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Library Hosts Materials Symposium

06/06/2013

RISD’s recently opened Material Resource Center serves as an important source for researching new materials.

A unique aspect of RISD and other art and design schools is the need for tangible, touchable research materials – not just books and articles about art and design but actual samples of wood, plastic, composites, textiles, metals and so forth that students need to explore for use in their projects. As technology changes and the sheer number of manufactured materials and processes explodes, the way librarians collect and curate these materials is changing, too. 

In response to these changes, the Fleet Library at RISD is hosting a symposium today through Saturday titled Materials Education and Research in Art and Design: A New Role for Libraries. Visual Resources Librarian Mark Pompelia – who organized the first-of-its-kind symposium thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services – says that the goal of a centrally located materials resource area as part of campus libraries “is not just to create a collection of various materials, but to help students from every department to rethink traditional materials and their purposes.”

Visiting speakers include research director and former professor Billie Faircloth from the Philadelphia architecture firm KieranTimberlake, London-based design materials specialist and former RISD faculty member Chris Lefteri and Liat Margolis 96 ID, an assistant professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto. Margolis is also a founder and director of materials research at Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she has long advocated for the role of materials research within design pedagogy and continues to champion the use of hands-on labs and materials databases as a part of scholarship and practice.

Here at RISD, the collection at the library’s Material Resource Center has grown from about 3,000 samples three years ago to more than 20,000 today. The next step, Pompelia says, is to focus on further integrating use of the collection into the curriculum so that students can “make informed and critical decisions about materials and understand economic and environmental issues.” For example, if a student is designing children’s furniture, s/he might want to think more about toxicity than sustainability, he points out.

By bringing together librarians and educators from across the country, Pompelia hopes to further materials literacy at RISD and other campuses by establishing a community of stakeholders willing to discuss and develop best practices and share knowledge between disciplines, trades and industries. “We’re creating community where it really didn’t exist before,” he concludes.

 –Simone Solondz

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tags: academic collaborations, innovation, interdisciplinary, research

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A figure modeling class from 1916.