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School of Information creates makerspace

If students dream it, the School of Information will help them build it.

In Fall 2016, the iSchool debuted the Information Lifecycle Lab, a makerspace that gives students room to share ideas, tinker with hardware and create prototypes for new electronic devices. The lab offers a range of high-tech equipment from 3D printers to computer microprocessors.

Because it is embedded within the school’s existing book and paper conservation labs, the new makerspace provides opportunities for collaboration among students practicing time-honored techniques as well as innovative, tech-focused approaches to the curation, organization and experience of information.

Dean and Professor Andrew Dillon said the “maker” movement is part of the ongoing transformation of our world through new technologies.

“Our information networks now enable people to craft and build objects for themselves cheaply and easily, so it is important that our graduates are familiar with and can enable people to take advantage of such tools,” Dean Dillon said. “More broadly, I think we are seeing a new entwinement of the material and the digital in makerspaces which is, in my view, a form of progress and rebalancing from the continual push of ‘digital only’ in our world. Humans are, naturally, material beings.”

Initial funding for the Information Lifecycle lab was provided by Dr. Virginia Bowden, an iSchool Advisory Council member, and her husband, Charles. The lab is scheduled for completion before the start of the Fall 2017 semester.

Makerspace Q&A

What’s a makerspace?

A makerspace is simply a place where people come together and share resources, knowledge, and ideas about something they have a common interest in. Although the term usually refers to a technology-focused workspace, a makerspace would be recognizable to anyone who has done group-oriented arts and crafts, woodworking or shop class.

What equipment will it have?

Our plan is to incorporate 3D printers, 3D scanners, Arduino micro-controllers, Raspberry Pi microcomputers, and many other configurable and programmable devices amongst the array of tools and equipment that we already have in our conservation labs. The concept is an information lifecycle lab where you can interact with technologies ranging from parchment to python in the same space. You might have someone in this space 3D printing an enclosure for a rare book or manuscript working next to a conservator helping to save that same item.

Why do we need a makerspace?

The iSchool has always been a place where students are encouraged to experience tools and technologies first-hand. Regardless of your focus at the iSchool, you must be prepared to be an adroit lifelong learner of technology. Our intention is to give students a chance to experiment, play, collaborate and design in a space that welcomes learners at all levels and paces of study who are ready to engage in tasks and technologies that inspire them.

For future librarians, this space will be an excellent opportunity to design and develop their own maker-space concepts and curriculum as well as advancing their own technical education and IT foundations. User-experience designers can work beyond the screen interface by designing and building interactive objects, and students in all disciplines can gain valuable experience programming, designing, and prototyping tools and objects that correspond to their specific interest areas.

What distinguishes our lab?

Our makerspace is unique because of how it is embedded in our already singular book and conservation lab setting. We borrowed ideas and best practices from the growing number of makerspaces on the UT campus, but as with all things iSchool, our uniquely human-centered focus on technology, information and learning will set us apart from others. — Sam Burns, School of Information IT manager and doctoral candidate

March 8, 2017