Three Dimensional printing (3D printing), also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. To begin the process, a virtual model is created of the object to be printed. These models can be designed by utilizing a 3D modeling program or a 3D scanner. The design is then sliced into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers. Each of these layers is a thin cross section of the desired object. The 3D printer reads each slice and then creates the object. This process is completed by layering material until the object is completed. Each layer is blended into a seamless 3D object. (2016) para.
Why 3D Printing?
As 3D printing is a relatively new technology, most examined literature focuses on implementing this service in libraries. Griffey (2014) states that while libraries have been known as a resource for information, it is not the entirety of library focus. Griffey believes that many individuals have been introduced to technology through computer availability at their local library. Therefore, Griffey is confident that libraries can benefit further from 3D printing through utilization of these printers for various tasks such as sign creation and book stands.
Massis (2014) also shares an excellent overview of 3D printing. He states that the pricing of 3D printing has dropped and is now affordable for library use. Like Griffey, he believes that the library is an excellent place to offer 3D printing, since it complements current library technology. Many may view 3D printing as an extravagance; however, 3D printing is an additional tool to assist libraries in fulfilling their mission of “…helping the community create knowledge and know itself.” (Massis, 2014, p. 353) Massis emphasizes that when adding a 3D printer, it is imperative to ensure proper training for both patrons and library staff.
Implementing 3D Printing
Moorefield-Lang (2014) provides a case study of six libraries that have added 3D printers. She believes that while implementing and utilizing 3D printing technology, it is important to comprehend that both successes and challenges will be realized. Many libraries have added 3D printers to makerspaces, an area within the library where patrons can learn through exploration and collaboration. Some makerspaces focus on crafting, while others focus on technology such as 3D printers. Moorefield-Lang provides a useful list of essential inquiries when considering such technology. For example, one such library inquisition should be the staffing of the makerspace housing the 3D printer. She concludes that 3D printing and makerspaces afford patrons the opportunity to interact with technology and potentially resolve real-life problems. Makerspaces confirm that libraries “exist to support knowledge and learning.” (Moorefield-Lang, 2014, p. 592)
Pryor (2014) shares an excellent overview of implementing 3D printing in libraries. The author details the process experienced by Edwardsville, the Southern Illinois University, when adding a 3D printer to their academic library. They evaluated services offered by other libraries such as Fayetteville Free libraries, along with a wide variety of 3D printers in various price ranges. They decided to add a 3D scanner to familiarize individuals concerning the creation of computer based 3D models. The university spent several months attaining knowledge on utilization of the printer and determining the best policies for printer use. One of the most useful aspects of this article is the policy list shared by the author. These policies can be adapted and utilized by both academic and public libraries.
There are many ways that 3D printers can be utilized in libraries. Academic libraries are an excellent location for 3D printer technology to enhance university curriculum. Pryor (2014) states that 3D printers may seem like a new fad or a “toy.” However, 3D printing is a useful tool for the scientific arena; additionally, the utilization of this technology can also prove to be beneficial within the engineering and artistic communities. Students entering many professional fields have embraced 3D printing; therefore, continued exposure to such technology will prove to be advantageous. For example, 3D printing can be utilized to create prosthetics or to recreate historical artifacts. Students will be able to utilize attained knowledge in their future careers.
Many public and school libraries have incorporated 3D printers into makerspaces. With migration to larger digital collections, physical spaces are opening up in libraries to create collaborative spaces around technology. Makerspaces are excellent outreach opportunities, drawing curious visitors into the library. These visitors may decide to utilize other library resources. Additionally, incorporation of 3D printers in a makerspace will benefit students regarding science and technology topics, as well as independent contractors. Most importantly, 3D printers and makerspaces support the library mission to provide “expensive technology tailored to the needs and interest of the community and make it available on a shared basis.” (Colegrove, 2014, p. 3)
Issues and Challenges
One of the largest issues facing the use of 3D printing is the “issue of intellectual property.” (Massis, 2014, p. 352) Library patrons may try to reproduce copyrighted designs, and could possibly try to sell these models, violating copyright law. Having 3D scanners available in addition to the 3D printer would facilitate easier copyright violation. Patrons could scan and copy a readily available object. Libraries and patrons need to be aware that the reproduction would be illegal. Library staff should be especially aware of these copyright issues, so patrons can be instructed on proper utilization of the 3D printer.
Ensuring proper training for everyone utilizing 3D printers is paramount. It is imperative for library staff to maintain, trouble shoot, and utilize the machine. Assuring that library staff receives proper training, will better instruct patrons regarding the utilization of the 3D printer. Moofield-Lang (2014) states, “Students and patrons using 3D printers along with other types of technologies prevalent in maker learning spaces will need to be educated in how to use them.” (Moorfield-Lang, 2014, p. 591) Librarians can study available research to learn the best techniques for teaching patrons how to utilize 3D printers, while considering what techniques would best fit the needs of their patrons. Additionally, it would be important to provide patrons with resources for those who would like to “…deep-dive into the topic.” (Griffey, 2014, p. 6)
Finally, safety is a major issue when utilizing 3D printers. Many 3D printers were originally intended for industrial use. Unlike libraries, industrial manufacturing is more experienced and cognizant of potential safety issues when operating machinery. While the danger of potential burns from the hot plastic extruded from the machine is obvious, “…the potential risks from the fumes and vapors produced by the printers may not be.” (Lee, 2016, para. 3.) While there is no definitive proof of potential health problems from utilizing 3D printers, to avoid potential dangers, it is prudent to be aware of health and safety risks.
3D printing is a fascinating topic with many interesting applications. There are a wide variety of 3D printers currently available. When first released, the cost of these printers was much higher; however, they have dramatically dropped in price. These printers may still be too expensive for libraries with small budgets. However, many avenues can be explored to help make purchasing a 3D printer more feasible. The Friends of the Library may finance this purchase or libraries can apply for a grant from a number of sources. The library, where I am employed, will be implementing a makerspace in the coming months. The prospect of learning how to utilize a 3D printer is exciting. As a computer lab assistant who assists patrons, I have been asked to learn various technologies that will be part of the makerspace. This will be an interesting endeavor, because patrons who visit this library enjoy exploring new technology.
Colegrove, T. (2013). Editorial Board Thoughts: Libraries as Makerspace?. Information Technology & Libraries, 32(1), 2-5 4p.
Griffey, J. (2014). Introduction. Library Technology Reports 50, no. 5: 5-7. MasterFILE Elite, EBSCOhost (accessed April 23, 2016).
Lee, M. (2016, March 16). Driving 3D Printing Forward with Safety, Crest of a Crisis or Opportunity? – 3D Printing Industry. Retrieved from http://3dprintingindustry.com/2016/03/16/driving-3d-printing-forward-with-safety-crest-of-a-crisis-or-opportunity/
Massis, B. E. (2013). 3D printing and the library. New Library World, 114(7/8), 351-354. doi:10.1108/NLW-03-2013-0030
Moorefield-Lang, H. M. (2014). Makers in the library: case studies of 3D printers and maker spaces in library settings. Library Hi Tech, 32(4), 583-593. doi:10.1108/LHT-06-2014-0056
Pryor, S. s. (2014). Implementing a 3D Printing Service in an Academic Library. Journal Of Library Administration, 54(1), 1-10.
What is 3D printing? How does 3D printing work? (2016). Retrieved April 21, 2016, from http://3dprinting.com/what-is-3d-printing/