Thursday, March 22, 2018

Public Libraries Are Our Open Universities

Brunswick Public Library from Library Design Showcase 2012: Youth Spaces
“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein

Anyone can just walk into a library and learn ... there are no minimum entry requirements, qualifications, criteria or costs -just come on in and browse, sit down and learn in a safe and friendly place or borrow books, films, music, toys and a lot more.

Libraries are free ... not just at the point of access but in terms of what you can learn ... libraries are for freestyle learning ... mix and match subjects, levels and media .... the range is endless and libraries are always extending the scope of what you can do and learn. 

Most of us might think of a library like this
But a library might look like this ... Peckham library
Libraries are diverse ... while all libraries have a common theme that we can recognise they also vary amazingly - their buildings, collections, resources and activities are truly amazing. I was going to list out all the things that libraries do but that would be too much .. just look at one library group I have worked with - Redbridge libraries and see what they have on offer ... craft clubs, digital workshops, health & wellbeing, art exhibitions, performances, presentations, discussions, dance, yoga, careers advice .. anything from knitting to code clubs. Teach Meet Tech, 360 media, virtual reality, virtual realities, robots and 3D printing ... and these are just workshop topics (Thinglabs) and events that I have run in libraries.

Senior learning in one of our inspireNshare workshops
Family learning in one of our inspireNshare workshops

Libraries are for life-long and life wide learning. Children's libraries with books, toys and activities like rhymetime, wiggle and jiggle fun movement, laughter clubs and of course story time. Teen libraries with books, topics and activities relevant to young people - such as careers, mental health, substance abuse, knife crime and violence, abuse, sex, the environment etc. The there are books, topics and activities for parents, the middle aged and the elders among us from fitness to finance, from parenting to pottery ... there are films, discussion groups, workshops .. there is too much to mention ... and of course you can just go in and read a book, magazine or newspaper or use the internet of course. No matter how young or old you are, who or what you are there is something in the library for you.

While Information itself is virtual and capable of being accessed virtually ... i.e. on-line anytime, anywhere like a Martini solitary learning like solitary drinking can lead to problems ... we aren't just brains in a jar - we are mind and body ... we are physical beings and libraries are of course physical places - this is important not only in providing access to cultural artefacts but in maintaining and developing community. Your local public library is just that ... its local and its public ... I always think local means within walking distance and its so important to have a local library within walking distance that any member of the public can walk into.

Meeting spaces, working and co-working spaces, leisure and learning ... libraries are essential in providing community access to knowledge for all citizens but especially the underprivileged who may otherwise not be able to access the information and artefacts of their society. Meeting the needs of everyone and free at the point of delivery - libraries are the National Health System for learning - libraries are our open universities.

“We need to understand libraries as places of education and nourishment for everyone - there is a terrible sense that libraries are just an add-on to a council building, but they save lives. 

A library is one of the few places, in a town or even a large village, where you can go in and immerse yourself in that world. To actually have access to a real collection of books, of literature and reference works from across the ages is really important.”
~ Stephen Fry

"The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history." 
~ Carl T. Rowan


To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pop Up Thinglab 36: Optimistic Making Tech

Our virtual realities workshop inside the amazing Wanstead children's library

Pop up Thinglab 36 was a virtual realities workshop for children to learn about experience and make holograms, augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. It was a fun practical introduction to virtual realities where children could make their own hologram viewer, make augmented reality images, see themselves in virtual reality and play an augmented reality instrument.

We started of with an introduction to virtual realities - from the optical illusions of Peppers Ghost in Victorian theatres through the different ways it has been used in the media to the many forms we find among us today.

We weren't at school so the children asked questions and talked about what we were doing all the time - this is informal education and we were free to go wherever the the young people wanted. We talked about robots, artificial intelligence, the future of work and even the nature of reality ... learning is natural for children - they love to engage in learning and love to learn anytime and anyplace they can. Informal natural learning is indistinguishable from play and children play like scientists work ... curious and always asking so many  questions.

