The UnLibrary: library within a library

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This paper was presented at the IFLA Pre-Conference satellite at Turin, Italy on 19 Aug 2009 by Damien Wang.

The ‘UnLibrary’ was a social experiment by the National Library Board (NLB), Singapore, to prototype a participatory ‘library within a library’. Envisioned by an iconic theatrical personality, shaped by a team of volunteers, and evolved by library users through interactive exhibits and programmes which function as ‘conversations’ between the library and its community, this ‘library takeover’ project went beyond the manipulation of the ‘UnLibrary’ space, as it also involves the manipulation of everyone’s ideas and feedback into user theatre improvisations which were performed during the ‘UnLibrary Weekend’. In all, the UnLibrary installations received a total of 26,742 visitors from 1 Apr to 18 May 2009.

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The UnLibrary: library within a library

  1. 1. IFLA Satellite @ Torino, Italy 19-21 Aug 2009 The UnLibrary: library within a library
  2. 2. What is the ‘UnLibrary’? <ul><ul><li>Started as a ‘guerilla’ project within NLB’s Programmes & Exhibitions division in late 2008 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Drew inspiration from ‘cool’ libraries and activities which competed for leisure time of readers and Michel De Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>UnLibrary manifesto: the subversion of physical/virtual spaces to become library space: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>subverting the ‘white space’ by invading spaces, channels and time zones outsisde PLS system. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>chameleon strategy to adapt rapidly to changes in lifestyle trends, hotspots, usage patterns, using of modular forms & flexible spaces. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>make users perceive the library as a useful place , even if they don't come in to read at all. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Manifestions of UnLibrary Subvert Spaces: Modular Library Subvert Senses: Experience Library Subvert Collections: Beyond Books Subvert Purpose: Up is Down & Black is White Biblio Metro (SMRT = PLS?) Outdoor Experience Sensory Experience (Cerritos Lib) Artistic Experience Borrow a Person Borrow Toys / Clothes Library as Playground Library as Hotel/Retreat Library as Shopping Mall Library as Nightspot 24/7 libraries Manga cafes
  4. 4. UnLibrary applied to Programmes Designed by creative volunteers Envisioned by Personality (Alvin) UnLibrary Evolved by visitors Deconstruction of Alvin + Artistic Direction Installation & Happenings Reconstruction: Inspiration for next project
  5. 5. [email_address] <ul><ul><li>Music + Dance + Theatre + Film = [email_address] </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Officially opened on 12 Sep 2002 </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Located on the third level of The Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>One of the few libraries in the world to be co-located within a performing arts complex. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Spans an area of 2,300 square metres </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Test bed for Project UnLibrary (11 Feb – 18 May 2009) </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. The Iconic Personality: Alvin Tan <ul><ul><li>Award-winning Founder and Artistic Director of The Necessary Stage (TNS), one of Singapore’s most prominent and respected theatre companies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>BA from the National university of Singapore, a Diploma in Education from the Institute of Education, and an MA from the University of </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Birmingham. Awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 1997. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Directed more than 40 plays, which have been staged in Singapore,Malaysia, Glasgow, Cairo, Busan, Seoul, Melbourne, Birmingham, London,Dublin, Cairo, New Delhi, Hungary and Romania </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council (1998); Life! Theatre Awards: Best Production (2009). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Strongly involved in civil society work </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. The Creatives <ul><ul><li>27 applicants from call for participation sent to art schools, arts fora & NLB channels </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>10 applicants selected based on: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>skill sets, e.g. architects, designers, non-theatre arts experience </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>screening questions, e.g. - What does UnLibrary mean to you? - What do you hope to gain from participating in this workshop? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>assessment of commitment </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Profile of the ‘Final Ten’: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Ages 21 to 40 </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Nationality: 9 Singaporeans + 1 Serb </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Gender: 4 Females + 6 Males </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Professions: architects, designers and practitioners from the cultural industries </li></ul></ul></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><ul><li>Team 1: Installation design (4 members) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Interactive showcases (1 main + 3 satellites) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Signature collection </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Team 2: UnLibrary in your head (2 members) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Design a ‘portable’ experience </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Users must be able to experience the UnLibrary even if they are overseas </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Team 3: Happenings (4 members) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Organise events & viral marketing </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Must be non-infrastructural in nature, i.e. must not involve construction, to differentiate from Team 1’s tasks </li></ul></ul></ul>The Creative Teams
  9. 9. The Workshops photos
  10. 10. Design Process Deconstruction of Iconic Personality Design proposals Selection criteria & constraints Construction by vendor Content population Public showcase @ EPPL: 1 Apr to 18 May @ GEPL: 19 May to 12 Jun @ JRL: 13 Jun to 11 Aug Concepts Ideas for improvs Visitors’ inputs e.g. Quotations & feedback UnLibrary Weekend Performances (Apr) Scripts Awakened interests Drama Improv Group formed (UnHeroes @ GEPL – Jun ) Core Team (14 pax) Volunteer actors (40 pax) Hardware Software Key: Roving Exhibition @ NTU ADM Library 11 Aug to 18 Sep
  11. 11. Design Process <ul><ul><li>Deconstruction of Alvin Tan(Week 1) </li></ul></ul>Personal sharing ||| ||| || |||||
  12. 12. Design Process <ul><ul><li>Deconstruction of Alvin Tan (Week 1) </li></ul></ul>INSPIRATION: CULTURAL COLLABORATION INTERCULTURALISM CO-EXISTENCE PERFORMANCE INTERVIEW.FACTS... <few months> ... STAGE + FEEDBACK ... <few months> ... STAGE (TICKETED) {The TNS process} ALVIN'S LIBRARY START A GROUP, ANY GROUP DIVERSITY LEARN FROM PROJECTED FUTURE CHRIST WASHING DISCIPLES' FEET LIBERATION THEOLOGY ADVOCACY PLURALITY WORKS INTERCULTURE (X3 entries) INTERCULTURALISM (X2 entries) PUSHING ENVELOPES SOCIAL THEATRE (X2 entries) STRENGTH STATUES AUDIENCE CENTRED REALISM VERNACULAR CUTTING EDGE BRING THINGS FROM MARGIN TO THE MIDDLE HUMAN STATE OF BEING VERBATIM IMAGINED FUTURE (X2 entries) SINGAPOREAN CULTURAL ORPHANS IMAGINATION & FACTS ETHOS REBEL HUMANE TAKING SMALL STEPS ACTIVISM EFFORT ON RESEARCH (FIRST HAND) SERVICE SOFT POWER ART & THEATRE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD SLOWLY EFFORT PUT INTO WORK UNDERDOG APPEAL? STRENGTH IN NUMBERS? IMPACT AWARENESS OF AIDS/SEX WORKERS/MIGRANTS/MENTAL PATIENTS PASSION KILLS PAIN POVERTY TEACHER CULTURE CLASH POLITICS SOCIAL
  13. 13. 30 Installation Designs <ul><ul><li>Evolution of layout & proposed features (Stage 1) </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. 30 Installation Designs <ul><ul><li>Evolution of layout & proposed features (Stage 2) </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. 30 Installation Designs <ul><ul><li>Evolution of layout & proposed features (Stage 3) </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Centre Stage UnLibrary Hardware (1)
  17. 17. Centre Stage UnLibrary Hardware (1)
  18. 18. Centre Stage UnLibrary Hardware (1)
  19. 19. Centre Stage UnLibrary Hardware (1)
  20. 20. Big Panel Books UnLibrary Hardware (2) The Big Books
  21. 21. Big Panel Books UnLibrary Hardware (2) The Big Books
  22. 22. The Big Books UnLibrary Hardware (2)
  23. 23. Alternative Furniture Cluster UnLibrary Hardware (3)
  24. 24. Parasitic Shelves Fits into existing shelves .Weight of books still rests on library shelves. UnLibrary Hardware (4)
  25. 25. Parasitic Shelves UnLibrary Hardware (4)
  26. 26. Alvin’s Personal Showcase UnLibrary Hardware (5)
  27. 27. The Cuboids UnLibrary Hardware (6)
  28. 28. The Cuboids UnLibrary Hardware (6)
  29. 29. Quote Trees UnLibrary Hardware (7) Draft 1 (Clouds) Draft 2 (Trees)
  30. 30. <ul><li>TBC </li></ul>Quote Trees UnLibrary Hardware (7)
  31. 31. <ul><li>Initially populated with Alvin Tan’s favourite literary quotations, or from figures who have let a deep impression on him, such as this one from his mother: </li></ul><ul><li>  “ You have only one life, make sure you have a job that makes you happy.” </li></ul><ul><li>  </li></ul><ul><li>, or this one from his mentor, the late Singaporean playwright Kuo Pao Kun (1939-2002): </li></ul><ul><li>  “ A worthy failure is better than a mediocre success” </li></ul>Quote Trees UnLibrary Hardware (7)
