Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies News

Get in the KNOW: Libraries’ Knowledge Lab Opens in WALC 3007

February 10th, 2023

By: Ayn Reineke, in conversation with Professor Sarah Huber

A revolution in creative pedagogy is coming to the third floor of the Wilmeth Active Learning Center (WALC 3007). When the Libraries’ Knowledge Lab opens on February 14th, the Purdue community will have its first opportunity to engage with a brand new conceptual space on campus where students, staff, and faculty can explore a variety of maker tools and materials, get creative, and have fun while turning their ideas into rapid prototypes, podcasts, textile art, and more. Offering tutorials, guidance, and free low-stakes resources such as a vinyl cutter, sewing machine, Riso printer, a podcast booth, heat press, yarn, cardboard, and fabric, it will serve as a first stop in a pipeline of opportunities on campus to fully actualize an idea. 

I had the privilege of sitting down with Sarah Huber, associate professor and faculty librarian supervisor of the Knowledge Lab, to discuss the new space in advance of the grand opening celebration on February 14th, 2023. 

AR: As a creative person who would have absolutely loved having access to a resource like this as a student, it’s like walking into a toy store as a kid, but even better, it’s all free to use! How did this happen? 

SH: That’s great to hear, and just the kind of impression we want people to have coming into the space. The Knowledge Lab is a natural extension of Libraries’ Mobile Making efforts. After five years of developing programming across campus, which included partnering with departments and the Purdue cultural centers, we kept asking, “Why do Making in an academic setting?” We know why people Make in a costume shop or an engineering lab, but why should we encourage and facilitate Making across all disciplines in academia? We realized that we needed space to explore this question in more depth.

Libraries staff facilitate maker activities with students at Purdue's LGBTQ Center.
Professor Sarah Huber (standing, center) and Libraries instructional developer Aly Edmondson (right) help students use 3D printer pens during a Mobile Making event at Purdue’s LGBTQ Center. Photo courtesy of Sarah Huber, 2019.

AR: Interesting. How do you find an answer to that question?

SH: One experience in particular sparked me to dig deeper into the idea of Making in an academic setting. A couple years ago, I partnered with Dr. Pam Sari from the Asian American and Asian Resource Cultural Center (AAARCC) to host a podcast. The podcast was dedicated to examining the ideas of who is a Maker and what is the definition of Making. 

AR: We should pause there. Could you define Making for readers who may not be familiar with the concept of Making with a capital M? 

SH: Yes, traditionally, Making included areas such as robotics, 3D printing, and woodworking. It was often associated with males in the STEM fields. That wasn’t always the case in practice, of course, but that’s the reputation it gained.

AR: Thank you. So, what happened on the podcast? 

SH: We took it in many fun directions, and I learned a lot. One guest, a PhD candidate at the time, Kadari Taylor Watson, talked about her exploration of African print fabrics as her scholarship. She didn’t want to dilute her work into a journal article—she wanted to present her work in the form of an exhibition, and that would be her scholarship. The episode is called Making with African Print Fabrics. That was it for me, the spark that set us on a path towards the Knowledge Lab. 

I wanted our Maker programming to explore the idea of finding the best medium to deliver your content. I wanted us to host a space that facilitates the exploration of different mediums to deliver new knowledge. Plus, there’s no getting around it—it was not easy lugging equipment and materials all over campus. The Knowledge Lab allows us to provide a greater variety of Maker tools that are too heavy or impractical for Mobile Making, like our RISO printer, which is a printer that produces the look of digital screen printing. We’re hoping students will create zines and booklets with it.

a zine featuring photos and the poetry of Amelia Earhart
An Amelia Earhart zine featuring photos and her poetry held by the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections. Mobile Making partnered with Archives for this special zine-making event. Photo courtesy of Sarah Huber, 2019.

AR: Right. I imagine a giant printer doesn’t travel well! In Libraries, we like to say that we are “More Than Books,” and that certainly applies here.

SH: Absolutely! The intention of the Knowledge Lab is for the Purdue community to experiment with different media as a means to express an idea, to test ideas under different circumstances to see what medium best serves that idea in a new and innovative way. We hope it will serve faculty and students as a space for discussions about alternative, non-traditional scholarship that will contribute to Purdue’s knowledge landscape. We want to facilitate a focus on process, not just product, so that an idea isn’t forced into an expected container, such as the traditional expectation of a journal article, but fully realized in a way where the creator and the audience can best connect with the intent and content.

AR: Was the Knowledge Lab inspired by the makerspaces we see popping up in cities around the world? 

SH: I would say that we have built on the makerspace principles of building, creating things with your hands, and testing ideas. When people look into a makerspace and see students working through their ideas, I think the word “autonomy” often comes to mind. I think this is a very important facet of makerspaces, maybe the most important. Where we take a step in a different direction, I think, is by challenging students to answer the question, “How can your Making be considered scholarship?” or “How can it lead to a final outcome that is your scholarship?” It’s all about working through the creative process and approaching ideas from new angles, because that’s what drives innovation. 

AR: What makes Libraries the best home for a space like this? 

SH: As a faculty librarian, this is my elevator pitch, “We used to be the gatekeepers of knowledge, then we became the curators of knowledge, and now, libraries are both curators and facilitators of new knowledge.” Our libraries are inclusive places of information sharing, and the Knowledge Lab allows students and faculty to actively participate in information creation. We see and value students’ creative processes and output, and we want to facilitate and acknowledge their contribution to Purdue’s information landscape.

Photo of custom mugs created in the Knowledge Lab for the 2023 TEDxPurdue event.
Made in the Knowledge Lab: mugs for the 2023 TEDxPurdue event, featuring designs for the 2023 event’s terrarium theme. Photo courtesy of Sarah Huber, 2023.

AR: My understanding is that everyone in the Purdue community can use Libraries resources, regardless of discipline, major, or degree. There’s no gatekeeping, no prerequisites. I imagine that the mission of the Knowledge Lab aligns well with that.

SH: Yes. We want everyone to feel comfortable visiting the Knowledge Lab, exploring their ideas and creative processes, and using our resources. You don’t need to be proficient in a particular software or enrolled in a specific academic program to find a place here. We encourage experimentation and discovery through trial and error because it’s all part of the innovation process. And our staff will help familiarize visitors with the resources we offer, or troubleshoot if they get stuck. 

AR: Tell me more about the role staff will play. 

SH: The Knowledge Lab Manager, Robin Meher, and her team will be present to help students safely use the equipment, software, and discover the materials to spark their creative thinking. If they’ve never used a particular tool, or simply have a great idea but no clue where to start, our staff is here to help. That said, we also understand that sometimes, you just need time and space to work out a problem or explore an idea independently, and we are sensitive to those needs, too. We are happy to provide as much or as little guidance as our visitors need. 

AR: Will there be opportunities for more in-depth instruction if someone wants to build their skills with a particular resource? 

SH: Yes, absolutely. We plan to invite campus experts, artists, and I hope, eventually, some of the talented students who use the Knowledge Lab, to give one-hour introductory tutorials and share their own creative and learning processes. Our first KNOW 101 session is already planned for March 9th. I’ll be teaching participants the basics of machine sewing. We’ll be making soft toys for their favorite cats and dogs. 

AR: That sounds like a fun way to get comfortable with sewing machines, which, let’s face it, can sometimes be intimidating with their bobbins and needles to thread, and frustratingly vague instruction manuals.

SH: Ha! Yes, and we still have lots of vague instruction manuals throughout the space. The good news is—people will be here to help. Once you de-mystify the equipment for the user, it opens up a world of possibilities for innovation, ideation, and exploration. That’s something that is really important to us in the Knowledge Lab. We have the resources and expertise to help you learn and make things you may have previously taken for granted, like bags with different types of closures—zippers, snaps, buttons, etc. We don’t want any barriers to entry and welcome all ideas, no matter how “out there” you may think it is. We never want anyone to feel intimidated in our space. We are located in a beautiful corner space on the third floor of the Wilmeth Active Learning Center. Between the big sunny windows and the gorgeous views of campus, it’s a warm, welcoming space where we hope to build a community of makers, dreamers, and creative risk-takers. 

