Towards Rubicon: Digital methods, Openness and Belonging

Text of my talk at the opening of Ångström Visualization Lab at Uppsala University Library. Ångström Visualization Lab is a creative learning environment where your can explore data, multimedia and visualisation techinques. It’s created by Linda Vidlund, Wolmar Nyberg Åkerström and Nino Dawod together with awesome people at Uppsala University Library and Uppsala University. 


I like to tell you a story.

It’s not at story about libraries or Sweden or visualization methods. It’s a story about Julius Caesar, a story about a river and a story about the importance of making choices in life.

We are in the year 49 BC. It’s the 10th of January and we are in the Italian city, Ravenna. Here we find Julius Caesar. He is the General and Gouverneur of Gaul, the north Italian province. Caesar has a problem. The Senate in Rome has given him an ultimatum: either he give up his titles, his army and his land or he will be declared an enemy of the State. Like any man of power Caesar is not very happy about this. So how does he respond? Well, at nighttime Caesar lead a single legion of soldiers into the dark towards the River of Rubicon. Rubicon is the boarder river between his north Italian province and the State of Rome. Caesar reaches Rubicon in the early morning and stairs out on the water while the sun is breaking the horizon. He has to make a choice: If he don’t passes the river but returns to his province of Gaul, trying to maintain status quo, he will over time be marginalized in the Roman Empire and be defeated by the powers that is gathering around him. If he crosses the river there is no turning back. It will be like a declaration of war and he will put himself in great danger but will remain the initiative on his own hands.

As many of you know Caesar cast the dice, crossed Rubicon, and succeed with his mission and his empire lasted for another 500 years.

Today, with the opening of Ångström Visualization Lab, you are also crossing a river. And that is the point of the story. The conditions for Caesars empire changed. He looked at the situation, went over his options and he acted. He made a choice of action. So have you but obvious there is a difference from Caesars choice of crossing the river and yours; The Ångström Visualization Lab is not about survival or the remaining of power. This is about creating value to the academic community of researcher, teachers and students at Uppsala University.

You have looked at the landscape of education and research and seen that it’s not the same landscape as it was just a few years ago. Scholars and students use new ways and methods to investigate the world: they harvest digital born data, clean it, analyze it and visualized it. It’s not a movie, it’s happening and I think it’s important that we realize that the library and university of today might not fit the reality of tomorrow and that’s why it’s crucial that we don’t just do what we always has done, but continuously talk to students, teachers and researchers, look at there behavior and make choices to create value and relevant services in a ever-changing world.

Will Ångström Visualisation Lab succeed like Caesar? I don’t know but creating spaces and services that is in sync with the development of research and education is a sound move.

Crossing Rubicon

In Copenhagen, at the Faculty Library of Social Sciences, we crossed our Rubicon on February 18 last year with the opening of Digital Social Science Lab. Digital Social Science Lab can be compared with Ångström Visualization Lab in some ways; it is a collaborative and open platform for education and events on digital methods and work with data. It’s made an impact beyond our imagination and by crossing the river we have gained three things that I think a crucial for higher education and research: Digital methods, openness and belonging.

 I think and hope, that after some time you will experience that you have gained the same with Ångström Visualization Lab.

Digital methods

The first one is obvious. That was our main target with opening Digital Social Science Lab. We do instructions, teaching and workshops on various digital methods, tools and programs for harvesting, cleaning, analyzing and visualization data. We don’t say it’s the best or only method. We simply want to show students and scholars at the faculty that there is other options than the traditional when you want to investigate the world. We want to bridge that gap and give them some skills so they can move on and we want to bring the together. An important part in doing this is to facilitate that students and scholars do peer-to-peer sessions on digital methods. As a library we don’t have to be the expert all the time. But we are excellent at creating an open space where people can meet, collaborate and create communities within the community. This brings me to aspect number two: Openness.


I believe that an open approach in any aspect is one of the keys to creating a better world. I don’t want to ruin your party but our world is not doing to good. We are struggling with poverty, refugee crisis, hunger, climate change and an extreme high degree of inequality when it comes to both gender and race issues. I strongly believe that research and education is one of the keys to beat that and create a democratic and more enlighten and equal world and the more open universities are in this context the better: open access, open data, open science – to me all important elements in moving our planet to a better place. We also need open spaces. What is one of the basic elements for development of ideas? For learning? For insight? That we talk to each other. Universities need spaces of inclusion and diversity where people can learn, challenge each others viewpoints and share ideas. Spaces where people across disciplines, gender, race, economic and political viewpoints can meet. I believe that libraries, and places like Digital Social Science Lab and Ångström Visualization Lab, is not only spaces for work on digital methods but also places for breaking down walls and silos. In University context that means places where students and scholars across disciplines can meet and do good things together. And this can also create a feeling of belonging which is the third takeaway.


We all need to belong to something; a family, a job, a football team, a nation. If you tell me you don’t need to belong I say you either a psychopath or a liar. Students and researchers at institutions of higher education are no different from that. For many students the study is a huge part of there life and I think it’s crucial for there well being and ability to perform that they feel that they belong. Same go with researchers and teachers. As an open space, not focused on administration or grades, I think the library can help students belong in many ways. I’m sure Ångström Visualization Lab will not only provide skills to the academic community – it will also make a number of students feel like they belong to something, e.g. a community around the lab and the library. They will connect with peer students and scholars, they will form study groups, they will help each other, inspire each other, challenge each other. They will feel that they belong. And they will do good. In general I like academic libraries and universities to be more aware of the social role they can play on campus.

Alea iacta est. The dice is cast. Congratulation on crossing the river and good luck. Like Caesar I’m sure you will succeed.

21192463_10154598418336268_1090540470229946123_nOpening of Ångström Visiualization Lab September 1 2017 at Uppsala University Library

21269492_10155268742663876_2006561181_nÅngström Visualization Lab is a creative learning environment where your can explore data, multimedia and visualisation techinques

21192991_10155525470996341_6391417929092643034_nÅngström Visualization Lab (photo courtesy to Moa Hedbrant)

Slides from talk


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