Small children running around the PCL’s UFCU Room is not a normal sight on a Tuesday morning. Neither is a drag queen dressed up in a gown and full make-up. But on November 27, the Perry-Castañeda Library brought them together for a special story time event. Tatiana Cholula read picture books to a crowd of about 20 small children and their parents. UT faculty, staff, and students joined in and took a seat on the floor to hear Miss Tatiana’s stories.
Drag Queen Story Time is a national phenomenon, and it is exactly as the name suggests – drag performers read picture books aloud to groups of small children, their parents, and adult drag fans. It has been a huge hit at public libraries across the country, and when our friends at Austin Public Library hosted their own Drag Queen Story Time event, they had to turn folks away because their room was at capacity!
While Drag Queen Story Time is not a typical event hosted by an academic library, we thought it sounded like so much fun that we had to give it a try. The PCL has an extensive Youth Collection, including a lovely selection of new and notable picture books. Faculty and students use the Youth Collection for research in education, cultural history, and art, and many faculty and staff with children check out these books for leisure reading. Because November is National Picture Book Month, it was the perfect time to hold this event.
We partnered with UT’s Gender & Sexuality Center to find a drag performer, and they directed us to Tatiana Cholula, a former UT student, who is popular in the local Austin drag scene. Miss Tatiana immediately was enthusiastic about the event, and she picked out three picture books from the PCL’s Youth Collection that featured LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color.
We are proud to have brought visibility to gender diversity and the joy and fun of drag performance to the library. The event also encouraged young children to be themselves, no matter their gender, and showed them a glamorous, queer role model. We received enthusiastic feedback from parents and students who asked us to host the event again, and Miss Tatiana said, “Showing my art to a much younger audience made my heart so full.”
“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.”
So said Confucius.
We take that sentiment and the suggestions of our users to heart – for the sake of happiness and wisdom, among other things – especially over the summer break when there’s time and space to do so. Such was the case again this summer, and now later this fall, there will be a unveiling celebrations to mark the changes to pair of library spaces.
The less prominent of the two renovation projects occurred in the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL), and is the extension to an earlier project that took place on the library’s most popular floor. The Collaborative Commons is the bustling hub of late hours study and community on the fifth level of the building that is designated for noise and activity that isn’t traditionally associated with the pastoral atmosphere of a library.
In 2013, a section spanning the length of the window wall on the fifth floor overlooking the heart of campus was renovated to include open-area technology access, additional power outlets, a forest of mobile whiteboards and comfortable, flexible furniture. What was formerly a dull and dank monotony became the Collaborative Commons and has remained a popular gathering area for PCL denizens. The current project connects the original renovation to an even larger area on the opposite side of the building to further expand technology and utility access, and to replace the ancient monolithic furniture of a bygone era and carpet so aged and experienced that it bears no further mention in good company.
The second space refresh came out of a renewed affection for libraries that was manifested as a student and faculty protest about the removal of books from the Fine Arts Library (FAL). Surfaced during the discussions of how best to serve the community of the College of Fine Arts and users of the FAL were critiques of the current state of the fifth floor of that library where the physical collections are housed. That input and some extensive discussions with CoFA community stakeholders resulted in a punch list of improvements that would make it a more productive and usable space. Now, visitors to the fifth floor at FAL have space for (and eventual access to) additional physical materials, enhanced Wi-Fi performance, more access to power outlets, better furniture, new carrels and the fresher feel that results from new paint and the removal of 40-year-old carpeting.
Judging from the initial reactions to the changes, we’ve met the first criterion of the Confucian aphorism. Only time will tell if we manage the second.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit the updated spaces yet, there will be a couple of opportunities to see them as part of upcoming housewarming events hosted by the Libraries with Provost Maurie McInnis, who’s office helped to fund the efforts. Join us Tuesday, October 23, to fête the Fine Arts Library refresh, and Wednesday, November 14, for a party on fifth floor of the PCL.
