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Building a Digital Scholarship Centre on the Successes of a Library Makerspace

Heila Pienaar, Isak van der Walt and Sean Kruger discuss the exciting opportunity to build a Digital Scholarship Centre in the University of Pretoria Library based on the huge success of the Library’s Makerspace. This article looks at the possibility to develop a Digital Scholarship Centre on the foundation of a successful Library Makerspace. The University of Pretoria Library Makerspace is the first known Academic Makerspace in a university library on the African continent. The origin of Digital Scholarship in general and Digital Scholarship Centres in libraries are discussed. The overlap in functions of a Makerspace and a Digital Scholarship Centre is also illustrated. By combining the Library Makerspace services with that of a Digital Scholarship Centre, a comprehensive Digital Scholarship Centre in the Library can be established.


The 2017 Library Edition of the well-known Horizon Report (NMC Horizon report, 2017) describes ‘Digital Scholarship Technologies’ as one of the important developments in technology for Academic and Research Libraries. According to the report “The concept of digital scholarship has origins in the late 1990s in the United Kingdom. Originally referred to as e-science, the idea of applying new technology and data analysis tools to scholarship cycled through other names like cyber-infrastructure and e-scholarship, before landing on the current umbrella term. This umbrella term comprises several information technologies including high performance computing, visualisation technologies, database technologies, and high-performance networking. Thus, digital scholarship has ushered in a new paradigm of data-intensive science. Academic libraries were quick to position themselves as incubators for this transformation of research, by developing shared virtual and physical places for fostering scholarly inquiry. The physical spaces are known as digital scholarship centres”. In addition, the report also highlights that “The Consortium of Networked Information (CNI) characterizes these spaces as being placed in academic libraries rather than faculty-run institutes, focused on digital humanities, and cross-disciplinary in nature”. Some of these digital scholarship centres e.g. McMaster University, Canada, were initially grounded in the humanities, but has developed a Makerspace later on as part of their digital scholarship offering (Lippincott et al, 2014). In South Africa digital humanities is a recent development and still in its infancy.

According to the SpeckKit 350: Supporting Digital Scholarship (Mulligan, 2016), published by the Association for Research Libraries 19 Digital Scholarship activities have been identified by participating institutions. These activities are:

  1. GIS and digital Mapping

  2. Digitisation / imaging of analogue material

  3. Making digital collections

  4. Metadata creation

  5. Digital Preservation

  6. Data curation and management

  7. 3-D modelling and printing

  8. Statistical analysis / support

  9. Digital exhibits

  10. Project planning

  11. Digital publishing

  12. Project management

  13. Computational text analysis / support

  14. Interface design and / or usability

  15. Visualisation

  16. Database development

  17. Technical upkeep

  18. Encoding content

  19. Developing digital scholarship software

According to the survey results, support for 84% of digital scholarship activities are provided by the library, the rest elsewhere in or outside the institution; it therefore creates demand for a coordinated effort of current and new library services in a physical and virtual manner

1. The University of Pretoria (UP) Library Makerspace

1.1 Rationale

Dr Heila Pienaar, Deputy Director: Strategic Innovation, UP Library Services, extensively investigated the new trend of Makerspaces from 2014 onwards. A Makerspace can be described as a multidisciplinary collaboration and creative hack space, where students and staff, irrespective of discipline, can engage and share resources to explore and experiment through an inquiry-based learning approach. This space provides a unique contribution and enables creativity through resources such as 3D printers, 3D scanners and other electronic equipment to generate novel and exciting new approaches to problems within the makers field of interest or expertise. The idea of a Makerspace originated in the United States, where it was introduced into libraries to further their educational goals. At the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, the UP Library made an investment in purchasing the necessary equipment, preparing a suitable space and appointing a student assistant to oversee the daily operations of the Makerspace. The Makerspace was first introduced to students and parents during the 2015 Welcoming Day on the 17th of January 2015 (Department of Library Services Annual Reports and Reviews, 2015; Olivier, 2015)

The Makerspace since has been showcased as a key supportive mechanism across departments within the University of Pretoria, to not only showcase technological trends which support teaching and learning, but also drive research outputs with access to key services.

