Once again the summer break has provided enough clearance for us to undertake a major renovation project, and mirroring last summer, that effort is occurring at the Fine Arts Library.
Dovetailing with last year’s completion of the Foundry — a creative maker space loaded with technology and production tools — the fourth floor of FAL has been cleared of physical resources in an effort to create space that blurs the line between classroom and library.
The reimagining of previous stack space will result in new classrooms and collaborative spaces to accommodate the Center for Integrated Design (CID), an interdisciplinary program administered in the College of Fine Arts that connects design, engineering, information, business, computer science and architecture programs from across the university to bring solution-focused design thinking to university curricula in a comprehensive way. The center seeks to provide all UT students the opportunity to study design methodology and apply it in creative and entrepreneurial scenarios.
Recent expansions of CoFA curricula into areas emphasizing innovation skills and design thinking are meant to better prepare students for a professional landscape that is ever-evolving in the face of technological development. But these programs have strained the college’s existing facilities, and partnerships with the Libraries — like the CID space and the Foundry — are helping to address the needs of current and future undergrads and graduates.
The 4th floor renovation includes the creation of two large classrooms — one of which will be equipped with active learning and creative technologies — a large seminar room, a medium seminar rooms that seats 12 and two small seminar rooms. The changes will also provide new office space for the faculty and staff in CID, as well as for faculty in the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies (CAET), a primary partner with the Libraries in the development of the Foundry.
Libraries staff moved more than 100,000 books, bound journals and scores to offsite storage facilities to accommodate the new construction, and moved the remaining 195,000 items to the stacks on the fifth floor of the building. Thanks to a robust delivery system developed over the last decade, the Libraries can provide campus access to any remote materials within 48-72 hours.
The renovation is on schedule and expected to be complete in time for the opening of classes this fall.
Libraries have long been “third places” for community groups, students (both young and old), immigrants, national and international visitors, and members of the local the community. At their best, libraries provide patrons with safe spaces to engage with the written word, new technologies, new ideas, and new ways of thinking. Libraries expand the horizon of possibility in ways that are both emerging, and traditional. Library spaces are being transformed to include tinkering labs, community kitchens, makerspaces, and virtual reality rooms, all of which exist alongside books, newspapers, computers, and reference desks. These new ecosystems are ripe with the potential to connect people and create new communities.
As library administrators and staff consider what the new horizon will look like for patrons, it is important that we make that horizon accessible. When considering what an accessible horizon looks like in the context of emerging technologies, we should be mindful of our role as intermediaries and translators. Much like learning a new language, engaging with emerging technologies can be daunting. Without a framework for how to utilize or engage with new technologies in productive and enriching ways, our patrons could easily be discouraged, or worse, feel isolated in their learning endeavors. We can encourage and support patrons in their exploration by providing thoughtful programming, workshops and tours of our spaces, and by emphasizing jargon-free explanations of new technologies and their application in the real world. By providing an accessible framework for how to think about oneself in the context of emerging, technology-rich environments, we can empower patrons to move toward new horizons with confidence.
Libraries are the go-to place for knowledge-seekers looking to sharpen their intellectual capacity and understanding of everything from boolean logic to gardening in Texas soil. They provide books on the arts, and on creative practices like knitting, cooking, and photography, so why not provide a larger technical infrastructure that will enable patrons to integrate traditional creative practices with technology? Why not provide patrons with the tools and skills they need to move into new realms of possibility via the practice of making, and making alongside others? While creativity may come naturally for a large portion of the population, it isn’t necessarily a skill that is mastered overnight. Like many skills, creativity takes patience, practice, and a good support community. With many communities losing access to arts funding it is an opportune time for libraries to consider playing a role in the creative lives of citizens, and makerspaces are just one example of how libraries are rethinking their role.