Texas may pride itself in being big, but as anyone around the Forty Acres these days knows, that “bigness” is finite.
Back in the early 1990s, as Austin was hitting its stride in terms of growth with the arrival of tech industry and the nascent popularity of the city as a destination, forward-thinking minds at the University of Texas Libraries recognized that the ever-expanding physical collections — which at the time had reached in excess of 6 million books — couldn’t forever be contained on a rapidly growing campus.
To avoid what they saw as a future crisis for the preservation and accessibility of the collections, the Libraries sought and received approval and funding to construct a library facility based on the Harvard Depository — a preservation facility that had been developed at Harvard University in 1986. The goal was to relocate low circulation items into a highly controlled environment with optimal preservation conditions, coupled with a retrieval process to get items back into the hands of users should they be needed.
Sensibly referred to as the “Harvard Model” — which has become a standard for materials preservation — the building layout for the Library Storage Facility (or LSF as it’s known within the Libraries lexicon) is an interconnected structure of generational units situated on the lonely south side of the university’s satellite Pickle Research Campus on a close-cropped berm of desiccated weeds in far north Austin with downtown only barely visible in the distance. The vertically-oriented concrete panel edifice is stark and brutalist, an almost unwitting tribute to its campus counterpart, the Perry-Castañeda Library, a likewise imposing monolith and arrival hub for most of the materials that are retrieved from storage.
The storage structure itself is actually a series of separate construction projects that spanned several years. The first unit was opened in 1993, the second in 2009 and the third, LSF 3, opened late in 2017 and is currently being filled with library materials.
Each section of the building accommodates 30-ft tall shelving units in a series of aisles and each shelf section (called a “ladder”) is a designated height to fit volumes of like format and size — an almost profane violation of standard library organizational protocols — thereby ensuring the most efficient application of available space. Shelves are accessed via a “picker,” a specially-designed forklift that can be controlled from a spanning basket that can reach the very highest level of the structure.
Everything in the facility is systematically barcoded — the item, the storage tray in which it sits, the shelf on which the tray sits — and that information is stored and managed in an inventory control systems that allows staff to quickly and easily locate any of the 2 million items stored at LSF.
The Library Storage Facility is managed by the Libraries, but additionally serves as preservation storage for collections from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, the Harry Ransom Center and the Tarlton Law Library. LSF 2 was even built in part with support from our siblings and rivals down the road at College Station, and as a result, the A&M Libraries have a dedicated aisle of space for materials mingling with the resources of the Longhorn Nation.
Another similar project at A&M’s Riverside campus — the Joint Library Facility — was constructed as a collaboration between the Texas A&M System and the University of Texas System allowing for the storage of widely-held, but infrequently used, items materials across Texas academic institutions. The nature of this facility offers participating libraries the opportunity to pare down some of their materials to a single copy that is then collaboratively stored and served from this shared facility.
Collectively these storage facilities have facilitated substantial growth in Libraries holdings — which now stands at more than 10 million items — by allowing for the transferral of low-use items from overstretched campus locations to the high-density facility at the Pickle Research Campus. We still spend over $1.5 million per year on traditional physical resources – even as the Libraries moves to incorporate the ever growing array of electronic information resources – and we expect this practice to continue for the foreseeable future.
Professional stewardship of library materials is a key part of UTL’s institutional mission. The conditions at LSF are closely controlled to create the best environment for the long-term preservation of materials, with efforts to maintain a temperature of 55°F and relative humidity at 35%. These conditions significantly slow the deterioration of paper, inhibit the growth of mold, and reduce the likelihood of insect infestations. “With the conditions maintained at the facility, you could basically put an item into storage and come back 240 years later to find it in a stable state,” says Ben Rodriguez, who manages the library storage facility. Rodriguez oversees a team of library specialists who help to develop processes and run the day-to-day operations of LSF with the assistance of ten student workers.
