Tag Archives: creativity

Building The Foundry

Texas Library Journal.
Texas Library Journal.

This article first appeared in Texas Library Journal, Volume 93, Number 2, Summer 2017.

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.

Lulzbot 3-D printer creating a Tower model.
Lulzbot 3-D printer creating a Tower model.

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.

Artist Tim Kerr and Jerry Hagins session in the new Recording Studio.
Artist Tim Kerr and Jerry Hagins session in the new Recording Studio.

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.

Vice Provost Lorraine Haricombe, Provost Maurie McInnis and Dean Douglas Dempster cut the ribbon on The Foundry.
Vice Provost Lorraine Haricombe, Provost Maurie McInnis and Dean Douglas Dempster cut the ribbon on The Foundry.

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.

Lessons Learned

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.

Students get hands on with 3-D printing.
Students get hands on with 3-D printing.

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.

Students Providing Creative Support

ULN lab assistant Charisma Soriano and Learning Technologies Librarian Cindy Fisher.
ULN lab assistant Charisma Soriano and Learning Technologies Librarian Cindy Fisher.

When Teaching and Learning Services initiated the PCL Media Lab pilot phase in the Fall 2014 semester, we opted to experiment with a unique staffing model. Partnering with the University Leadership Network, a similarly youthful campus initiative, we developed a tiered, three-year internship program that would synthesize our staffing needs with an effort to cultivate digital media expertise in the Libraries.

In Year 1, interns undergo basic training in audio, graphics and video software, following step-by-step tutorials that we developed in house. By the end of their first semester, we expect our interns to have a shared vocabulary in multiple areas of media production. They assemble a short podcast using Audacity, then reconstruct a digital collage in Photoshop, and finally use public domain footage to edit a short video with music in Adobe Premiere Pro. For the Spring 2015 semester, we encouraged our interns to specialize in a software area of their own choosing, and to propose a project with the most appropriate software. That approach resulted in two short films, a digital music composition, the first phase of a student organization’s website, a 3-D modeling project and a graphic guide to using the pilot lab’s scanners. Furthermore, the Lab Assistants produced tutorial guides to help users understand the workflows and technical vocabulary required to produce this work.

Starting in Fall 2015, we wanted the Year 2 Lab Assistants to improve on their existing strengths, develop their areas of interest and, when possible, create work that could benefit UT Libraries as an institution. What follows is a summary of the work done this year by our ULN Lab Assistants as part of the digital media training that forms the backbone of their internship, and helps us to offer expertise to users in the PCL Media Lab.

Graphics

During the first semester, Product Design junior Whitney Chen and Fine Arts sophomore Jessica Vacek collaborated to produce a desktop calendar, copies of which were printed and sent to Libraries’ supporters. The pair took original photographs in different library branches around the 40 Acres, then embellished those pictures using Adobe Illustrator

From the Libraries calendar.
From the Libraries calendar by Whitney Chen and Jessica Vacek.

Later in the semester, Whitney designed UT Libraries’ annual holiday card, which is distributed stakeholders and peers nationwide.

Greeting card.
Greeting card by Jessica Vacek.

In the spring semester, Jessica took a turn doing some work for Communications by designing our popular Greetings from the Library postcard, distributed for free in PCL and featuring iconic images of the branch libraries (such FAL’s hanging piano).

In another graphic combining freehand drawing with Adobe Illustrator, Jessica also gave us a new design for the birthday cards that UT Libraries sends to supporters. Much of Jessica’s artistic training has been in freehand techniques and photography (check out some of her work here: http://operation-jessica.tumblr.com/), so her internship in the PCL Media Lab has helped her to integrate more traditional media with new digital tools.

Whitney was equally busy with clever graphics work this semester, this time training her designer’s eye on promotional materials for one PCL’s most popular events, the visits from dog therapy groups. We’ve featured some of Whitney’s work on Tex Libris before  and there is more to view on her portfolio website, so we’ll just let these two pieces speak for themselves.

"The Dogfather" by Whitney Chen.
“The Dogfather” by Whitney Chen.
"Barks and Recreation" by Whitney Chen.
“Barks and Recreation” by Whitney Chen.

Video

Video production and editing software is some of the most popular in the lab, so it’s no surprise that it was an equally popular area for our Lab Assistants to choose for specialty training. We featured one of these projects in Tex Libris earlier in the year, recounting how, using Adobe Premiere Pro, Charisma Soriano (Junior, Marketing + Film and Television), Lucia Aremu (Junior, Government) and Jocelyn Mendoza (Junior, Bilingual Education) “organized, shot, edited and produced a short documentary film” about the Freud Reia punk collection that the Fine Arts Library had recently obtained.

The video team took a more whimsical approach for their next project, using iMovie to stitch together a dreamy snapshot of life after hours in the PCL.