A Brief History of The Foundry
The University of Texas Libraries’ exploration of makerspaces began in 2013 under the oversight of the former head of the Fine Arts Library, Laura Schwartz. During this time, a Special Interest Group (SIG) was charged with researching makerspace technologies within the scope of academic libraries. The group’s findings provided insight into what services are typically made available through these spaces. Following this period of exploration, the Libraries began to pursue funding from outside sources in order to renovate existing library spaces to accommodate new technologies.
In 2014, the Libraries applied for a Longhorn Innovation Fund for Technology (LIFT) Grant and an Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS) grant. Neither of these applications was successful.
However, even before funding was secured for the makerspace, the Libraries decided to move forward with a project to build a recording studio in the Fine Arts Library. In spring of 2015, the Libraries participated in the second round of the university’s project fundraising tool Hornraiser — a new crowdfunding operation launched by the university development office — which netted over $15,000 for the studio, and served as a kind of proof of intention to create a larger creative space.
In 2015, the university’s College of Fine Arts (COFA) launched a new program, the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies (CAET) which provided additional purpose and created a partnership for the development of the space. The Libraries coordinated fundraising efforts with COFA and the Provost’s office with the expressed purpose of collaborating with CAET to build tools and services in support of the program. A proposal to the Hearst Foundations was rewarded with $200,000 in grant monies to create a makerspace that would be available to anyone on campus, regardless of major or departmental affiliation.
To supplement the Hearst Foundations grant award, COFA and the provost provided additional funding to support the Fine Arts Library renovation, the purchase of makerspace technologies, and staffing for the new space. Two key positions were established to support the program and new functionality in the library. The Arts & Creative Technologies Librarian is responsible for day to day operations and provides support to faculty across campus in order to integrate The Foundry into the curriculum, and the Media Support Technician provides support for the equipment and facilities.
With staffing and funding largely secured, the Libraries worked with designer Harmony Edwards (Edwards + Mulhausen) to seek input from campus stakeholders; faculty, staff and students were invited to provide feedback during design charrettes and focus groups. These discussions allowed the Libraries to better understand how faculty and students envisioned a makerspace, how they might engage with the technology in that space, and if they were currently using makerspace technology in their personal or professional work.
By early 2016, Libraries staff purchased multiple 3D printers, technology for a video wall, top-of-the-line Mac Pros, Bernina sewing machines, a 3D scanner, a large format printer/cutter, two mills, a laser cutter, and an array of additional tools based on feedback from earlier stakeholder conversations. This technology, combined with the high-end audio equipment that would reside in the recording studio, formed the foundation of what was to be known as “The Foundry.”
Construction took place at a fevered pace over the summer of 2016. In early September, The Foundry’s impressive grand opening was celebrated with overflow crowds from the campus community and beyond in attendance.
After the initial success of the launch and praise for the exceptional results had subsided, the difficult work of developing processes and a structure for use of The Foundry began in earnest. The following months were considered a rollout period and involved developing an assessment plan, workflows for equipment certification and use, bringing equipment online, and developing learning materials that would support student and faculty engagement with the space.
As of May 2017, The Foundry is almost fully operational.
There is always a learning process involved in doing something for the first time, and it was no different building a creative space full of machines in the middle of a library originally designed for quiet reflection and housing books. Here are a few bits of practical advice to keep in mind.
When bringing a makerspace online, it is important to develop effective and productive working relationships with campus departments. At The University of Texas at Austin, the Office of Environmental Health & Safety is responsible for oversight of campus facilities. This group is charged with developing safety training procedures for labs and shops across campus. New technology-rich spaces like The Foundry present a challenge when developing safety protocols. Makerspaces aren’t necessarily as dangerous as a wood shop with a large table saw, but the spaces do present safety challenges, and therefore need to have sufficient safety training procedures in place. Negotiating the terms of these procedures with institutional partners is a key component of a successful launch, and the time involved in this should not be underestimated. When considering a makerspace for a school, college, or university, relevant campus safety services should participate in planning conversations from the project’s initiation. Experts can advise on compliance requirements, and may even work directly with principals to develop safety procedures that are customized to the proposed space.
Aside from ensuring that patrons are safe, administrative procedures and workflows need to be addressed. Depending upon campus size, seemingly small workflows could potentially take longer than expected to develop. Will patrons be paying for their 3D prints? Which pieces of equipment warrant safety certification, and which can be made freely available without training? Who should be teaching the certification classes? How long should a patron be able to use a piece of equipment? All of these questions help inform the workflow development, and will help inform the character and value of the makerspace.
Prioritizing the development of an assessment plan, or, at a minimum, a mission statement, will present the vision for a makerspace, and allow progress towards that vision to be monitored in measurable increments. Makerspace technology can be intimidating to many students and faculty. Foundry staff are addressing this concern through the assessment plan, and by closely monitoring how welcome patrons feel in the space. Surveys are a great tool to better understand how patrons are engaging with spaces, services, and technical resources, and, in the case of The Foundry, assist in monitoring progress towards creating a welcoming space. Survey data can and should inform planning discussions, and can assist administrators in demonstrating an operational commitment to the mission.
Looking ahead to the next year, The Foundry will cross-reference data from multiple sources in order to refine existing workflows, and accommodate growing interest from faculty across campus. Increasing the number of strategic partnerships will hopefully open the door to interdisciplinary use of the space, with faculty from multiple departments partnering to teach workshops or courses that use Foundry resources. Additional funding and staffing will inevitably need to be pursued in order to accommodate these demands.
Even though The Foundry is in its infancy, it has generated enormous excitement across campus. Potential partners are continuously connecting with Foundry staff to discuss their ideas for collaborative use of the space. Faculty, staff, and students are demonstrating a vested interest in the space by submitting requests for new technology and services, and by sending positive words of encouragement, along with articles about makerspace projects that are inspiring to them. This type of excitement and willingness to stay engaged with a space can be difficult to find on large research university campuses, where competition for internal and external funding can be fierce. If the excitement, enthusiasm, and generosity of the campus community aren’t evidence of the value of a makerspace, then what is? When thinking about creating new communities, the final product may be less important than the process used to get there. Breaking down departmental and organizational barriers is not for the faint of heart, but with a willingness to collaborate and tackle challenges alongside one another, it can be done.
Amber Welch is Head of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Texas Libraries.
Each fall, a fresh-faced bunch of newlings comes to campus with dreams of independence and future prospects dancing about their heads, a world of opportunity and exciting new experiences presented at every corner. And at the end of each successive spring, harried and exhausted, the same students trudge about PCL all hours in a fog of dread and worry, struggling to meet project deadlines and prepare for finals.
In recent years, staff have attempted to ease attending anxieties by different means, from art therapy on the whiteboards throughout the library to partnering with campus units for healthy snacks and massage chairs to the recurring presence of therapy pets from local agencies, all of which efforts have been met with great appreciation from library users,
Being on the front line, our circulation staff have the most frequent contact with students in the throes of finals pressures, so they also tend to be the most attuned to the stress cycles, and are great at imagining ways to overcome or at least temporarily alleviate them.
This semester, staff wanted to try something new, something fun and goofy that would shake the doldrums and reinvigorate the weary denizens of PCL with a jolt of the unexpected. By now, most people have come across some version of the ubiquitous T-Rex costume that’s been a major currency of YouTube videos; that buzzy novelty is what created the spark of an idea for the eventual decision by staff to create their own costume persona that could serve as the embodiment of silliness and distraction for overtaxed students in need of a break.
Staff settled on creating the albino squirrel.
For the uninitiated, the albino squirrel* has become a bit of a folk hero around the Forty Acres. The squirrel (or squirrels — who knows?) is told in lore to be a harbinger of good fortune to anyone who spots the animal. Students are known to actively seek out the tree-dweller for particularly worrisome exams, so it made perfect sense for staff to conjure the animal for the benefit of students, especially at this particular time of the semester.
