Yihaa! Notes from iConference13, TX

This week, I’m in Fort Worth, Texas, for iConference13, a conference on library and information science. One of my missions has been to get a clearer idea of what this whole LIS (as it’s known in the parlance) thing and being an iSchool is about. Actually, we’re quite a large group coming from my institution, as RSLIS will be taking part in arranging next year’s conference in Berlin, and yes, going west with my lovely colleagues has been a large part of the experience as well. But the conference has also been very informative, and given me a better insight into the breadth and kinds of topics examined in an information science perspective, and into the methods used and approaches taken. Still, I have to admit that I feel a little more like a fish out of water here compared to my experience at Museums and the Web a couple of years ago. So while I’m starting to see how my research may relate to a wider understanding of information science, as embraced by RSLIS if not so pronounced in this conference, it’s still not my home turf. And maybe it doesn’t have to be.

Today’s session of choice was focused on theoretical frameworks and the social context of information, as presented by a panel of early career scholars. Thursday morning, I joined a very interesting roundtable session, where 3 scholars received critique on second draft papers. For an academia rookie like me, this was a very interesting introduction to the peer review process and how editing decisions may inform research development. Plus the papers submitted by Mette Skov and Dorte Madsen sounded very interesting, so I will look forward to reading them in full. Wednesday, seeing my supervisor Lennart Björneborn present his and Toine Bogers’ research on experiences of serendipity as shared on Twitter was a pleasure, not only for the interesting perspectives in the research, but also for their relaxed presentation style and well structured ppt. (So, thumbs up, Lennart, I know that you will be reading this!) And Tuesday’s workshop on Digital Youth in led to some meaty discussions about how to involve the young people we are trying to understand in the upcoming summit and whether we really know what we are doing? 

But the session that has most reverberated with me was the alternative event hosted by Theresa D. Anderson, Leanne Bowler, Lisa Nathan & Eileen Trauth. Buildig on Anderson’s ‘4 P heutistic’, the session centered on a discussion of creative information practices, and how to use and understand them in a scholarly research context.

IMG_0222IMG_0223Snapshots of boards presenting the Plan-Play-Pressure-Pause heuristic

In short, the idea is that whilst most scholars are acutely aware of the pressures in the field – meeting deadlines, publishing your research, teaching, meeting institutional targets etc. – and will probably also know how to plan accordingly, the value of a playful approach to research and exploration and the importance of pausing in order to contemplate and refresh are easily overlooked or overruled. For a more detailed account, see the video lecture Shapeshifters – Culturing Innovation  and read Anderson, T.D. (2011). Beyond eureka moments: supporting the invisible work of creativity and innovation. Information Research, 16(1) paper 471

For me, this is a confirmation of the approach I am already using, as my research to date has been very much about playing around, trying to get an understanding of my field and the possibilities and problems in it not through a thoroughly structured study, but by exploring many facets and engaging in all sorts of activities. Now this research will not translate into solid data, but it still very much deepens and informs my understanding, which I believe is crucial, even if it still leaves my with a challenge in constructing and describing a solid empirical ground for my research. It will come. And my hope is that perhaps I can use studies and frameworks such as Anderson’s to describe and validate what I’m doing. And remind me to savour the pauses too!

Cowgirl spirit
So, for me, my visit to The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame here in Fort Worth was also part of my research. And good fun too, even if it didn’t quite live up to my high expectations, kinda kitchy, kinda quaint. What was interesting about the museum, apart from the cowgirl glamour, was that it had quite a lot of interactive exhibits. In the country music section, for instance, little diner jukebox setups allowed you to listen to a short presentation of and a track by some of the greatest female country singers (so to get into that cowgirl spirit, here’s a little Patsy Cline gem for y’all). And in  a display of cowgirl outfits, you could get the actual exhibit to change by swiping a touch screen.


And then, of course, there was the bronc ride. A silly affair, but sweet, where you could have a little video done of yourself as a rodeo rider, mixed in with some vintage film clips which you could then download from the website. Not sure if it really gave me a deeper understanding of the cowgirl spirit (overall, the experience was more hall of fame than museum, as the history of the women of the wild west was not explored in much detail), but it was fun and made for a nice souvenir.

Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 16.58.11

Finally, as part of a wonderful special exhibition of maverick quilts, a participatory quilt project invited contributions from visitors, a participatory museum quilting bee, if you like. Somewhat short of the craft and creativity of the quilts in the exhibition, it was still nice to see that the community had indeed engaged in this activity and submitted patches under the western boot theme.


Hunting for auras
Another bit of extracurricular research was the ‘Now and Then’ mobile game developed by a doctoral student from University of North Texas for the iConference. Using the Aurasma app, the game offers a treasure hunt of sight in the downtown Fort Worth as well as in the cultural district and the cowtown Stockyards. Good stuff, nice idea, and what at great way to help conference participants explore the local surroundings and the latest in information techonology all at once.

Except I couldn’t get the darn thing to work. Whereas QR codes are easily readable by the mobile camera scanner, the object recognition software of the Aurasma scanner seemingly required a lot of precision to work. In other words, you had to get the excact same image as the Aura showed, which was tricky, to put it mlldly. Obviously, the person building the treasure hunt was taller than me, meaning that I had to hold up my camera in some pretty akward angles, and still then, I could only get half of them to work. Meaning that I missed out on the clues and couldn’t follow the treasure hunt. And if you did get the ‘aura’, you had to keep the camera in the same position in order to keep the connection, or the content would disappear again, which was particularly annoying with videos.

Now, I quite like the idea behind this, that you can add layers of content onto places without using QR codes or similar, heck, I might even experiment with creating my own auras to get a better understanding of how it works. But my initial expereince is that the technology does not yet hold up to this idea, and the result is very frustrating. My guess is that users less dedicated than me would have given up much sooner. So technology may have come a long way, but we’re not there yet. So, in the spirit of the wild west, it’s on the next frontier!

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