A conversation with Fiacre O’Duinn on the intersection of arts and sciences, and the library as gateway to possibilities.

Did you ever feel you needed a neutral space to just be yourself, to explore possibilities and intersections and to reimagine the future of teaching in your field and beyond? Or perhaps at this time of year, a place to look inwards and reflect?

This space exists, right here in the heart of CapU. In Ancient Egypt it was called a “house of healing for the soul”[1], and in the words of our Spotlight faculty member this month, Fiacre O’Duinn, it’s a gateway to possibilities and a space offering an exciting intersection of people, ideas and disciplines. Yes, I am talking about our library.


Not your typical librarian

Fiacre started at CapU in August 2018 as the new Metadata and Systems Librarian and liaison for STEM, Allied Health and Human Kinetics. He exudes a kind of soft confidence and humility, which immediately invites trust and, even though I am just a few minutes into my conversation, I’m already rediscovering the library, librarians and perhaps even more.

If such thing as a typical librarian exists, Fiacre certainly challenged my conceptions of what that is. I discover that besides an MA in Religion and Culture, a graduate degree in Library and Information Science, and a career as a public librarian, Fiacre has worked in casinos for sixteen years, and ran his own business teaching kids how to code.


The library as a gateway to possibility

As Fiacre talks, it is clear the library represents to him a gateway to possibility and to potential, to a sense of freedom.

This sense of the library has deep roots for Fiacre. He explains how he grew up in Dublin in the 80s in a neighbourhood plagued by unemployment, violence and a heroin and AIDS crisis: You grew up watching people dying around you simply because they were poor. For me the one safe place was the local public library. Going there and spending time reading opened a different world for me. I came to understand that tomorrow did not have to be the same as today. I realized that I could imagine and build a different life for myself.

A library is one of the few neutral spaces available to the public, a space that is not based around transactional relationships. Instead it offers an opportunity for transformation by allowing you to freely carve your own path, follow you own interests. I’m struck by the parallels to learning and higher education. No, we don’t want to be just a transaction!


Art, Public Computation & Live Coding

Before coming to CapU, Fiacre worked for the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship at Ryerson University, designing and teaching curriculum for their Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot, a coding program for teens offered through public libraries and community groups in Ontario.

When teaching code, I approach it through the arts. The intersection of science, mathematics and the arts allow true innovative thinking to happen. The fields have so much to offer each other. This intersection of the disciplines is part of what Fiacre brings to CapU. Science is a creative field. It is not “just math”, he says, as he tells me about a workshop he designed for CapU students for Science Literacy Week in September. Based around the idea of public computation, it allowed any student to interact directly with a scientific simulation by manipulating the underlying code, in this case a visualization of the mesmerizing sight of bird flocking behavior. We have to move the discourse around learning code from a utilitarian approach of preparing people for a job building that next killer app to one that includes perspectives from the arts, allowing us to look at ethics, creativity and community.

Fiacre sees an opportunity for us as educators to refocus on the creative aspect of science. As the brain and heart of the university, the library is the perfect neutral space to explore this intersection. Live-coding is another example Fiacre gives of the creative intersection of arts and sciences. It is a process for interactive, real-time programming, used as a performing art to create music. Events involving live-coding are called algoraves, short for “algorithmic rave”! And as the Liaison for STEM, Fiacre is eminently positioned to support any CapU instructor who wants to experiment with this for their teaching. Would he do that? Yes, he would love to!


Asking and Caring

Starting out at CapU, Fiacre has been met by kindness, helpfulness and an infinite amount of patience. He does admit it’s been a bit like a roller coaster. Yet, the most amazing part has been the feeling that faculty and staff really care. Having worked with many ‘publics’ you learn to read people. Teaching for the library I see a lot of faculty interact with students and I know they are committed to their student’s success. Well, meeting Fiacre, I would certainly say he uses his ability to read people in the most positive way possible. I get the feeling that Fiacre too cares – a lot! And next time I have a teaching or research related question, or when I just need a neutral space to reimagine possibilities, I definitely know where to go!


Quick facts:

Which faculty/department are you in?

Library – Metadata and Systems Librarian, Liaison for STEM, Allied Health & Human Kinetics.

How long have you been at CapU? Since Aug 1, 2018

Current work load? 8 sections

Favorite thing to do when you’re not teaching? Fiacre loves any martial art, and is looking to try Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And since he recently moved to the Sunshine Coast, he’s been testing out our local schools and is interested in recommendations!

Inspired by Fiacre

[1] Lutz, Cora E. “The Oldest Library Motto” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, vol. 48, no. 1, 1978, pp. 36–39. www.jstor.org/stable/4306897.