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National Library Week 2023: Library Technology

By April 26, 2023September 16th, 2023No Comments

It’s National Library Week (April 23-29, 2023). The theme this year is “There’s More to the Story.” At the University of Minnesota Libraries, we have resources, services, and spaces you might not know about. These are available to students, staff, and faculty at the University, while many are also available to Minnesotans and scholars around the world. 

Today’s blog post features library technology — makerspaces, virtual reality, online mapping applications, and more.

Virtual Reality

Technology has forced academic libraries to change how they provide tools to support education and research. What hasn’t changed is that the Libraries offer its resources to everyone at the University of Minnesota. So, just as an English major can borrow an engineering book, a design student can use the Health Sciences Library’s (HSL) Virtual Reality Studio.

Student wearing VR headset in front of computer, which displays a simulated retail space

A design student working on their retail project in the Libraries’ VR Studio.

And in a delightful true-life tale from a year ago, College of Design student Kim Than created an idealized retail store using the HSL VR studio and ended up winning a national competition and a paid internship with the Kate Spade fashion house in New York City. 

Of course health sciences students also use the studio, such as the Medical School for its Emergency Medicine Advanced Rotation. VR is a great alternative for a generation of students, many of whom have immersed themselves in video games, said Mary Ann McNeil, Administrative Manager in the school’s Emergency Medicine department.

“We’re not replacing traditional methods,” says Charlie Heinz, Libraries Multimedia Specialist. “[VR] is a complement to other strategies, such as those used in the simulation suites right next door” to the VR Studio in M Simulation.

3D printing

The use of 3D printers is also growing for those training the next generation of health providers. In the U of M Occupational Therapy program, for example, learning about 3D printing is part of the curriculum, “because 3D printing is becoming increasingly common in OT practices as an available tool,” said Assistant Professor Tamara Vos-Draper. 

“In OT we are all about being client centered, so with 3D printing, you can make items that are customizable to the client, whether a new product or a little piece that can be added to something they already own,” said OT student Melissa Glynn. These printed adaptations may also be less expensive than other custom approaches, she added.

Student operating a 3D printer atop a desk.

Student using a 3D printer at the Health Sciences Library Makerspace.

1:Button Video Production Studios

The Libraries’ 1:Button Studios — free to all U of M faculty, students, and staff — are fully automated HD video recording spaces with professional studio lighting and sound equipment. They are set up to record high-quality video projects for users without knowledge of camera and lights. 1:Button Studios are available at Wilson, Walter, Health Sciences, and Magrath libraries. 

Instructors have used the studios to create video lectures in advance of class to promote discussion. Students may use them to create videos assigned for class, including mock patient interviews in the health sciences. The studios also provide a venue to practice presentations for class or professional conferences.

Empty desk facing a screen with a mounted camera. Screen reads "1:Button Wilson Library A."

1:Button Studio at Wilson Library.

Online mapping apps

The Borchert Map Library has digitized thousands of maps and aerial photos and created several mapping applications that are freely available to the public. One is the Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online application, which includes more than 121,000 aerial photographs from around the state that date back to 1923. 

Watch and listen to Map Librarian Ryan Mattke use the application.

Another is the University of Minnesota Campus History map, which was designed to enhance research and education for the University of Minnesota community and the public. It’s also fun! For example:

  • Using the application’s transparency slider, you can compare historical maps to current satellite imagery of the campus.
  • You can compare historical aerial imagery across time, so, for example, you can compare 1940 to present day.
  • Thanks to data from the Metropolitan Council, you can observe the rise and fall of the streetcar era in the Twin Cities.

See how the Campus History map works.


When Professor Jamie Stang assigned her nutrition students the task of creating public service announcements on food insecurity, she knew she could count on the Libraries for help. Media Outreach Librarian Scott Spicer and Multimedia Specialist Charlie Heinz presented to students on how to create messages using video editing and other media resources provided by the Libraries. 

“They really took us under their wing,” said Cassandra Twigg, a student in Stang’s class.  “They didn’t do it for us; they walked us through it, as we were editing.” 

The PSAs have become service-learning projects that the Minnesota Department of Health uses, Stang said, adding, “Without them (Spicer and Heinz), I don’t think it would work. It’s a full-on partnership.”

Check out a camera and microphone

The Libraries also provides media equipment for faculty, students, and staff to check out, including cameras, microphones, tripods, and more. And it also provides consultations for students working on course-assigned media projects.

National Library Week, sponsored by the American Library Association, is an annual celebration highlighting the valuable role libraries, librarians, and library workers play in transforming lives and strengthening our communities.

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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