We talked a lot about the nature of technology and about the future .. while the children clearly understood the dangers of technology they were very positive and optimistic about the future. The children understood how technology can go wrong, how it can be used by bad people and the problems of becoming dependent on it - most of all they were worried about becoming lazy and not thinking for themselves. Children's positivity and optimism about the future comes from playing like scientists work and thinking like scientists - although they said there would be problems in the future they believed they could be overcome and solved if we worked at it. 

"Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal

"Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it"
~ Douglas Adams

Children are so comfortable with technology - its either natural, taken for granted and not considered technology at all or its new and incredibly exciting. The children were so tuned into technology but this doesn't come from school ... they learn about things on-line (especially Youtube), on TV, in libraries, in museums, at home, at technology events and even in shopping centres. The children didn't seem to expect their school to use technology or teach them with or about it and they weren't at all bothered about this. We spoke about smartphones .. how, in the palm of your hand you could have access to "all the world's information" and all the capabilities that they have but how their is no place for them in their schools. The children weren't concerned about this ... they accepted the way things are and how they learned at school and even argued that it is also good to be able to use your own brain and memory and think for yourself rather than become dependent of looking things up on-line.

We moved on to hands on practical activities - making and using simple and cost effective technologies that we can all get access to.

We started out by making DIY holograms viewers using a template to trace an outline onto small sheets of plastic, cutting and folding them to make a volumetric display that can be used with smartphones and for better viewing in the bright library we made a small theatre from a cardboard box.

Busy marking out and cutting our holographic viewers

Lifting the cloak of reality ... looking at our DIY holograms
Our next activity brought cartoons to life with augmented reality ... personalising the cartoons with our own choice of colours and bringing them to life as augmented reality figures with our mobile phones and tablets. Again, the children's playful scientific thinking led them to think outside the box ... what happens if I add colour to the outside of the line for example.

Creating augmented reality cartoons

Bringing cartoons to life with augmented reality

Our next activity was to put ourselves in virtual reality - using a 360 camera and some warm up activities to have fun, get familiar with this new form of media and see ourselves in virtual reality. While many children have used virtual reality few have used a 360 camera and seen themselves in virtual reality - looking around to find yourself is really engaging and makes the experience personal ... putting ourselves in the picture makes it relevant and helps understanding. To really give an idea of the immersive first person perspective of virtual reality I put the 360 camera down really low and asked the children to jump when the timer went off to see if we could catch ourselves in mid air. I asked the children what they thought they would look like when they saw themselves in virtual reality ... it was an exercise in empathy - trying to think about another point of view and then experiencing it for yourself. In this case the children had to imagine what the scene would look like from the 360 camera near the ground ... some of them got close but it was only when they saw the scene in virtual reality did they appreciate the point of view from the little camera near the ground .. "wow .. we look like giants". It was quite an experience for the children to see themselves as very big!

We are giants ... flat image from 360\VR image at

We are giants .. seeing yourself as a giant in virtual reality
We finished with an exploration of mixed reality - playing the virtual xylophone from Zappar's Zapbox. We placed the supplied markers onto a low table and used the Zapbox app to map out a mixed reality space and then loaded the xylophone. Zapbox provides cardboard "wands" with AR markers that are tracked by the app and become the xylophone beaters in the mixed reality scene. It takes a bit of getting used to but everyone managed to play a tune.

Playing a mixed reality xylophone

This is what you see ... the mixed reality xylophone

“Play is the highest form of research”  
~ Albert Einstein

"The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask question and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity." 
Sylvia Earle

"I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these 'how' and 'why' questions. Occasionally, I find an answer." 
~ Stephen Hawking

Pop up Thinglab 36 showed that with a curious, playful and active maker mindset we can be optimistic about technology and the future ... we don't just have to be passive consumers of technology but can be active participants in it. Our inspireNshare Thinglabs are learning in the youth zone - using "Citizen Tech" and technology as "the science of craft" to let Children Play Like Scientists Work - its all part of the fun - its an essential ingredient of  learning.

inspireNshare are passionate about peer learning and specialise in facilitating mutual co-created peer learning projects through sharing. Our projects focus on "Citizen Tech" using cost effective, free, open, easy technologies and social media. With our projects everyone is both a learner and a teacher.

See more photos from Pop Up Thinglab 36 here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit