23.4 Is the universe expanding or contracting? We could ask the same question about materials libraries

Talk 5: Carla Marchesan: reporting on materials libraries across the UK and beyond.

Summary of findings:

Dedicated staff and space for materials collections was not common across the survey respondents; it was more common for tutors to have built up their own collections; importance of physical contact with the materials; problem of lack of storage space to house materials collections, and lack of funds to invest in new materials, or lack of funds for dedicated staff to curate collection.

carla materialsChelsea College of Art disbanded their materials collections due to low use. When UNL became London Met, they closed their materials library and developed a media centre instead. The Prince’s Foundation tried to develop a materials library but ran out of space and eventually it closed, partly due to low interest.

Often lecturers and studio leaders have samples and collections of their own and many architectural practices have their own collections with plus materials librarians.

Very often, online resources such as Materials ConneXion are seen as enough – with more than 7,000 materials in its online library. For example, Edinburgh College of Art has a subscription, as does Glasgow School of Art. ECA does have a small collection from one supplier but it is very out-dated, and has been largely replaced by the MC subscription. It is worth noting that Dundee University are going to get subscribe to MC when the V&A opens. In contrast, Portsmouth has cancelled their subscription.

Question: Should we be exploring the possibility of accessing the collections of architectural practices?

You need a large storage space or display space and adjoining study or teaching space within your School. This is better than having it within the library space (but then who takes responsibility for keeping it up to date?) How easy would it be to persuade the University Library that this use of space is a good investment (particularly if the idea is to regularly dispose of samples and buy new ones)?

Who does have a Materials Library?

University materials libraries:

Non-University materials libraries:

A short video tour of the Brooking Collection that Carla made on her visit demonstrated the vast array of building artefacts Charles Brooking has assembled – including for examples window and door fittings, mouldings, fire grates, staircases and much more.

Carla also described collections in France, Switzerland and Italy. One of Carla’s marketplace posters also detailed materials libraries and was a great tie-in to this talk.

Tip: have a look at the Materials Council website (“specialists in the research, comparison and selection of materials for architectural and interior applications”).

Review by Jane Furness, University of Edinburgh.

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