Being that staff had an idea and some spanking new tools with which to act upon it — in the form of the new Foundry makerspace in the Fine Arts Library — they only lacked volunteers to set about the task. From among their ranks they discovered that they had the requisite skill sets to create the form for the creature.
Early in the spring, senior library specialist Janeice Connors and Tré Miles, a student associate from the Kuehne Physics-Mathematics-Astronomy Library and Textiles major, began intermittent work on designing and creating a man-size version of the bushy-tailed talisman in the Fabric Arts Lab at the Foundry. By late April, the Connors and Miles had logged dozens of hours cutting, fitting, sewing and stuffing, and the suit was finally ready for its debut.
On Wednesday, May 10, accompanied by Libraries Director Lorraine Haricombe and Austin’s Pizza owner J.D. Torian, the albino squirrel stepped off the elevator on the 6th floor of PCL, and began a whirlwind tour of the library, spreading joy and smiles (And pizza. And KIND bars.) to appreciative students who got a much deserved break from their studies and a hopefully a little luck from their friends at the Libraries.
Postscript: Tré Miles graduated in May, and parlayed his experience building a squirrel (not really) to land a spot at Michael Kors in NYC. Congratulations, Tré!
*Yes, yes, Mr. Smartypants…we’re well aware that it’s not really an albino, just a rodent with a recessive gene.
After a frenetic summer of construction, the new maker space at the Fine Arts Library — The Foundry — opened to great fanfare (literally) on September 7.
More than 300 attendees were welcomed to the renovated area on the main floor of FAL with a flourish of horns by the FivE Euphonium Quartet — as well as other performances by Butler School of Music students and director Jerry Junkin — and remarks by Vice Provost Lorraine Haricombe, College of Fine Arts dean Douglas Dempster and Provost Maurie McInnis.
FAL staff and students provided demonstrations of the new tools and technology that inhabit the space, and the centerpiece video wall projected examples of creative work produced by art and design students from across campus.
Guests had the opportunity to see the 3-D printers, a carver, sewing and embroidery machines, and MFA student Jon Haas provided a hologram projection onto a large model of the UT Tower to the delight of onlookers.
The opening attracted interest from around the university community, as well as area residents, donors and local media.
With the space completed, efforts to train staff and student assistants on the technical particulars of the new equipment and the development of training materials and video tutorials for patrons is well underway. The space is expected to be fully functional by the end of October, and the wait begins to see how students will use the space for creativity and innovation.
All photos by Lawrence Peart, provided by the College of Fine Arts.
As the last of the equipment was being installed and tested for the opening of The Foundry, resident mobile photography aficionado and Collections Logistics Librarian Stephen Littrell took his smartphone by the Fine Arts Library to capture some images from around the space in its pristine glory. Check ’em out.
And if you’d like to see the various 3-D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, virtual reality equipment and more in action, then join us next week for a ribbon cutting and open house at FAL, 12:30-2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 7.
A fellow library staffer recently observed that libraries are the place where the public goes to get an introduction to new technologies. One may scoff at that notion as an overstatement of importance, but on examination, it’s not such a far-fetched idea.
Libraries are in the business of early adoption for technological innovations, as most leaps forward have a profound effect on how library resources are preserved, shared and consumed. And as we begin to augment ways in which knowledge can be transformed either at the point of inspiration or in the presence of the resources that make transformation possible, it’s a natural progression to provide users with tools to communicate new ideas through the creative process as a next stage of evolution for libraries.
To wit, the very first cuneiform tablets may not seem terribly innovative given our immersion in modern digital technologies, but they represented a leap forward in how to document the knowledge of human existence. And they were collected in the precursors to libraries discovered in Sumeria — some dating as early as 2600 BC — which initially served to house government and religious records, but later incorporated information regarding history, mathematics and sciences.
Clay eventually made way for papyrus and paper, and later the printing press made duplication and dissemination a reality. In their early stages, these techniques and what they produced weren’t available to common people so the library, in time, filled the demand for access. Following a historical timeline forward, libraries have continued this trend, introducing the public to initially expensive and difficult to access post-industrial technologies like typewriters, copiers, PCs, printers and the internet — and to varying degrees, have made freely available tools for manipulating information of all types.
