The Edge – State Library of QLD

Published:  February 15, 2013
The Edge – State Library of QLD

Each day this week we’ll be taking a look at a different innovative organisation leading the way in the fields of education, research, exhibition, community engagement and collaborative practice in Australian design.

Our final feature is on State Library of Queensland’s The Edge. Read our previous features on University of Western Australia’s centre SymbioticA, Experimenta, Media Lab Melbourne and Queensland’s Griffith University – Bachelor of Design Futures.

Interview with: Rebekah Waite

How do you define The Edge?
The Edge is a creative space for young people nestled next to the State Library of Queensland. We offer a brilliant co-working environment and informal learning opportunities across art, science, technology and enterprise. We’re collaborative in our approach and have a huge public program. Our auditorium space is used for concerts and talks series, with the likes of Portable, the Walkley Foundation and visiting guests such as Horst Hortner from Ars Electronica. Our media labs are programmed year round with  intro, intermediate and advanced workshops in Illustrator, Final Cut Pro and WordPress. We can teach you to make an interactive, sound responsive toy or get you started soldering electrical circuits. We talk about being for with and by our user community and we really mean it. Working with a lot of different partners we always make our projects hands on, connected and relevant.

What are your short and long-term objectives?
Day-to-day our objectives are nothing out of the ordinary; the team works to build the reputation and sustainability of The Edge. We focus on projects that haven’t been tried before, that will offer something different to our community. Our CitizenJ journalism program is examining the examiners in great detail and our Zombie Climate Apocalypse alternate reality game is as far from a typical ‘learning engagement’ as you can get. We’re growing our national and international reputation, so for us it’s about learning from our mistakes, setting the bar high and realising a future that we want for ourselves and our community.

In the long term it’s simple; we want to be able to talk to people ten years down the track who say The Edge was an inspiration to them as they became brilliant at whatever it is do brilliantly.

Who is your audience, and what do you understand about them?
Creative people, change agents and people with ideas are all attracted to The Edge. These people form our community, our audience and our staff. We attract filmmakers, programmers, industrial designers, entrepreneurs, astrophysicists, slam poets and journalists. In the strong tradition of libraries we welcome a huge cross-section of the community, from vastly different cultural, social and professional backgrounds.

Our audience expects us to be real and we are very accountable to them. Unlike in many other institutions, users of The Edge are comfortable to walk down to the staff area, approach our desks and tell us precisely what they think about our latest program, blog post or order of coffee beans. A lot of our program is developed and lead by our users and is definitely informed by them.

What is your most significant achievement to date?
Our South Brisbane building was closed for four months following the 2011 floods. When we finally reopened our doors we were met with our biggest month ever in attendance. Our users came back, they offered to help us clean out the mud, paint the walls and get the place running again. That was pretty humbling. We had created a user community that cared as much as we did about what we did for them.

How has The Edge changed since its beginning, and what have you learnt about technology, libraries, and people over that time?
One of the biggest things The Edge team have learned is libraries are probably the most dynamic environment for ideas you could possibly imagine. No longer are they havens for tweed jackets and horn-rimmed glasses (well, maybe those are coming back), or sanctuaries of silence. Libraries faced the challenge of the digital age and embraced it with pure innovation, as The Edge goes to prove.

For anyone group or institution thinking about using The Edge as a model for a similar project, what would your advice be to them? Additionally, how are we able to encourage the development of similar projects, particularly across regional Australia?
It’s hard to use an institution like The Edge as a model because so much of what we are able to do is specific to our context. However, there are a few basic things we’ve learned. Firstly, be clear, but not prescriptive, about what you want to achieve. Secondly, you have to let the project evolve. You must listen, reflect and respond as fast as you possibly can. Then repeat, refining what you do based on what you learn.

Several key changes are already in place to support other projects like ours. With the rollout of the NBN, the promise of ubiquitous access to information will see a key goal for libraries one step closer to being realised, being based in regional Australia or otherwise. Aside from backing the right projects, the best thing we can do to encourage development is to remain successful. Success breeds success.

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