1.2 Services delivered by the UP Makerspace

To foster collaboration and support academics, current services of the UP Library Makerspace include an array of technologies and tools to support the maker culture, research as well as hybrid teaching and learning. These services include:

3D Modelling, scanning and printing

3D Modelling

3D Scanning and modelling has various applications in research, teaching and learning. Figure 1 is an example of how 3D scanning was used to scan a bust of a well-known South

African opera singer (Mimi Coertze) in high-resolution for digital preservation. This 3D model can now be used for replication, modification, studying or long-term preservation. 3D Scanning also allows users to experience and grasp the process of creating 3D models to apply within their specific disciplines. The Makerspace not only facilitates the physical aspect of 3D scanning but provides access to software to further enhance, modify or design new and existing models.

Figure 1: 3D Scan of Museum Piece for digital collections and preservation

3D Printing

3D printing has allowed for increased capacity to make and create. Figure 2 demonstrates an example of how 3D printing has assisted in the advancement of malaria research and sustainable control thereof. This was achieved by investigating customized tools and techniques to create ancillary tools to test and distribute samples for malaria testing. One of which was diffusers for mosquito feeding. This was in collaboration with the Malaria Parasite Molecular Laboratory, a Division of Biochemistry, Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology.

Figure 2: 3D Printed mosquito feeders

‘Mini-me’ 3D scanning and printing

In order to showcase to students and academics in a fun and interactive way the process of digitalisation, modelling and 3D printing, “Mini-me’s” as a service is offered. An example is shown in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3: Mini-me scans and printing

Provision and Training in electronics

At the basis of training in electronics is Arduino. This is used as it offers a vast community platform and support basis, as well as various application areas. Whilst training is conducted, coding fundamentals are covered and then applied to the kits to demonstrate the concept of and inter-relations of the Internet of Things (IoT). This allows students or academics, irrespective of discipline to begin applying technology across fields of expertise and achieve new research outputs. One example of coding practices is shown in Figure 4 below, to link coding to physical outputs.

Figure 4: Coding practical and 3D design teachings

To relate this code to actual robotics, a robotics training and collaboration also occurs within the Makerspace. Figure 5 demonstrates students building a robotics kit where Figure 6 shows the completed running unit.

Figure 5: Students building a robot in the Makerspace

Figure 6: The robot in action

Integration into aspects of the curriculum for hybrid learning support.

The collaborative nature of the Makerspace and access to tools and technologies has seen it being adopted by lectures as part of their teaching and learning for students. Since its inception, the Makerspace has played an integral part of the curriculum for the following subjects:

Figure 7 is an example of 3rd year students that had to make use of additive manufacturing for their assignments. The Makerspace facilitated the 3D printing as well as guidance on designs, the department makes use of the space annually for this specific module.

Figure 7: 3rd Year Engineering Students making use of the Makerspace

To further enhance the teaching and learning experience of our students the Makerspace strategically integrated into the UP Business incubator (rapid prototyping of products and entrepreneurial support). This allows our students to skill themselves up beyond the stage of just prototyping into a space where they can develop actual products that can go to market.

Hosting Hackathons with industry partners

This is also a method in which we expose students to industry challenges by giving them a glimpse into the work environment. Some of the Hackathons hosted by the Makerspace are:

Physical Collaboration space

In addition to some of the aforementioned services the physical space is one that fosters collaboration and creativity. The Makerspace is flexible to the extent that the venue can change to accommodate a variety of activities ranging from hosting workshops and lectures to a playground for robotics. Figure 8 is an example of a Senior Lecturer hosting a lecture on innovation in the Makerspace to make the concepts relevant. The Makerspace activities are not bound by its physical location, some of the training and consultation that the Makerspace facilitated at various external locations are:

Figure 8: Collaboration Session with Entrepreneurship students

1.3 Applications/ Practical Examples

In the early months running up to the official opening of the UP Library Makerspace, the increase in 3D printing requests and income from 3D materials showed that students were actively using the facility. This has continued to steadily increase year on year as awareness and applications within curriculum expands. A number of collaborative projects have been done with campus partners and departments such as the Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, Department of Industrial Engineering, Department of Electro Mechanical Engineering, Department of Informatics, Department of Computer Science, Department of Communication Pathology, Department of Neuro-Physiotherapy, Department of Anatomy, Veterinary Sciences Skills Lab, Virtual Mining Lab (Kumba Virtual Mining Lab), and the South African Resilience Lab (SARILab). The Maker Movement and Makerspaces have a very strong focus on Do It Yourself (DIY), and by guiding users on the application and integration of technologies into their field, irrespective of discipline, has enabled them in like never before. Part of the movement is collaboration, which further broadens horizons where expertise is not immediately available within the space. As such, the

Makerspace is not limited in terms of expertise, but rather, a physical point for researchers to test and explore concepts through a hands-on approach. This is also a perfect starting point for young entrepreneurs, who can ideate, test, and if they fail, fail quickly to revise until a viable concept is found. As such, the Library, in collaboration with the Department of Business Management, also formed a strategic working relationship that sees the Makerspace becoming the primary rapid prototyping platform during the business incubation process. This interdepartmental collaboration has provided students an easy point of entry for assistance with their entrepreneurial ideas and ventures. Thus, this space also provides a bidirectional link to a whole range of services provided by the Library, the University of Pretoria Business Incubator and the Library Makerspace (Department of Library Services Annual Reports and Reviews, 2016).

