3D Printers – technolust, lifelong learning, community?

I normally don’t weigh in with a blog post when there is a heavy topic in library blogging, but am going to on this one because of my own particular interest and experience of late.

If you haven’t already caught the discussion on libraries, their mission and 3D printers, I recommend you do so first.  In particular:

  • Hugh Rundle: Mission creep – a 3D printer will not save your library (http://hughrundle.net/2013/01/02/mission-creep-a-3d-printer-will-not-save-your-library/)
  • R. David Lankes: Beyond the bullet points: missing the point and 3D printing (http://quartz.syr.edu/blog/?p=1567)
  • Phil Bradley: 3D printing – is it for libraries? (http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2013/01/3d-printing-is-it-for-libraries.html)

First off, I want to say I agree with a lot of what these guys are saying and I cheer them for having the conversation and making me think about where I am on this particular topic.

So, 3D Printers and libraries.  Where am I on this issue?  Firmly on the side of I want one!  But of course, for myself personally I will have to wait until the technology becomes mainstream enough that I can have one on my desk at home.  The whole idea of 3D printing just fascinates me.

Where does that leave my library.

Technolust? – I can be blinded by this as much as anyone. But my technolust is not going to get me the funds needed to buy a 3D printer for my library.  My management team does not have the same affliction as I do, so it will take good reasons and a well presented case to justify such an addition to our library.  And I would not present such a case to them, without knowing whether it is something our community wants or needs and that we can sustain over time. Grant money for such things is well and good, but you need to have the funds available to maintain new technology, once the grant monies disappear.  With the current financial situation, there are no excess funds to be spent on what some would consider to be trivialities – so something else would likely have to go to enable such an addition to be purchased. 

Lifelong learning?

My library’s mission statement:

Imagine:        Library services that encourage creativity and growth.
Explore:         A pathway to a worldwide range of knowledge and information
Understand:   High quality resources to inform and support life-long learning

The vision statement is: To inform and inspire our community. 

Funnily enough, nowhere in there does it say anything about books or any particular format at all.  We run seminars that are hugely popular and involve no hard containers whatsoever, just the spoken words of the presenter. Experience is, after all, just another form of information communication. Being a highly visual person, I find experience is a just teacher and invaluable for helping me to remember things. How much more valuable would it be for people to be able to use these new technologies, such as 3D printing, in a safe and open environment. They can learn, they can explore, they can discover.  So many libraries now have tech tool kits which enable library users to borrow (either in the library or to take home), to experience using such devices.  I wouldn’t suggest lending 3D printers at this stage, but couldn’t it be an expansion of such a kit?  Isn’t that what our users want?


This is one I had never thought of until one recent night.  I ended up going to an open night (with hubby of course) run by Connected Community Hackerspace group (http://www.hackmelbourne.org/), where they were demonstrating 3D printing. (check out the photos on Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/tang02/sets/72157632510795414/). It was fascinating.  They had about half a dozen printers of various vintages and types, with three beavering away at creating things.  Nothing mind blowing, but the process was rather hypnotic and we caught ourselves several times just watching the printers at work.

Also had a chat with a few members of the group about the printers, (some had been built from scratch – most had been ‘hacked’ to a certain extent), how they were used, the advances in 3D printing and more. My epiphany moment however, came at the end when I was talking to the group’s president Andy.

We got talking libraries and this sort of tech and it seems that the State Library of Victoria had already had discussions with him. (Go SLV!).  He could see definite possibilities for libraries in this tech space, because of their locations, good reputation and accessibility to all.  He described a vision that I found intriguing and could see the potential for.

His vision was one where there were specific libraries, say four around Melbourne, that were set up as community Hacker/Maker spaces. They had the 3D printing, the laser cutters and all the other equipment that you read out in existing library and/or community hacker/maker spaces. They also had people there to run classes and assist the community with their projects in these spaces. He also saw 3D printers in most libraries as manufacturers move to a future, where replacement parts are printed on demand. So for example, if your oven dial was to break, instead of ordering a new part, you would be sent the plan, take it to a library, where they would use the 3D printer to print a new one for you. Quicker for the consumer, no need for stock control for the manufacturer.  And this was just one small example.

This idea intrigued me and got me thinking. It would take a lot of funding and staffing (neither of which is in ready supply at present) to make this ideal a reality. What could make it happen in the shorter term, which would meet the needs of all involved?

One of our libraries has space within our building for a family history group.  They have all their collections/resources/equipment housed there and members can access it anytime the library is open (which is 61 hours per week).  They also open to the public several sessions a week, asking only for a gold coin donation.  Could a similar model work for a maker/hackerspace?

There are maker/hacker groups out there, looking to expand, looking for space, looking for members and more.Could this type of arrangement work for the groups, for the libraries and for their communities?   Could we find space in a few of our libraries for these groups to set-up, on the proviso that they have publicly available time and give access to their equipment? I like to hope so, but I don’t know if it could and what sort of model we would need to make it work. And even if there is, I don’t know if my library is the one where it could/would happen.  But I aim to keep investigating. 

3D printers – they are about technolust, but they are also about lifelong learning and they are about community. That’s worth looking into.