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selfies from the collection

Strengthening communities, one selfie at a time...

Selfies get a bad rap.

If you believe what you read, they are responsible for a global rise in narcissism, risky behaviors occasioning death and the damage of public property.

But does it have to be that way? How might we instead build on the positive, broader social impacts of selfies and what would those impacts be? ThinkPlace tackled these questions with the State Library of New South Wales when they wanted to redevelop their permanent exhibition galleries to be stunning, stereotype-challenging and focused on portraiture.

Libraries, in particular, are cultural institutions with a long history (think the Library of Alexandria). While some might see their local library as a stuffy institution, libraries have withstood the test of time by adapting and remaining relevant across cultures and eras.

They continue this in adapting to the digital age. Adaptation is in their DNA.

The State Library is an excellent example. The Library’s Digital Experience Lab is just one of many ways the institution is exploring new ground. This year, the Library redeveloped their exhibition galleries and the DX Lab was charged with developing an immersive digital experience that would reframe how people saw the Library and its collection. Their goal with this new digital experience was to welcome people to the space and help them relate to each other and the collection

The DX Lab comprises a small yet talented group. With an embedded ThinkPlace team member as part of the design team we moved through a process that brought together many staff with specialist skills across the Library to take in in existing research, develop, test and refine a range of ideas with visitors for showcasing the faces in the State Library collection.


Alli Burness looks at selfies
More than 1500 selfies and portraits have been posted on Instagram, with many more submitted via a photo booth in the galleries.

What we did

When moving through a design process that will create something new, it can be difficult for everyone involved to understand how the activities stitch together and inform each other. Which steps come first? How do you know what will happen to your input? How did the team come to decide on the final outcome?

To illustrate the connection between our activities, we often use the concept of a funnel. Our ‘innovation funnel’ (pictured below) shows the pathway through making new experiences together, from research, developing ideas, gathering them into concepts, then testing and refining to find the most desirable, possible and viable outcome.

ThinkPlace innovation funnel

Young people in the reading rooms repeatedly explained the importance of being able to influence the appearance and behaviour of a space. It is the moment where a space responds to the unique touch of an individual person that generates an engaging interactive experience.

When we showed some early concepts to visitors, we found people were cautious of selfies as a concept, but we noticed they became entranced and intrigued when looking at traditional ‘portraits’ from the library’s collection. Separating Instagram images from historical portraits highlighted concerns about privileging historical, collected faces and the ubiquity and perceived lack of value of Instagram images.

In contrast, many reacted enthusiastically to seeing a diversity of faces mixed across cultures and timeframes, with Instagram images shown among historic portraits. We saw people physically expressing their excitement and heard that an inclusive range of faces was highly valued.

People felt there was space for themselves, no matter where they came from. We knew then that it would be critical to show diversity if the DX Lab project was to be successful.

This meant the State Library had to comb through its collection and curate a set of diverse faces with an awareness of the history of the institution. The State Library team rose to the challenge, working hard to pull together a large set of diverse portraits from the collection, spanning a range of timeframes from all across the state.

Welcome to #NewSelfWales

The DX Lab team then developed a process that enabled visitors to add their own faces to the mix, through both the #NewSelfWales tag on Instagram as well as a photo booth onsite. In this way, visitors are now adding themselves to a growing community that stretches visibly back in time.

ThinkPlace’s partnership with the cultural sector is essential for realising the public value that is at the core of what we do. One person at a time, as each person interacts with the DX Lab’s exhibition, they perceive an inclusive and diverse New South Wales. This is the public value we seek.

More than 1500 selfies and portraits have been posted on Instagram, with many more submitted via a photo booth in the galleries. Once online, these join the State Library portraits almost immediately in a seductive, inclusive and ever-shifting display of faces that can be explored via touch screens for stories. You can view and explore them via the #NewSelfWales website, and read more about the design process on the DX Lab blog.


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