A direct outcome has been research projects across faculties (Economic and Management Sciences, Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, Health Sciences, Humanities and Natural and Agricultural Sciences).

In Figure 9 below, a research project with the Department of Human Nutrition, in the Faculty of Health Sciences is one such example. The aim of the project was to measure human perceptions of food portions in different environments and plate designs. This required consistent food portions. As such food models were scanned and modelled to specification and then pointed to test and obtain the required data for the research project.

Figure 9: 3D Designed and printed food designs for research in portion size perceptions

Another example is a smart glove being used in the Veterinary Sciences field. The researcher is investigating pressure sensitive situations while testing bovines. In order to do so a smart glove was required to obtain this data using force touch sensors. An example of the glove is shown in Figure 10 below.

Figure 10: Smart Glove for research in veterinary sciences

From a teaching and learning support perspective, the Makerspace worked closely with an ingenious lecturer Dr. Punchoo to develop best methods and practices by using 3D technologies in new ways. This collaboration allowed the Makerspace to work across disciplines and aid a visually impaired student. The images used were derived from prescribed readings in the field of Human Physiology, and, through several tested techniques, adapted for easier use and eligibility in physical form. Methods in the 3-D print design employed tracing, CAD software, mechanical reproduction with the printers and finally braille-labelling. A legend was created in order to follow the tagged graphs to allow audio-feedback. The student, tutor and lecturer were interviewed for feedback and confirmed revision areas required for 3-D print amendments. By making the human physiology imagery legible in physical form, key concepts which aligned to studying strategies could be deployed, to allow teaching and assessment. This can now be applied to other fields for enhanced learning. An example is shown in Figure 11 below.

Figure 11: Printing a 3D diagram for a visually impaired student. Poster about this project won first prize at the SAAHE 2018 conference

1.4 Challenges

With the drive towards innovation, especially in a tertiary institution environment, challenges do arise.

2. Why a Digital Scholarship Centre (DSC) in the Library?

2.1 Rationale

As mentioned in the introduction, academic libraries were quick to position themselves as incubators for this transformation of research, by developing shared virtual and physical places for fostering digital scholarly inquiry (NMC Horizon report, 2017). According to the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc) & the Coalition for Networked Coalition (CNI) report on international advances in digital scholarship “The digital scholarship centres (DSC) that have become fashionable are often located in the library providing a focus for this type of activity (broad set of digital services to support research)” (Lynch et al, 2016).

In his article “The University Library as Incubator for Digital Scholarship” (Sinclair, 2014) Brian Sinclair, associate dean, Public Services, at Georgia State University Library, describes the natural extension of existing library services into supporting Digital Scholarship and appropriately states that “In all of these ways, libraries can be seen as digital scholarship Makerspaces”.

2.2 Examples of international Digital Scholarship Centres

Several international examples of Centres for Digital Scholarship in Academic Libraries exist, e.g.:

The Leiden Centre for Digital Scholarship organises meetings and workshops and it is available for researchers to contact for questions, consultancy, and training on the following topics: Data management, Text & data mining, Open access, Publication advice, Copyright, Collaborative environments and GIS. The Centre also offers services and advice for digital research projects.

The Centre works through diverse partnerships across the Bodleian Libraries, the wider University collections, the sciences, medical sciences, social sciences, humanities, and with the community to subvert and transform scholarship and provide international leadership in the field, by

The Centre for Digital Scholarship (CDS) is a purpose built teaching, research and presentation space in the Library that is ideal for analysing, visualising and interacting with most types of digital content in a highly collaborative environment. The Centre for Digital Scholarship also recognises the changing needs of learning and assessment. Increasingly, students are required to produce digital outputs such as digital objects or web content and online exhibitions. In the Centre for Digital Scholarship, students will be able to access multi-functional spaces, technology and support.

The Digital Scholarship Center is a space for collaborative research in digital humanities, digital arts, cultural analytics, and critical making, ranging from web-scraping to textual analysis, from 3D modelling and printing to engineering with Arduinos.