“The stability of conditions at LSF reduces the mechanical wear-and-tear that would otherwise occur as paper and leather expand and contract with the changes to humidity levels in a library environment,” says Wendy Martin, assistant director of stewardship. Martin oversees the preservation efforts — both physical and digital — for the Libraries. “Library materials stored in ideal conditions will have a much longer lifespan than materials stored in open stacks space designed for human comfort.”
Beyond the space-saving functionality of library storage facilities like these, there is a compelling financial reason for moving low-use items off-site. A 2010 study showed the cost of storing a single volume in an open library stacks facility is $4.26 per year, taking into account personnel, lighting, maintenance and heating and cooling costs. The cost is pegged at 86 cents per volume for storage at a facility such as the Riverside unit jointly operated by the Texas A&M and University of Texas Systems — representing a savings of $3.40 per volume.
Off-site storage has also allowed the Libraries to respond to changing the changing needs of faculty and students by redesigning some of our library spaces to accommodate collaborative study and new technology resources that help to better prepare library users for transition to a 21st Century economy. As the library evolves from a storehouse for information into a platform for innovation and creating new knowledge, having the option to reimagine spaces to meet the changing expectations of the public enhances the library’s relevancy.
Of course, none of this storage would mean very much, though, if the Libraries weren’t also constantly working to improve both the efficiency of access to materials that are selected for housing at LSF, and the selection process itself. Recently, with support from Provost Maurie McInnis, an additional full-time driver and transport vehicle were added for the sole purpose of improving turnaround times for material requested from LSF. Beginning in the fall this driver will make a second daily transportation run between LSF and the main campus. This means patrons can expect to receive email notification of an item being ready for pickup within one business day of their initial request. With the Provost’s support we were also able to hire an additional staff member at LSF, providing the necessary staffing capacity to pull materials for delivery twice daily.
Libraries’ subject liaisons work on a daily basis with university faculty and researchers to build collections that support the University’s teaching, learning, and research mission, in both core and emerging disciplines. The undulations of academic and research focus at UT are the subject of constant analysis by library professionals that, combined with specific requests from our users and a robust set of circulation data, help the Libraries make decisions regarding the placement of collections on campus. This is all to say that when decisions are made to take materials from the shelves, it’s not done lightly or without careful consideration. In light of recent concerns about how decisions are made regarding the transfer of materials to storage, the Libraries has redoubled its effort by tasking a cross-functional team with reviewing and improving the decision-making process for relocating resources.
The ultimate goal of having library storage facilities is to continue to grow our collections resources while adapting the way libraries function to meet the needs of modern users. First and foremost, we want students and our other users to be productive. But productivity can be measured in different ways. It comes not only from the opportunity of discovering a book on the shelf run that wasn’t the object of your search, but it can also result in the form of the serendipitous discovery that happens when diverse groups of students get together and share ideas. We want to create conditions that will allow different types of learning and discovery to occur.
Plans are already underway for the next module at LSF, which will not only feature more high- density storage, but will also provide some new kinds of spaces for improved preservation and better access to materials stored at the facility. The new construction — to be called the Collections Preservation and Research Complex —will provide storage for three-dimensional objects and ephemera, additional cold storage (40°F) for film, a proper reading room for onsite research, new processing space and a quarantine room.
The Libraries has been building the magnificent collections we have today for over 130 years, and, with a little effort and care, we can continue to not only grow them, but to make sure that they’re here for many, many more years to come.
The Austin Public Library recently opened its spectacular facility with much fanfare to respond to a diversity of needs in the Austin community. Transformed from a traditional library filled with books and other sources of information including media, the new open design sets itself apart as a new standard to address user needs in the 21st century. The timing of the opening of the new Austin Pubic Library is a perfect opportunity to highlight the resurgence of the central role of libraries in their respective communities, whether public, academic or school libraries, as they rethink their relevance amidst fast-paced changes.
In an information society like ours, libraries are critical to fill equity gaps in society by democratizing access to information, education, skills training and job placement. Simply put, the Austin Public Library epitomizes how libraries elsewhere can be improved to better serve their populations.
