Curation of Sound

“12. Audio-Technica headphones” by Audio-TechnicaUK is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

We’re all familiar with the “you might also like” list that appears on most webpages when we’re searching online. Sometimes those are helpful and other times I wonder what algorithm was used because the suggestions seem to be in no way related. I remember learning in INFO 202 about the concept of aboutness and how to create metadata to represent what a work is about. Quite often the terms that most accurately describe what something is about are not used in the work itself. So coming up with such terms requires contextual knowledge as well as familiarity with the work itself. Computers can assist in the process, but at some point a human has to read it.

I enjoyed reading Michael Bhaskar’s article in The Guardian because he talks about this concept. In our increasingly algorithmic culture, he argues, human curation plays a vital and irreplaceable role.

“Curation . . . captures this irreplaceable human touch . . . We relish the messy reality of another’s taste and a trusted personal connection. We don’t just want correlations – we want a why, a narrative, which machines can’t provide.”

Thinking about human curation as it relates to hyperlinked communities, I’d like to highlight the MUSICat music streaming platform used by Memphis Sound Connection (which I mentioned in a previous post). MUSICat is an open-source software that was developed with the help of librarians to enable libraries to “share and support local music in digital spaces” (from their home page).  A number of libraries throughout the nation are currently using the platform and each customizes it for their context.  Edmonton Public Library’s Capital City Records, for example, has a gig poster archive that people can view and contribute to and Austin Public Library’s Electric Lady Bird features concerts that were filmed at the Central branch. 

Musicians apply to join the platform by submitting their work to the library for review. Each library has assembled a panel of curators who are community members familiar with the local music scene. These curators, along with library staff, review submissions to decide who will be granted access to the platform. Those accepted receive $200 in return for a non-exclusive license to make the music available for streaming and download on the site for a certain amount of time. Some libraries feature playlists created by curators as well.

Involving curators from the community who are connected to the local music scene ensures a unique selection of music that can’t be automated. It also provides musicians an opportunity to make new connections to further their careers while getting their work out to a wider audience.  In this way, libraries are using a virtual platform to facilitate real-world human connections, which is something we will always need.

Context Book Report

Dear Data documents a data visualization project undertaken by two information designers: Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. Over the course of one year, Giorgia (an Italian living in New York City) and Stefanie (an American living in London) tracked different aspects of their daily lives, looked for patterns in the data and designed imagery to depict the stories that their data revealed. They then drew these on postcards and mailed them to each other through the postal mail. They chose a different topic each week and called the project Dear Data.  The postcards have since been added to the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and can be viewed here.

In the project, Lupi & Posavec explore innovative ways of visualizing data that provide a fuller, more human analysis. For instance, in week 48 they tracked their experience of overhearing the conversations of others. Rather than simply counting how many conversations they overheard, they captured contextual data as well. This included identifying characteristics of the speaker, the content of the conversations and where they were at the time of overhearing. They each then created a code of unique images to represent the different attributes of the data set and used these to make an artistic rendering of the data.

When I first opened the book, I found the pieces intriguing, but not immediately communicative. My first thought was, “Wow! What does it mean?” To understand the images, I had to become familiar with the legend and the experience felt a lot like learning a new language. It was like trying to read excerpts of text in image form while using the legend as my translation dictionary.

“We have been writing with [the language of] data. In our correspondence, we didn’t speak English or Italian – we spoke Data.” – (Lupi &Posavec, (2016), p. 52)

But, of course, they did speak English. It was the foundation of that shared language that enabled them to translate their unique creations for each other. And through this exchange they connected on a deeper level and formed a friendship that spanned the Atlantic Ocean.

I think the takeaway for us is not necessarily to replicate the project, but to be inspired to consider new ways of tracking and communicating data. Ways that portray the humanness of experience.  One of my favorite images in the book is Posavec’s illustration of overheard conversations (p. 261). She depicts them as speech bubbles reaching into the postcard from the edges and one imagines she is somewhere in the empty middle hearing them. This is one of the more easily understandable images in the book because the forms she uses (speech bubbles) are immediately recognizable and are already understood as being connected to the subject matter (conversation). The recognizable images and qualitative data are pathways for the reader to connect with the piece.   