AR: You mentioned community. With all these cozy nooks and open work stations, the space seems to invite conversation and idea sharing. 

SH: Yes! Thank you for pointing that out. We want to encourage and nurture students in developing their ideas in tandem with others. We often focus on the digital, the data-driven. Of course I see the value and the place for that, but Information consumption and creation so often takes place by ourselves, in isolation, and is done almost entirely on screens. The research is there—working with our hands and bouncing ideas off each other helps us both process information and develop ideas. And honestly, it’s just fun. Bring your cup of coffee, sit in our textile section and knit with a classmate, share ideas, and give each other feedback on a way to deliver a math concept through knitting.

AR: Sounds like the Knowledge Lab encourages a much more active, creative ideation process. I’d like to think there could be social and mental health benefits, too. 

SH: I hope so. This is a space where students can talk through and explore their ideas without the pressure of a letter grade. It’s just for them, for the benefit of their own creative process and idea actualization. I know for myself, when I work with my hands, it activates something in me that helps calm me and takes my mind off of something stressful I may be going through.

Students participate in a botany-themed Maker event in the lobby of the Wilmeth Active Learning Center.
Libraries partnered with Krista Johnson, the teaching lab coordinator for Botany and Plant Biology to host a de-stress Making event for students before finals. Students could make their own botanical stamp art and pot a plant to take home. Photo courtesy of Sarah Huber, 2022.

AR: Speaking of letter grades, how will faculty and instructors use the Knowledge Lab? 

SH: First and foremost, I hope they come to explore the space. I hope they reach out to me for a conversation on how to integrate Making into their course design. Ultimately, we want this to become a service that the Lab offers in the future. And I’d like them to understand that the heart of this space is inclusion. That inclusion relates to valuing the different ways students exist in the world. So, let’s give them opportunities to express that in the classroom, in their course deliverables, in their scholarship. 

AR: How will you assess the impact and learning taking shape here? 

SH: I hope the Lab will foster discussions on how to assess diverse deliverables. We know how to assess a paper or a PPT, but how do we assess something Made, something exhibited? Well, we can learn from teaching and learning practices of faculty across different disciplines. I want to make one clarification, though—this effort is not intended to be prescriptive. When I look back on my most impactful instructors, they knew their content well and they taught it in very different ways from one another. I respect that if faculty believe the best way for students to learn a section of their content is through a specific format, their experience and knowledge informed that decision. This space and concept is for instructors who want to experiment with ways to give autonomy to students in their course deliverables.

AR: Having sat through many dry final project slide-based presentations as a student, I can’t tell you how much more engaged I would have been if, after having all learned the same content, my classmates and I were given the freedom to demonstrate our learning proficiency in ways that excited and inspired us as individuals. 

SH: Exactly. To take one concept and see it actualized not only in data or a research paper, but also in art, robotics, music, you name it—that depth and creativity breeds synthesis, reflection, and innovation. And once they have taken their ideas as far as they can go in the Knowledge Lab, we will help students confidently connect to other resources for the next phase of their actualization journey on campus, if they choose to take it further. There is no pressure.

AR: So, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey? 

SH: Very much so. 

AR: Lastly, why should people come to the grand opening on Valentine’s Day? Besides free food and coffee and the opportunity to design the DIY mug of their dreams.

SH: (laughing) Because it’s amazing, of course! Come and see what we’re doing. We want to hear your thoughts, get the conversations, and the Making, started!

AR: Thank you so much for your time.

The grand opening of the Knowledge Lab will take place in WALC 3007, on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. All members of the Purdue community are invited to drop in, explore the space, enjoy snacks, and participate in maker activities. For more information about the Knowledge Lab, upcoming tutorial sessions, and hours, please visit our website at