The strength of libraries is, after all, their relationship to their communities, whether public or academic. They are centers of learning, social gathering and creativity usually in central spaces, a premium in most communities and on university campuses. The Austin Public Library has not disappointed. In some respects, it is the library of the future and will meet a multitude of needs including shared learning spaces, the technology petting zoo, the innovation lounge, the children’s creative commons and the reading porches.
In a nutshell, libraries must rebrand themselves as technology-rich learning centers. The rapid rate of technological changes, coupled with new user expectations, have accelerated libraries’ transition from mediated services to unmediated services. From online catalogs, to self-checkout machines, to room reservations and laptop checkouts, users can now independently use and reserve library resources that extend well beyond books. And, the old rules don’t work in the new environment. For instance, food and drink, cafes and gift shops have become normal features in libraries.
Notwithstanding the difference in the primary communities they serve, different types of libraries have implemented changes that are consistent with new needs and expectations. At its opening, Austin Mayor Steve Adler described the Austin Public Library as the “cathedral of Austin.”
A national conference called “Re-think it: Libraries for a New Age” will soon bring together academic, public and K-12 librarians, administrators, technologists, architects, designers, furniture manufacturers and educators to the University of Texas. Together, they will collectively rethink the increasingly important role libraries play in the communities they serve.
In some ways, rethinking libraries will mean collapsing old paradigms and sacrificing some of the nostalgia that we may have for paper and silence. If libraries are to realize a future potential, they’ll need to play a significantly more active role in creativity and productivity processes. The library is no longer a place to worship books; rather, a library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, is the delivery room for the birth of ideas.
Austin isn’t the first city in recent years to invest in new library construction. Structures in Seattle and Minneapolis are notable recent examples of significant public reinvestment in libraries as an integral part of the community. The 21st century offers a renaissance period for libraries and library professionals to imagine the possibilities for the future. The Austin Public Library exemplifies a pioneering model in Texas for other municipalities to position their libraries as instruments of social empowerment. The time is now.
Lanina’s deeply personal work spans the universe of media — painting, sculpture, video, animatronics, performance — and resides in a space where whimsical imagery dances in a veil of melancholic undercurrents like children’s tales if viewed a lens of Heironymous Bosch.
Lanina spent the better part of her time at the Foundry working on a collection of animatronic projects, from doll to human-size in stature, that are intended to interact with the viewer, with sensors that activate motion and audio when a viewer is in proximity.
Lanina focused most of her time in the Foundry on one project — “Herstory” — a human-sized animatronic doll with a face cast (3D printed) from the artist’s own, which intends to explore gender and cultural identity through the sharing of awkward anecdotes and stories that challenge the way that gender is perceived. Lanina presented a public talk focused on the project, but covering her other works, as well, as part of the residency.
Lanina’s art has been exhibited in such museums and institutions as the Seoul Art Museum, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Ludwig Museum (Cologne), the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Galapagos Art Center in Brooklyn. She’s received honors that include fellowships and scholarships from Headlands Art Center (California), Yadoo (New York), CORE Cultural Funding Program (Austin, TX), BluePrint/COJECO (New York City), TEMPO (TX) and an honorable citation from New York State Assembly.
She holds MFA in Combined Media from Hunter College, CUNY, New York and a BFA in Painting and Drawing from Purchase College, SUNY.
Funded by donor Kirby Attwell and COFA, the artist-in-resident series brings notable multi-media artists to Austin for a week at a time for workshops with students, lectures for the public and a chance to pursue their own art on the advanced equipment in the Foundry. The previous artist-in-residence at the Foundry was Israeli American contemporary media artist Yael Kanarek.
On Thursday, October 12, representatives of the Libraries joined College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster and Provost Maurie McInnis to fete the opening of space on the fourth floor of the Fine Arts Library redeveloped to serve as a home for the newly announced School of Design and Creative Technologies.