  32. 32. <ul><li>A sample of responses received from visitors via the 3 Quote Trees: </li></ul><ul><li>  • we have nothing to fear except fear itself – F.D. Roosevelt </li></ul><ul><li>• you are what you think you are </li></ul><ul><li>• my karma knocked down your dogma </li></ul><ul><li>• it's better to have loved & lost than never to have loved at all </li></ul><ul><li>• the more you use your mind, the more the mind exercises </li></ul><ul><li>• if you fail to plan, you plan to fail </li></ul><ul><li>• with great power comes great responsibility </li></ul><ul><li>• life is misery. happiness is subjective </li></ul><ul><li>• the saddest thing in life... wasted talent </li></ul><ul><li>• those who say it cannot be done should not get in the way of those doing it </li></ul><ul><li>• if music be the food of love, play on </li></ul><ul><li>• cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) - Descartes </li></ul><ul><li>• our true value is the accumulation of the number of footprints we leave behind </li></ul><ul><li>• the road to success is not taking shortcuts but a long long journey that allows learning to take place </li></ul>Quote Trees UnLibrary Hardware (7)
  33. 33. UnLibrary Software The softer aspects of the UnLibrary fell under two categories:   (a) the reflective elements which were intended to challenge perceptions about libraries (b) the performative elements which culminated in the ‘UnLibrary Weekend’ on 25 th and 26 th April 2009
  34. 34. (1) Read / Don’t Read UnLibrary Software: (a) Reflective Left slot: “Return here if you LIKE it” Right slot: “Return here if you DON’T LIKE it”
  35. 35. (2) ThoughtFull Books UnLibrary Software: (a) Reflective
  36. 36. (3) UnLibrary Announcements UnLibrary Software: (a) Reflective <ul><li>Total of 10 unique recordings by creative volunteers </li></ul><ul><li>Topics: Shakespeare, Singapore history and literature, censorship, library trivia, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Broadcasted periodically over the public announcement system within the library@esplanade for about a month. </li></ul>
  37. 37. http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/the_way_we_live/article3790377.ece <ul><ul><li>Inspired by concept of the “Living Library” in Scandinavia & UK (see: http://living-library.org/ ). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Instead of lending out books, these libraries allowed users to “borrow a person” for 30 minutes. </li></ul></ul>(1) ‘Borrow Alvin’ sessions UnLibrary Software: (b) Performative
  38. 38. <ul><ul><li>Volunteer actors working on the UnLibrary Weekend performances could ‘borrow’ the Theatre Personality (Alvin Tan) to help them conceptualise and direct their improvisations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A total of 40 actors (4 professionals,17 students pursuing Theatre Studies & Drama at GCE ‘A’ level, and 19 amateurs from all walks of life) borrowed Alvin Tan: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Students (from one junior college): total of 6 hours (3 hours x 2 sessions ) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Other volunteers: total of 20.5 hours (over 9 sessions of 2 to 3 hours each, since most have day jobs & had different periods of availability) </li></ul></ul></ul>(1) ‘Borrow Alvin’ sessions UnLibrary Software: (b) Performative
  39. 39. (1) ‘Borrow Alvin’ sessions UnLibrary Software: (b) Performative
  40. 40. (2) UnLibrary Weekend (25 & 26 Apr 09) UnLibrary Software: (b) Performative
  41. 41. Results <ul><ul><li>UnLibrary Installation: library@esplanade </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>1 Apr to 18 May 09 = about 27,000 visitors </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>UnLibrary Weekend </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>25 Apr 09: 50 participants </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>26 Apr 09: 300 participants </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Media mentions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>3 different national newspapers (English, Chinese and Malay) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>5 times on national radio (in the four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay & Tamil) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>1 Chinese television programme. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  42. 42. Learning Points <ul><ul><ul><li>Do differently: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Good design takes time </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Factor in manpower attrition </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Be mindful of operational considerations </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Tweak the design process </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Do again: </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Leverage on partners’ communities & networks </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Harness the community in participatory design </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Plan for an afterlife: roving exhibition </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Give rebels a cause: movement programming </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  43. 43. UnHeroes: Movement programming in action
  44. 44. Thanks for listening… Comments?

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