The Digital Library: Providing services at the cutting edge

photograph of the uCreate studio team and the award from the TES superimposed.
Image Credit: uCreate Studio, Digital Library University of Edinburgh 2020

In this post, Mike Boyd Makerspace Manager for the TES Award Winning uCreate Studio and Carla Arton the former Digitization and Digital Engagement Manager, highlight the cutting-edge tools available at the Digital Library for learning and teaching and how they adapted their services to meet the challenge of the pandemic. Teaching Matters will feature additional posts from the uCreate Studio showcasing some of their innovations as well as practical guides on how to get started using these technologies…

When people think of the Digital Library, the first thing that typically springs to mind is DiscoverED and the millions of ebooks, journals, videos and resources available through the Library’s website but there is much more to us than that. The Digital Library is in fact comprised of three services:

  • Development & Systems
  • Digital Imaging Unit
  • uCreate Studio

These services offer a range of technical support to the University focused on the provision of digital services, assets and technologies, all in support of research, teaching and learning.

The Development & Systems team provides innovation and development for Library and University Collections, focusing on enabling research through open access journals, the development of digital scholarship tools & resources and improving resource discovery for learners with systems such as Discover.Ed and Resource (or Reading) Lists. The team is responsible for designing, developing, integrating, testing, maintaining and supporting a wide range of tools and software so the chances are, if you’ve made use of the library or research collections online, you’ve had some exposure to the team’s work.

The Digital Imaging Unit, currently managed by Gavin Willshaw, is a specialized unit within the Library’s wider Digitisation Services, comprised of photographers and digitisation assistants who support the digitisation of and long-term digital access to rare and unique research collections acquired or created by the University of Edinburgh. The range of items digitised and used in teaching and research publications is wide ranging, from rare coins, to oversized historical maps, to Alexander Fleming’s penicillin mould, to printed court cases, circa 1710 -1850, from the Scottish Court of Session. Photographs and scans can be additionally supplemented with introductory videos and 3D models of materials, offering a number of learning entry points into the materials for students and researchers. Many digitized items are freely available on our various platforms and can be directly integrated into virtual learning environments, like Learn, & resource lists.

Image Credit: The Digital Library, University of Edinburgh

The uCreate Studio team’s (the University of Edinburgh’s community makerspace) remit is to offer access, support, and training in a wide range of new and transformative technologiesTo procure and promote new tools and equipment, promote their use within the community and help Edinburgh University’s makers to get the most from them as they test and develop new ideas; build new businesses; and discover new hobbies and passions. Their service is free of charge and open to anyone in the University of Edinburgh community. In short: they offer equipment, advice, training, and support to help you make (almost) anything. The uCreate team played a key role in the shift to hybrid and was a 2020 Times Higher Education Award winner for Outstanding Library Team.

A selection of illustrations of technologies including virtual reality headsets, 3D scanners, 3D printers.
Image Credit: Mike Boyd uCreate Studio, University of Edinburgh


They operate a space within the University Main Library equipped with a wide range of hardware including 3D scanners; 3D printers; robotics kits; holographic displays; VR headsets; gestural controllers; laser cutters and many more: a grown-up’s toy shop in which experimentation and exploration is encouraged. Before COVID-19 the makerspace would often be found stretching capacity, packed with staff and students from across the 3 colleges working side by side on projects, sharing ideas and inspiration.  

As with many “destination services”, they’ve had to alter their systems significantly in response to the pandemic. While the physical space sits quieter than before, the spirit of making is as strong as ever. Term 1 saw over 300 3D prints processed through our new 3D print queue and collect service and over 100 loans of specialist equipment through our reservations service. A wide variety of projects are still underway, from the manufacture of PPE through to the use of digital manufacture methods to replicate ancient mechanical computers.  

Image Credit: The Digital Library

As an academic makerspace, there is a rich vein in our community of makers that explores and experiments around pedagogy. With the move to hybrid teaching and learning, this community of has grown significantly and is working with an increased vigor. Projects have grown in scale and scope as digital alternatives to in person teaching methods have been sought. Great innovations and clever applications are evident across our supported technology groups (Digital Manufacture; 3D Scanning; Virtual and Augmented Reality; and Electronics). New ideas and approaches continue to emerge as in person processes are replaced with digital alternatives. 

For information about the Digital Imaging Unit please contact Gavin Willshaw Digitisation and Digital Engagement Manager Digital Library. 

For information about the uCreate Studio please contact Mike Boyd Makerspace Manager Digital Library. 

Photo of the authorMike Boyd

Mike joined the University in 2016 to establish the uCreate Studio within the Main Library, Prior to this Mike worked as a Creative Technologist providing digital services to Museums, Artists and designers including a stint as Resident Entrepreneur in Design informatics at the University of Edinburgh.  

Photo of the authorCarla Arton

Carla is the former Digitization and Digital Engagement Manager for the Digital Library at the University of Edinburgh. She has over a decade of experience working in higher education with heritage & digital research collections and leading internationally recognized digital preservation and access initiatives. Carla is currently the Director of Technology Solutions at the University of Virginia Library in the US.

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