Lending Libraries Support Student Success and Affordability in Department of Art

There are a variety of ceramic tools next to a potter's wheel, and a woman uses a professional camera to take a photo.

College tuition alone is expensive enough for students, in addition to other incidental costs like textbooks and supplemental materials. All the extras can be barriers to entry for budget-conscious students who want to take courses that will expand their skillset. Art courses often require students to purchase tools or materials they may only need once, which can discourage students from other disciplines who want to take general education or elective art classes. 

Lending librariesare a growing trend in the Department of Art at Ohio State, and they aim to combat the cost to students for necessary tools and materials. These unique libraries allow students to check out art supplies to help reduce the cost of taking creative courses. Instructors in art and design are taking advantage of Affordable Learning Exchange (ALX) grants to build lending libraries for drawing tools, building supplies and even scrap material.  

ALX grant recipients Gina Osterloh and Marsha Mack are branching out and creating lending libraries of their own for photography and ceramics courses. Both instructors wanted to ensure their courses were affordable for all students, and their ALX projects promote student success by adding professional equipment and advanced tools to their classrooms.  

Gina Osterloh, an assistant professor in the Department of Art, did not want to turn any student away from taking Introduction to Digital Photography and Contemporary Issues (Art 2555) as part of their general education experience at Ohio State.  

She said, “This course is proof that every student has the ability to be an artist. Students from all departments across the university come together in Art 2555 to learn concrete technical skills and how the camera activates contemporary issues such as identity, community, race, gender, and family for example.” 

Osterloh realized that Art 2555 did not offer any equipment support for instructors or students, which is necessary to make the course more affordable and more professional. Inspired by Deb Scott, a colleague who created a lending library and other resources, Osterloh applied for an ALX grant in 2020. She used her grant to purchase equipment cabinets and filled them with color calibration cards (something students previously had to buy), professional lighting kits, and three cameras for students in financial need (or in case a student's camera breaks during the semester). 

Not only did this grant project increase affordability for students—it also supported student success. 

“Through class projects, students expressed that they learn best when practicing photo skills during class time,” said Osterloh. They can really thrive by working in small groups and using the ALX equipment together.” 

Osterloh received a second ALX grant for use this year, and she is expanding on her project by creating a Carmen Master Course to support GTAs and lecturers across multiple sections, as well as a U.OSU page to share exemplary student projects and create visibility for the course. 

Osterloh would absolutely encourage others to apply for an ALX grant because “it’s important to support students from a diverse range of socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Marsha Mack, an instructor in the ceramic program at Ohio State, was also interested in keeping her courses affordable for students while encouraging their creative potential. The ceramic program currently provides basic tools at no cost to students, but Mack wanted to go beyond and motivate her students with professional and specialized tools. 

She said, “By providing equipment beyond the most basic, rudimentary elements, students will be energized with new potential that can lead to a broadening of creative potential and boosted confidence both inside and outside the ceramic studio. 

Mack received an ALX grant to create a Specialized Ceramic Tool Library. This new lending library will allow students at all levels to check out a variety of carving and trimming tools, die cutting tools, glaze applicators and more. 

During my first semester this past fall, I witnessed firsthand students attempting to craft carving tools out of paperclips and detritus,” Mack explained. While heartwarming, the need for more refined tools that matched students’ rising skills was apparent. By providing professional level tools, students gain confidence as they upscale the ambition of their projects.”

Mack’s ALX grant project is underway this semester, and she’s already encouraging others to apply. “I recommend for every artist, educator, and citizen to always be looking for and actively seeking opportunities. I believe that receiving a grant such as ALX in fact goes further than the scope of each project, energizing entire departments, faculty, and graduate students. 

Visit the Affordable Learning Exchange site to learn how instructors are reimagining their courses to promote affordability and student success. 

Ceramics photo by Taylor Heery on Unsplash