The centre offers a wide-range of technical equipment, software, and support for scholarly practices involving digital methods for interdisciplinary research and pedagogy, including text mining and analysis, working in and creating 3D spaces, using geospatial technology, incorporating games into education, and much more.

The Digital Scholarship Center Makerspace offers space, equipment, and support for collaborative and critical making for academic and personal projects.

The Center for Digital Scholarship, a cross-departmental group in the Brown University Library, supports digital scholarship for the Brown community and beyond by supporting scholarly and academic activities that are conducted or enhanced through the use of digital technology, or that engage with its effects. Services include:

And DiRT (digital research tools) Directory, which is a registry of digital research tools for scholarly use. DiRT makes it easy for those conducting digital research to find resources ranging from content management systems to music OCR, statistical analysis packages to mind mapping software (DiRT Digital Research Tools web site).

2.3 Services

A study of the current services of Digital Scholarship Centres shows that there are a wide variety of services. It can include the following:

3. Current Digital Scholarship services that the Library provides

The Library has delivered the following ‘Digital Scholarship’ services for several years, even prior to the establishment of a Makerspace:

4. Expanding the Library Makerspace concept to create an UP Library Digital Scholarship Centre

As Digital Scholarship Centres develop over time, they tend to include tools and technologies similar to those found in Makerspaces, further supported by other services also offered within the Library. At UP we started with a successful Makerspace that can be leveraged to naturally extend and evolve into a fully-fledged Digital Scholarship Centre.

Currently the UP Library Makerspace addresses some of the needs for Digital Scholarship, but with the addition of new services, facilities and infrastructure can be turned into fully operational Digital Scholarship Centre. The affordances of and existing Makerspace allows for the following overlapping Digital Scholarship services:

6. Conclusion

The UP Library is privileged to have initiated a successful Makerspace that can form the basis for the development of digital scholarship services. Activities and services that can be defined and classified as Digital Scholarship Activities are already being facilitated by the Library Makerspace, this makes the Makerspace the ideal unit from which to leverage and start a Digital Scholarship Centre. Combining the features and services of a Makerspace with existing library services can quickly expedite establishing a fully functional centre.

Developing a Digital Scholarship Centre has also been identified as one of five strategic focus areas to transform the UP Library into a modern, dynamic academic library.


Brown University Library Center for Digital Scholarship website. http://library.brown.edu/cds

DIRT Digital Research Tools. https://dirtdirectory.org/

Department of Library Services Annual Reports and Reviews. (2015), The new Makerspace.11-12. http://www.library.up.ac.za/aboutus/annual%20reports.htm

Department of Library Services Annual Reports and Reviews. (2016), Makerspace integration into the Entrepreneurship programme, 12. http://www.library.up.ac.za/aboutus/annual%20reports.htm

Lippincott, J., Hemmasi, H., Lewis, V. (2014).Trends in Digital Scholarship Centers. Educause Review. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/6/trends-in-digital-scholarship-centers

Lynch, C., Brown, S., Keene, C. Bruce, R. (2016). International Advances in Digital Scholarship. https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/international-advances-in-digital-scholarship

Mulligan, Rikk. (2016). Supporting Digital Scholarship. SPEC Kit 350. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries May 2016. https://doi.org/10.29242/spec.350 https://publications.arl.org/Supporting-Digital-Scholarship-SPEC-Kit-350/

NMC Horizon Report. (2017) Library Edition. https://www.nmc.org/publication/nmc-horizon-report-2017-library-edition/

Olivier, E. (2015). South Africa’s first Library Makerspace opens at the University of Pretoria. https://www.up.ac.za/en/news/post_2062883-south-africas-first-library-Makerspace-opens-at-the-university-of-pretoria-

Sinclair, B. (2014). The University Library as Incubator for Digital Scholarship. Educause Review. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/6/the-university-library-as-incubator-for-digital-scholarship

Temple University Digital Scholarship Center website. https://sites.temple.edu/tudsc/

Universiteit Leiden Centre for Digital Scholarship web site. https://www.library.universiteitleiden.nl/research-and-publishing/centre-for-digital-scholarship

University of Oxford Bodleian Libraries Centre for Digital Scholarship web site. https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/digitalscholarship/about

University of Queensland Centre for Digital Scholarship web site. https://web.library.uq.edu.au/locations-hours/centre-digital-scholarship

All the web sites mentioned were accessed on 15 October 2018