In public libraries there’s a lot of data that we work with on a regular basis. We’re often gathering data about how the community interacts with the library and communicating that information to stakeholders, both internal and external.  And how we go about communicating this data can make all the difference.

In his lecture on the Participatory Library Model, Dr. Stephens mentioned how data can be used to address concerns around library initiatives.  To illustrate this point he showed an image of the Statistics Dashboard of the Traverse Area District Library, which shows data for the past 12 months:

This is helpful because it allows for the tracking of certain quantified data over time for each of the six branches in the system. However, while the dashboard presents this data in a clear and simple way, it presents only a small part of the vibrant landscape of how people have been interacting with the library over the past year. Taking a cue from Lupi & Posavec, what additional contextual data could be collected in these areas? For instance, in the upper right we can see that as of today, 745,511 items have been circulated in the past year. But in the middle, we see a green icon indicating that 177 of those items were puppets. Cool! What other kinds of items circulated? Yard tools? Wi-fi hotspots? And are there creative and engaging ways of visualizing these stats? This kind of data creates a more complete and human image of what library usage means. It means puppet shows, planting vegetables, and access to vital services. And, yes, of course literacy!

“The hyperlinked library is human. Communication, externally and internally, is in a human voice.”Michael Stephens, The Hyperlinked Library

Michael Casey states clearly the reality that libraries face: “With limited resources, public libraries need to struggle for every dollar, and with limited tax revenue, funding agencies will part reluctantly with every dollar. It’s up to the library to be heard. . .” (Casey, 2011) Tracking meaningful data and visualizing it in a compelling way will enable patrons, decision makers and the wider community to more clearly understand the value of the library to the lives of real people.

References

Casey, M. (2011, October 20). Revisiting Participatory Service in Trying Times – A TTW Guest Post by Michael Casey. Taming The Web. https://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/

Lupi, G & Posavec, S. (2016). Dear Data. Hudson, New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Stephens, M. (2021). Participatory Service. [Panopto presentation]. Retrieved from https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/module-4-participatory-service-transparency/

A platform for the community

This week I was intrigued by the concept of the public library as a “platform” for creation and connection. Not merely a space where this happens, but an entire infrastructure built to foster these things. In her 2014 article ‘Library as Infrastructure’ Shannon Mattern notes that libraries have a tremendous capacity to support a community’s wellbeing, adding that,

“At every stage, the contexts — spatial, political, economic, cultural — in which libraries function have shifted; so they are continuously reinventing themselves and the means by which they provide those vital information services.” (Mattern, 2014)

Wow, if that isn’t true today! As we navigate the complexities of our current reality, libraries have indeed shifted dramatically to reimagine how to serve their communities in safe and meaningful ways.

“A platform gains value the less can be predicted about what will be built with it.” (Weinberger, 2012)

One thing that’s particularly exciting to me is how libraries are designing their virtual spaces to foster creativity and connection. An example of this is Memphis Sound Connection, a free music streaming platform provided by the Memphis Public Library Foundation that connects local musicians with new audiences. Listeners can discover local music and the artists’ profiles link to their album, their music videos on YouTube, their social media and their payment apps where listeners can support them directly.

Another example of this is LA County Library’s “Safer at Home” collection.  Using Biblioboard, the library has created a digital collection of community artwork that functions as a shared archive of the experiences of LA residents during Covid.

Through initiatives like these libraries are inspiring creativity and fostering connection in virtual spaces.

Introduction

Hi, I’m Leslie and I’m about 3/4 of the way through the MLIS program. I’ve worked as a Library Assistant at a couple different public libraries the past few years and I’ve enjoyed seeing how the library can foster meaningful connections that inspire and empower. The idea of libraries as being human-centered is something I feel strongly about, so I’m very excited for this class!

On a personal note, I enjoy anime and manga, although I’ve only explored a small fraction of it all. So far, my favorites are Bleach, Fruits Basket, all of Miyazaki’s films (esp. My Neighbor Totoro), and Your Name.

Glad to be in class with all of you!