The renovation project, which took place over the summer, resulted in the creation of state-of-the-art classrooms with adaptable technologies, a high-tech teaching lab, dedicated design studios, an audio studio, seminar rooms and faculty offices to serve a program geared to preparing students for careers in professions that require working knowledge of design technologies.
The new school will be led by design industry thought leader Doreen Lorenzo, who is the founding and current director of the Center for Integrated Design, and will focus on educating students for creative professions in heavy demand across a wide range of industries. Students will study designing for health, designing for artificial intelligence, creative technologies in theater and music, entrepreneurial ventures and cross-disciplinary design thinking methodologies.
The space is complementary to the Foundry — the maker space launched on the entry level of the library in 2016 — creating a new opportunity for libraries to serve as a multipurpose platform for the interaction of information resources, classroom learning and creative realization.
“Co-locating a vibrant teaching space in the library with the tools for creativity mere footsteps away collapses the distance between resources and classroom and provides the opportunity for the library to be an even more active partner in the learning ecosystem,” says Vice Provost and Libraries Director Lorraine Haricombe.
Ask what the campus library does and many will say, “It provides access to books.” Looking toward the future, if libraries are to succeed, they will need to increase investment in services that extend beyond such user assumptions. Libraries should invest in virtual spaces that complement existing technology, unique collections, and content expertise, and library space as a concept will need to be redefined to accommodate work in new arenas.
In a 2015 AACU survey employers reported that they believe only 27 percent of recent graduates are proficient at written communication and even fewer are “innovative/creative”. When thinking about this in concert with student impressions of campus technology in a 2016 ECAR study, the library must contribute to both creative and deepened use of technology in the classroom. Leading students into virtual environments to create research products, utilizing classrooms designed with multiple screens for active small group work, and helping students manage work with the use of project management tools all present opportunities for rich collaborative teaching partnerships between librarians and faculty.
It’s also important for libraries to invest in infrastructure to support web publishing platforms, virtual reality, makerspaces, and large visualization walls that complement existing university resources. Integrating these technologies into the classroom experience will challenge us all to think in new ways about where and how learning occurs. Libraries can provide support to students and teachers as they engage with, critically examine, and build community in and around these spaces. But in order for this to occur, a shift in the way people conceptualize library spaces and services has to occur. By working in new environments, libraries can help students improve communication and develop critical thinking and digital literacy skills that will serve them in all areas of their lives.
In order for us to be successful, campus level administrators have to provide a seat at the executive table for library leadership. Increasing the visibility of challenges being faced by libraries sheds light on the complexity of our current operating environments. Sharing information about the value of library services, and about staffing and IT infrastructure needs, provides an opportunity for those that are invested in the library to ask questions about future directions and provide input on anticipated needs.
Libraries are increasingly becoming key testing grounds for innovative classes and research projects that take advantage of emerging technologies. Administration can demonstrate support for these innovative faculty-library collaborations by providing financial, administrative, and moral support for departments that are attempting to reinvigorate the curriculum. Libraries are not operating in the same way that they were five years ago, and it is imperative that administrators see and fully understand the ways in which our services are evolving, and the ways in which our services provide pathways for new ways of teaching and learning.
Library leaders, similarly, need to fully understand the challenges faced by library staff as they revise organizational and operational models to accommodate new working environments. By providing services in hybrid environments, libraries are demonstrating their capacity to play a key partner role in the teaching and learning process in higher education. This role can advance the critical inquiry and discourse skills of our students, and can contribute to student success post-graduation.
So much of what we think about when we think about our students after graduation is focused on success in the workplace, but at a higher level, many in academic communities are concerned with the development and evolution of civil society. As we expand library services more and more into virtual spaces, we will increasingly ask our communities to redefine their understanding and expectations of our role in developing capacity to engage in dialogue. By investing in the changing landscape of libraries, we are also inviting them to adapt to the ever-evolving landscape of communication and civic engagement.
Amber Welch is the head of technology enhanced learning for The University of Texas Libraries.
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.