We’ve previously talked about a new kind of space that will launch at the Fine Arts Library (FAL) this fall that will continue precisely this function for library users. “The Foundry” is a maker space being developed to support the new undergraduate major in the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies (CAET) announced in February by the College of Fine Arts (COFA) by providing a suite of creativity tools that either have limited availability, limited accessibility or don’t exist elsewhere on campus.
The Foundry will feature numerous studios equipped with the most current technologies for specialized production by students in the CAET program, that will also be accessible to students from any department on campus.
The Game Development Studio will permit collaborative and immersive game play, game testing and game creation, where users will be able to check out the most recent consoles and connect these to large-format monitors for multi-person, multiplayer activities, as well as tools for developing artwork, sounds and game scripts for a variety of platforms. The Singer-Songwriter Studio will provide a variety of equipment for song creation — keyboard, computer, mixer, microphones and, most importantly, a voiceover booth that provides significant sound isolation for singers and narrators to practice and record vocal parts. A Video Production Studio will provide high-end video technology and software as well as equipment to check out. A 3D Print Workspace will include a cluster of 6 LulzBot TAZ 6 3D Printer stations and a Next Engine Desktop Laser Scanner that will be fully supported from design assistance to production. A Fiber Arts Studio will provide modern sewing and embroidery machines for textile work. And the Maker Workshop will include microelectronics materials and a variety of shop tools and materials for creating across a broad spectrum of media, as well as a selection of high-end production machines:
There’s an air of nostalgia to a book-centric notion of libraries that persists with the institution’s adherents over time. But let’s not forget that libraries have long been on the leading edge of adopting new technologies throughout history — books included — and making them available to everyone.
Those words of Thomas Edison are representative of a sentiment that is increasingly reflected in the way that libraries are evolving to meet modern needs. In a departure from the traditional notion as a place where people go to simply gather information, the modern library is becoming a vibrant space where knowledge is partnered with tools that allow users to immediately synthesize ideas into creative output.
The University of Texas Libraries have, in recent years, been working with campus partners and administrators to reimagine spaces to meet these new expectations, and the results have been worth noting. The opening of the Learning Commons on the entry level of the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) provides students with onsite support for writing projects through a partnership with the University Writing Center, and a substantial new Media Lab offers users the opportunity to create the kind of dynamic multimedia projects that are gradually replacing project papers as a measure of student understanding. The Scholars Commons — opened earlier this spring, also in PCL — provides a space for both isolated study and cross-discipline collaboration, and includes a Data Lab for greater capacity for complex data visualization, making synthesis of information possible within arm’s reach of essential resources.
With the launch of the new undergraduate major in the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies (CAET) announced in February by the College of Fine Arts (COFA), the Libraries are partnering with the college to develop a new kind of creative space in the Fine Arts Library (FAL) to support the specialized needs of students in the new program. “The Foundry” will occupy space in the main level of the FAL, and will consist of a series of interconnected studios designed to support audio recording, video production, fabrication, 3D printing, animatronics, game design and fiber arts where students can gather to create independently or collaboratively, and where they’ll have immediate access to traditional library resources and services to augment their work. Although it was developed primarily to support CAET, The Foundry is open to every student at the university.
The focus of the space redevelopment is to provide advanced technological systems for all aspects of performance, game development, music production, digital visual arts, and other forms of digital entertainment. The project is funded by the Office of the Provost, the Libraries, the College of Fine Arts and by a generous grant from the Hearst Foundations.
It’s not quite Menlo Park (yet), but libraries are finding ways to become a larger part of the creative process by providing the materials and tools that allow ideas the potential to be realized at the point of conception. Edison might even be impressed.
Construction on The Foundry began with the close of the spring semester and is slated to open in time for the students’ return in the fall. Check back for progress reports on the renovation throughout the summer.