What does a functional library data lab look like? And should it hold more than just furniture and functionality? A story perhaps?
A while back I wrote a post on the decor of Digital Social Science Lab (opening January 2016 at The Faculty Library of Social Sciences, Copenhagen University Library). Since then we got our lab organization ready and the list of software + skills to support it has been finalized. The last months of 2015 are about the final decor of the lab. And it’s not just gonna be about furniture and hardware. It’s time for some storytelling.
The basic concept: Functional, flexible and a little bit of wow
The lab it self is about 80 square meters and located in the basement of the library. Just a few months back it was home for the biggest collection of physical books in the faculty library. This massive body of knowledge has been moved to remote stacks and will soon be replace with a whole different kind of knowledge creation.
The fundamental concept of the physical lab setup is that it will have to functional and flexible. We want Digital Social Science Lab to be used for a wide range of activities on digital tools and methods: workshops, instruction sessions, data sprints, lectures, hack-a-tons, group work and single work so we need most of the decor to be able to be move around to set up different settings for different events. Besides that we want it to be functional when it comes to technology and daily use: wireless connection to the presentation tools, no big pool of spaghetti wires on the floor an so on.
But we also want something extra. We want the lab to tell a story.
The story and the decor: To work with data is to travel
I really like stories. Stories connects us and they bring meaning to things. So we wanted the decor of DSSL to not only be a functional and mobile group of furniture but also to hold a story. And the story we are going to tell is about travelling. Working with data is in many ways a journey – a trip into the unknown: You might meet great obstacles and great insights, you might be frustrated and you might be thrilled. The outcomes are many but in the end one outcome is always the same: you learned something – about yourself and about the world. As goes for travelling. “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page” as Saint Augustine wisely put it.
Starting the journey – get your traveling gear and mindset ready
When you start a travel you got some packing to do. Going hiking you need some good food gear. Going to the beach you need some bathing clothes and going skiing you need some skies. You are also moving yourself mentally away from everyday life when you are going traveling, which is one of the very cool things about traveling – you are going away, physical but also mentally and that’s healthy from time to time. We want to capture this feeling of starting a trip – physical and mentally – with implementing a little change of foot clothing before entering the lab: We gonna but up 50 pairs of slippers for students and faculty members to put on before going in clinch with there data jam in the lab.
It’s a rather small deal but I believe it supports the feeling of moving into some new territory, to get ready to explore something. Also very practically that the lab is not messed up by snow from big boots in the winter.
The plant press tables and shipping box chairs
The lab will have workstations with powerful pc’s and Mac’s as well as regular settings were people can work from there own lab tops. On this we are travelling with ship into the wild to gain new knowledge of the world. The ship-part is symbolized with old shipping boxes to sit on (with wheels so they easily can be moved around) and the gaining of new knowledge is carried out by tables made like plant presses (like in the old days were people preserved new found plants that way).
The tent and the sound of the data lab
Travelling and seeking new land can be hard and you might want to take shelter from time to time. DSSL is gonna have a tent for that very purpose. Within the tent there will be pillows so you can be comtable and a turn table with various animal sounds so you really can get away from that tricky Python web scrape that you are working on. See earlier post on The Sound of Digital Social Science Lab.
Visit the data cave
Ever been to a stalactite cave? Kind of feels like you are going into the deep unknown were no man have ever set foot before (at least if the cave is not overrun by to many tourists). It’s often also feels that way working with data.
We have build a platform for our data workstations. The platform is based on NOSIGNER’s ‘Open source furniture’ concept for Mozilla Factory Space – it’s practically and functional because you can hide wires under the floor, it looks good and I’m totally in love with the concept of open source furniture. We’re gonna hide the platform a bit with some camouflage net to give the feeling of a room within the room – a cave you can visit and go exploring. It also have the practical function of isolating the people working there a bit from the rest of the activities in the room.
What else: The Palm Wall and The Mountain
The Palm Wall: The above is about to be carried out in november and december but some stuff is already settled in the lab. From the beginning we wanted the lab to have some kind of visual identity. I talked to good library pal and graphic ninja on my LIS journal REVY, Henrik Dybdahl, and he suggested a palm theme… ‘palms is really hot these days’ he told me. I like palms very much but I wanted something that lasted longer than hot of the week and my first association with the palms in the lab was the music video to WHAM! hit Club Tropicana and I was not sure that that was the right match for our work with digital tools. But then we saw some sketches Henrik made and it look so classy and awesome and we realized that the palm connection was pretty valid since the faculty library is located in the old Botanical Laboratory right next to Botanical Garden and The Palm Wall was a reality. We got it put up just last week and it looks like this in panorama:
Besides looking unreal awesome The Palm Wall also got a functional feature: It’s build up by different aluminium plates which opens up to the side so the wall can be used for presentations – up to three at the same time if you use mobile walls to divide them.
The Mountain: I always had a thing with stairs. They are just great to sit on, to talk on, to think on, to look out on the world from and – obvious – to take you up and down. From The Spanish Steps in Rome to Vanlose Stairway by Van Morrison – stairs are magic. So we made some stairs in the lab – we call it the “The mountain”:
Both the data cave and mountain are designed and made by the fantastic Line Hvidbjerg from Dyke & Datter.
Stay tuned for the lab travel!