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A new library for the new decade

by 29 Jan 2020Education

As the Creative Academy enters 2020, we’re thrilled to unveil a new library facility. It might sound charmingly old-fashioned for an institution that deals with the cutting edge. But in the Digital Age, reputable sources of knowledge are becoming even more prized.

Step across the threshold of the new library at the Creative Academy and the bustle of the Old Biscuit Mill, Cape Town’s design hotspot, fades to a hush. Shelves display glossy art books, quirky design volumes and publications that range from technology to philosophy. In the middle of the library, blond wood desks are thoughtfully arranged. As a result, students are free to sit down together or work on their own.

Bathed in natural light, the new library is a welcoming space that is both reflective and collaborative. A place to connect with other creative thinkers and to explore new ideas. And with close on 300 new books, there are plenty of ideas to explore.

The new library is stocked with publications to stimulate the imagination and provoke original ideas.

“We are particularly excited about expanding our range of critical theory anthologies, cutting edge books on contemporary art, and titles about innovation in design,” says lecturer Larita Engelbrecht. As part of the expansion, the Creative Academy has added several Afrocentric publications, an ongoing focus.

“A number of the new titles deal with the influence of technology on the fronts of philosophy, art practice and design. Books to look out for are Digitized Lives – Culture, Power and Social Change in the Internet Era (2018), Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (2018) and Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today (2018).

The Creative Academy supplements these hard copy books with access to JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals, and EBSCOhost, the online research platform.

Why a new library?

The visual impression of the library is sleek and beautiful, in keeping with a leading design school. But is such a knowledge repository really necessary in the Digital Age?

Larita is quick to explain: “Even though we have a world of knowledge at our fingertips, it is, arguably, becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between quality information and misinformation online. The role of the library is to provide a curated space of learning open to all students and staff to expand their knowledge and curiosity.”

For Fran Gebert, CEO of the Creative Academy, well conceived designs begin with thorough research. For this reason, the library is absolutely indispensable. “Our unique approach of trans-disciplinary education puts creativity at the centre, supported by extensive research. That’s why academic rigour is the hallmark of our BA degrees.”

Both a space for contemplation and collaboration, the new library lends itself equally to group work and solitary efforts.

The role of theory

At the Creative Academy, critical theory underpins creativity right from the beginning. It is central to Contextual Studies, which is a graduating requirement. “A firm grasp on the complexity of critical thinking enables designers to approach problems from various angles,” explains Larita. “Our Contextual Studies courses cover a range of critical theory discourses, from postcolonial studies and gender studies to discourses on power, politics, subjectivity and technology. We demand a deep level of engagement that considers the wider implications of a design on the broader sociopolitical and cultural context.”

But the critical thinking skills fostered during Contextual Studies extend beyond the BA degrees. Graduates of the Creative Academy are extremely well positioned to tackle a postgraduate degree with ease. “Our students are taught to self-lead much of their research from first year. As a result they demonstrate exceptional insight and reflexivity,” says Desré Barnard, lecturer in Contextual Studies. “The level of independence and engagement with critical theory developed throughout the undergraduate degree translates to an accountability and level of sophistication that not many institutions are able to produce.”

The library deals with a range of topics that relate to critical theory, an essential aspect of a designer’s toolkit.

The value of the extensive new library is beyond dispute, but the staff see it as more than an academic resource. “Our hope is that our students will allow a few hours a week to ‘lose themselves’ in the library – even though it is not physically large enough to hide in!” says Larita. “We hope that others will approach the books with as much enthusiasm, amazement and curiosity as we did when we unboxed the last batch of books.”

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