Time for a Digital Spring Clean

I became a digital convert in 2013 when putting together The Sillitoe Trail for arts and media platform The Space. At the time I had no social media profiles, lugged a physical diary around with me, and thought YouTube was home to farting cats and people who wished they’d been on Jack Ass.

Part of The Space commission required us to make content available in multiple forms and accessible across media platform. In short, I had to buy a smartphone which in turn led to recording meetings in Google calendar and creating a Twitter account (hence @TheSpaceLathe).

Having no idea about social media I paid other people to manage this for me. This is one reason why The Sillitoe Trail does not have a bespoke YouTube channel. Fast forward eight years and I now manage numerous Instagram, YouTube and Twitter accounts for subsequent projects and have a deeper understanding of the identity of a project and how it operates at a transmedia level. All of which leads me to the point of this blog: A digital spring clean.

I’ve spent three days rebranding all of the YouTube videos for Dawn of the Unread and the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. To do this, I first completed some training on LinkedIn (which I can access for free via Nottingham Trent University) about managing a YouTube channel. This typically involved adding contact details to the profile, changing thumbnails, and creating playlists.

Dawn of the Unread currently has 63 YouTube videos and some of these have specific themes: ‘The Nottingham Essay’ series explores key literary figures and was originally created to support Nottingham’s bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature in 2015. The ‘How to Create a Comic’ series features artists from our graphic novel doing everything the title suggests. The D.H. Lawrence YouTube channel has 33 videos and now includes a playlist for ‘The Student Essay’ whereby students produce a short five-minute insight into an aspect of Lawrence’s life as part of their dissertation.

 

There’s so much content online it’s really important that producers curate this to signpost readers to relevant stuff. Yes, there are marketing benefits in the sense that themed playlists can encourage binging on samey content. But a more important motivation is professionalism.

Another fantastic tool in my digital spring clean was the discovery of Canva – a graphic design platform with user friendly templates for all social media platforms. It uses a simple drag and drop function and is pretty easy to get your head around. But I did a bit more Linkedin training in Canva and graphic design before making my changes. Now all of the thumbnails include the project logo and one block of colour. It looks pretty. It directs readers to specific content. It suggests professionalism.

Important lessons to learn from this

  • Social media encourages instantaneous reactions to culture. Work uploaded is often guttural and raw. But the age of amateurism is over. There are so many tools available now that there’s an expectation of better production values.

  • You have to constantly upskill and retrain because digital doesn’t sit still. And why wouldn’t you want to learn new skills?

  • Now that everyone can upload content, we need people who can curate and bring order to the noise.

  • When you’re a creative producer you fall in love with ideas and jump and bounce from one project to the next. But being disciplined and making time to go back and perfect work is vital.

 

The Central Library Wishlist





Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature and the City Council are forming an innovative partnership to ensure the construction of the new Central Library has the potential to raise literacy levels, position the library as a focal point of the community, and build upon Nottingham’s rich literary history. These are issues very close to my heart. When I created Dawn of the Unread, a literary graphic novel exploring Nottingham’s literary history, it was very much a love letter to libraries and the potential of books to transform lives. Therefore, I was ridiculously excited to join in a consultation event hosted by Sandy Mahal and Nigel Hawkings at NTU. Here’s my top 5 wish list…








You and Mee (or Mee time or Mee, Myself and I or You get mee, etc)

Arthur Mee (21 July 1875 – 27 May 1943) is best known as the author of the Children’s Encyclopædia and The Children’s Newspaper, the first newspaper published for children. Born in Stapleford, he earned money as a teenager reading the reports of Parliament to a local blind man. All of which makes him perfect to be featured in some capacity at the library. In terms of literacy, teenagers could be encouraged to produce their own newspaper (digital or physical) to build on his legacy, possibly to be overseen by the Young Ambassadors. Or he could simply be recognised within the library in the children’s reading area ‘You and Mee’ as a means of cementing Nottingham’s rich history of encouraging young people to read.

The Human Library

The Human Library® is a brilliant concept whereby readers loan out humans and have conversations they would not normally have access to. The organisation was created in 2000 to create dialogue around difficult subjects. A variation on this (or partnership) could see skill-sharing sessions to help improve literacy levels. For example, specialists could lend their skills (I’m James and I specialise in producing digital heritage projects, loan me for 30 minutes for support on your ideas) or library users could request specialist ‘books’ (people) which could be sourced. Imagine young people actively seeking information on knife crime, difficulties at home and how to deal with them, help with homework, finding friends. The potential is massive. Given this organisation exists they would need to be consulted and partnered with.

Digital screens/Tik Tok

I recently visited Krakow, a fellow UNESCO City of Literature, and in one museum was a 360 degree screen telling the history of the city. A similar screen at the library could have multiple purposes in commissioning new work (which could address particular themes) as an information space, or to project new creative work self-generated by locals. One medium which would work well here is Tik Tok which is basically a 15 second platform that acts as a stage and positions the audience as performer. Content is quick and easy to create on your phone, feeds off of meme culture, and enables creative expression that is relevant to younger people. There is potential to curate ‘best of’ sessions, again possibly run by the Young Ambassadors. A good starting point for ideas would be Nick Robertson, the BBC’s social media content producer who was discovered making snapchat videos about his life working in Starbucks. The fact that all people above 30 will probably hate this medium is the exact reason it should be embraced.

Library App

Now is the time to bring the library card into the 21st century with an app that enables users to visualise their reading history. Whether we like it or not apps provide simple ways of monitoring and motivating behaviour. A FitBit tells you how far you’ve walked, Netflix algorithms tell you what to watch next, etc. A library app could perform similar functions and act as a digital guide. I’ve been teaching a module at an international college for 10 years where I get students to design a mobile app. Overwhelmingly 85% of them come up with an app that shows them how to do things… There is also opportunities or partnerships here with Vue cinema in the neighbouring Broadmarsh Centre. When you get out your first six books, you get a free cinema ticket…

Confessional booth

I’ve used booths before in various projects such as the East Midlands Heritage Awards and they always work because people love talking one to one. A digital booth in the library would allow readers to share their favourite books or characters. These could be projected onto digital screens, linked to an app, or simply viewed in the booth. This idea builds on the readers recommendations you see in places like Waterstones. But more importantly it shows young people that their opinions and ideas are valued. It is one of numerous ways to build an inclusive community.

James is currently working on Whatever People Say I Am, a graphic novel serial challenging stereotypes, and D.H. Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage, a memory theatre exploring Lawrence through artefacts.

This blog was originally published on the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature website on 9 March 2020. You can subscribe to their newsletter here.