Get the latest articles and downloads sent to your inbox in a monthly newsletter.

Get the latest articles and downloads sent to your inbox in a monthly newsletter.

The digital media lab: A library creative space for supporting multimodal assignments

By Katy Kavanagh Webb, East Carolina University | May 16, 2018

Georgetown University, Gelardin New Media Center and Maker Hub

Georgetown University, Gelardin New Media Center and Maker Hub



This article is the second in a series about creative spaces in libraries. To read the first article, which defines creative spaces, please visit the Library Connect article.



Where would you go if you were working on a creative project and needed to use digital video or audio software and equipment, but did not want to invest thousands of dollars to buy these high-tech products?


A library, of course!


One of the most well established creative spaces in libraries is the digital media lab. These spaces have been in some libraries for as long as 10 to 15 years. The roots of digital media labs are in the analog-to-digital switch. Early digital media labs included equipment that people used to convert information from one medium to another, including VHS to DVD, cassette to CD, or CD to MP3.


Over time, this kind of digitization has taken a back seat to full-fledged audio and visual production. Today’s digital media labs often include a room with a green screen for recording videos using a method called chroma keying; audio studio spaces with keyboards, amplifiers and other equipment for recording a musical demo; or even special setups for capturing series of still images to create stop-motion animation. 


All of these techniques might be used to support “multimodal learning,” a term normally heard in English departments and writing centers. This concept is used to express the need to offer students many different modes of communicating an idea or turning in graded work. It encompasses non-digital media such as poems and plays, as well as alternative assignments that contain video, images and/or audio. Students may be asked to use software such as iMovie, VoiceThread or Audacity to produce a blog post, commercial or podcast — and librarians are being asked to help students learn these new tools.


Digital media labs usually have a lot of multimedia equipment and software, which might include plotter printers, microphones, cameras, and video gaming systems, in addition to the items listed above. It is also common for such spaces to include loanable technology, which may be taken out of the building and used for a project. For this reason, digital media labs can be quite costly to start up and maintain; a lab needs polices to make sure that equipment is returned in good condition.  


The focus in the lab is to help people become self-sufficient in the technologies instead of providing services for the campus community.  Therefore, digital media labs also include an education component in the form of drop-in workshops, expert presentations to classes, or one-on-one consultations. These are usually conducted by lab staff who have an IT background or by highly trained student workers. The audience for these spaces is the entire campus community, but with a special focus on students. The design of a lab normally includes individual studio spaces with sound-dampening materials so students can engage in multimedia audio and video editing.


My book, Development of Creative Spaces in Academic Libraries: A Decision Maker’s Guide (2018) from the Chandos Information Professional Series, includes a literature review and case studies that describe some innovators of the digital media lab model in the library field. They include Georgetown University’s Gelardin New Media Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Undergraduate Library, and North Carolina State University’s digital media lab and production studios in DH Hill Library. A sample case study from the book is provided to Library Connect subscribers for the month of May.


We are pleased to offer our Library Connect readers an exclusive look at the book by providing a PDF of “Chapter 17: Case Study: Georgetown University, Gelardin New Media Center and Maker Hub.”





Webb, K.R. (2018). Development of creative spaces in academic libraries: A decision maker’s guide. London, U.K.: Chandos Information Professional Series.