Materials Libraries as Vehicles for Knowledge Transfer

  • Sarah Elizabeth Wilkes University College London
Keywords: knowledge transfer, interdisciplinarity, materials libraries,


As part of a wider picture of increased funding for interdisciplinary art-science projects, a number of institutions and instruments have arisen in the UK over the last 35 years which aim to facilitate the transfer of knowledge about materials between materials producers and users. In this paper I focus on the development of one kind of institution in particular; the materials library. The paper examines the perceived need for the development of these institutions; resulting from a paucity of materials education in the arts, a perceived problem of communication between increasingly specialised disciplines and a rapidly increasing number of autonomous and ‘imperfectly characterised’ new materials. The moral imperative behind materials libraries is also discussed. There is a common belief that the ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ use of materials can have positive or detrimental effects on society, and materials libraries are seen to be a way of controlling and ‘bettering’ the development of materials. This paper also examines the different and competing modes of knowledge transfer employed in materials libraries, and suggests that we might be seeing a shift in the nature of knowledge communication from a predominantly text-based mode of learning to one that emphasises play, experimentation and performance. Finally this paper critically examines the notion that the transfer of knowledge across perceived boundaries between different kinds of knowledge is a kind of panacea for societal problems.


Author Biography

Sarah Elizabeth Wilkes, University College London

Sarah Wilkes is a PhD candidate in Material and Visual Anthropology at University College London and is currently doing AHRC-funded research, in collaboration with the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, into how notions of sustainability impact on the ways materials users interpret, make judgements about, specify and use materials in the UK today. She can be contacted at