucial to the collection’s impact.
This month I was lucky enough to be selected to work with the Asia Pacific Design Library and The Edge at the State Library of Queensland over the next few months on their Technology and Collection Challenge.
Having already taken a bold step in discarding the Dewey decimal system, the APDL’s collection provides the perfect platform for further experimentation around how a library collection can be organised. A collection of physical items can only be arranged one way at a time, which imposes an almighty limitation, but at the same time provides an interesting design challenge.
The modern library catalogue is, of course, the technological answer to this challenge. A digital catalogue, with the help of copious meta-data, provides a method to virtually re-arrange the collection in an almost infinite number of ways. Meta-data helps to surface different connections, enabling the creation of meaning from something which by itself can seem somewhat impenetrable.
While library catalogues are quite good at surfacing connections—it’s easy, for example, to find items on a related topic or by the same author—they’re not ideal for promoting imagination and the creation of real meaning from these connections in the mind of a user.
I’m interested in exploring the idea of data driven story telling; using the collection’s meta-data to find and expose quiet narratives.
I believe adding a narrative to the organisation of items will be powerful. Taking prompts from the collection itself we can find data driven stories that help inform the physical and digital curation. This ‘found narrative’ has the potential to expose hidden connections and prompt ways of engaging with the collection that might otherwise have been overlooked.
The starting point here is to interrogate the meta-data in novel ways and begin exploring how visitors to the library (both physical and virtual) are interacting with the collection.
Quietly presenting surfaced data in narrative forms requires imagination and prompts creativity.
Narrative can take many forms and the possibilities for how a narrative built around a library’s collection might look are vast. It could take a form as literal as a collection of short stories about the people and groups involved in particular schools of design thinking. Another form could utilise techniques for the graphical representation of quantitative data to tell a story about the evolution of the collection. It could even be something as abstract as a physical object with an embedded narrative about the library’s visitors.
Finding an appropriate, powerful and specific form for the narrative of the APDL collection is the first idea I’m exploring. Available and emerging technologies and the ever swelling oceans of data make the ability to tell data driven stories ever more important. Many hidden and intriguing stories exist in the APDL data sets; I'm excited to be helping tell them.