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Bringing Special Collections online - 2

collage photos of materials
collage photos of materials
image credit: Billie Coxhead, CSM Materials Library
Written by
Library Services
Published date
11 August 2021


Facilitating online access to key special collections in UAL Library Services has been a focus since March 2020. Collaborations between the special collections teams and external partners have resulted in sharing new practices and uses of technology to make our collections available while working online through lockdown. The collections have all moved online in different ways depending on their nature, the students’ and researchers’ aims, and the pedagogical needs. Week 2 in our series take s a look at the Materials libraries.

Moving the Materials Library online


The Materials and Products Collections at Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion are collections of material samples that guide student learning about pre-existing materials and their properties, manufacturing processes, innovations and developments in sustainable materials for design.

The sensory, haptic experience of the live, physical UAL Materials Collections was one of the things we knew students missed during the pandemic. Collaborating to create an online workshop and webinar event series with inspiring guests from the varied world of materials and manufacturing, was a way to fill the gap and help bring materials to life in a different way, inspiring their material curiosity and research.

Online content

  • A series of worksheets and guides for making and learning about materials
  • Resources lists and video content for practical making and DIY lessons created in collaboration with internal and external materials experts, library staff and learning technologists within UAL.
  • Archives and Special Collections show and tells for objects/texts related to materials culture and history
  • Interactive live streamed collaborative webinar and workshop series Materials Matter with industry partners and experts in their fields.
  • Materials Matter Special interest group and online community forum - A place to share ideas, projects, information, resources and events with Materials as the focal point.


The Materials Matter: materials manufacturing event series has so far seen 10 sessions with 13 different experts from the field of materials and manufacturing co-delivering online sessions to more than 400 UAL students from the six colleges, in webinars and workshops. Our partners have brought practical making skills online, as well as shared stories and narratives of their material journeys and cultures, shared thoughts and tips about the skills and techniques for thinking about materials developing a materials literacy, questioning and working with materials and personal insights into adapting and creating in the pandemic and the post-pandemic future. This online programme has greatly extended our reach in terms of international experts who we can collaborate with online, and audience.

-Practical workshop sessions in the libraries were capped at 15 participants, and usually ran no more than 6 times a year.
-Online we averaged 60 students over the 10 sessions.


The speaker's feedback was that they were pleased to be invited to speak at UAL, they enjoyed the session with the students and would like to come back again next year. Some of the speakers also commented on the quality of the questions they were asked by students.

“Just want to let you know how helpful your webinar series has been. The monotony has been so low I am lacking terribly with creativity but these have given me a massive pick me up. The Chris Lefteri one was so inspiring!”

“Thank you to all involved for an interesting insightful afternoon and for the links.”

“First of all thank you for your presentation this morning! It was very helpful and actually inspiring.”

“Thanks for organising the workshop I loved it. It’s given me lots of ideas of what we could do with students in movement workshops / drawing / materials. Look forward to catching up and going to start a materials drawing diary!”

“You have organised a fantastic event. The students will really benefit.”