We unfortunately lost Jocelyn Mendoza to another internship at the beginning of the spring semester, but the video team benefitted from the addition of Computer Science junior Victor Maestas, who has been active in amateur filmmaking since high school. Working with Librarian for First-Year Programs Sarah Brandt, Victor, Charisma and Lucia produced an Orientation to UT Libraries video that will be used to help incoming freshmen get to know their way around different branches and library services.

3-D Modelling

With the increasing popularity of 3-D printing, and especially in light of the incipient makerspace in the Fine Arts Library, we are grateful to have the expertise of Thang Truong, a Biology junior, in the PCL Media Lab. Thang began experimenting with Autodesk’s  Maya software last year, and has significantly expanded his knowledge to include 3-D printing with Sketchup and more complex modelling techniques in Maya and Blender, another application offered in the Media Lab. The images below feature examples of Thang’s work, including an iPhone case that he printed through UT’s Innovation Station.

3d  modelling.
3d modelling.
iPhone case by Thang Truong.
iPhone case by Thang Truong.

The PCL Media Lab Assistants continue to exceed our expectations and do a terrific job of helping our patrons in the lab. Next year we aim to offer more one-on-one and small group consultations with the Lab Assistants, allowing them to share their expertise with an increasingly large user base.

The Copier as Canvas

 Study Group zine cover

“Zines are not a new idea. They have been around under different names (ChapBooks, Pamphlets, Flyers). People with independent ideas have been getting their word out since there were printing presses.” ― Mark Todd, Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?

As institutions traditionally charged with gathering and providing access to the broadest range of information, libraries have in large part transitioned their focus from the physical to the digital realm of resources. But there are pockets of attention that remain fixed on collecting those materials that hold significantly greater value in a corporeal state.

Laura Schwartz shares zines with an studio art class.In 2010, Fine Arts Library (FAL) Head Librarian Laura Schwartz joined a fledgling movement of librarians across the country in establishing a collection of DIY pamphlets, popularly known as “zines.”

Zines — short for “fanzines” — take a variety of forms, but are generally self-published and noncommercial, homemade or online publications often devoted to specialized or unconventional subject matter. Traditionally, zines have been published in small runs — less than 1000 copies — and most are produced on photocopiers or by other, more economical means.

At a time when virtually anyone with access to the web can reach an audience, the idea that your local Kinko’s still has the patronage of a subculture of the most indie of independent publishers seems almost absurd.

And yet, the niche market continues to thrive, and has even seen a degree of proliferation, especially in the area of social justice, an association which would no doubt have pleased Thomas Paine.

Schwartz is determined about her motivation to build the collection. “This is a form of art,” she says. “Museums or galleries do not typically collect this format, so it is incumbent upon libraries to do so.”

“Libraries have a history of collecting ephemeral and personal materials,” says Schwartz. “That is the essence of archives.  Libraries are capturing a slice of history and culture of a particular time period by collecting zines.”

Thing Bad zine coverThe FAL’s zine collection currently maintains over 200 items of state, regional and national origin, and recent donations will potentially double the size of the resource. The content of the materials covers a range of subjects including art, photography, music, skateboarding and Texas culture.

Schwartz was fortunate at the time of the collection’s inception to have a ready resource for development in the form of the manager of a specialized local bookstore, Russell Etchen of Domy Books. Being an artist and autodidact in zine history — as well as a curator/manager for the shop/gallery —  Etchen had an informed perspective on the significance of the genre, and offered his insights as a service to preserving the form.

“Laura had an innate sense for what would and wouldn’t work when she started building the collection,” says Etchen. “We would walk through the store together a couple times a year, and I would share the works that I felt, at the time, were most deserving of preservation.”

“When it comes to the underground, there are no ‘right zines’,” says Etchen. “There is a very decentralized history behind self-publishing and generally we chose works that I felt had a unique history behind them or ahead of them.” Continue reading

Back to the Drawing Board…

We’re in the thick of it again with the looming end of the semester and the approaching zero-hour for projects and exams driving long nights and early mornings around the Libraries.

That also signals the return of whiteboard art, the spontaneous creative fits resulting from a combination of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and some small degree of relief that the end – be it affirmative or not – is nigh.

You can view a slide show of the finer examples of this phenomenon captured by our own Frank Meaker at the University’s Know website or at the Libraries Flickr page.

BONUS STACKS DISCOVERY:

A student “settles in for the long haul” on 5th floor of the PCL.

A Medium for Expression

whiteboardThe end of the school year can be a liberating time for much of the population of the university. Most students get an extended break from the rigors of learning, or they complete a successful college career and move on to the next phase of life. Faculty transition from honing lectures and grading papers to scholarly or research pursuits, or just take some time to recuperate from teaching consecutive semesters. And for staff it generally means shorter lines, less traffic and time to catch up on all the projects that went on the back burner during the school year.

This nascent liberation can sometimes spur creative bursts as there are the beginnings of a collective exhale across the campus. Being on the front lines as we are when the library becomes a strategic center for student end-of-year projects and finals, we sometimes get the opportunity to witness, or even document, this extraordinary behavior.

We recorded two such examples just last week. Continue reading