I know I said I would discuss the future of 3D printing this week. However, after a largely positive feedback for last week, some people did mention that I may have overlooked perhaps the biggest question of all, why get involved? This lead to the question of how 3D printing is really being used today. I’ve decided that I will approach that question next week and then focus on the future of printing in my final submission. Thank you all for being patient as I move through this month.
Obviously, I get quite excited when I talk about technology in general but 3D printing truly holds a particular place in my over-enthusiastic heart.
I’ve worked with our library’s 3D printer for a year now. I’ve printed a couple hundred objects and, wow, it still amazes me every time. The elegance and simplicity of the machine. The way it can interlock objects and, one layer at a time, make useable objects. The fact that, not only can I draw my own creations in 3D, but I can actually print them out for others to see!
Although, come to think of it, some things are probably best left unprinted…
As I go around the state and speak about 3D printers in libraries, I am often asked a very logical question; why in libraries?
Fair enough. This is new technology and quite a bit into the beta phase as far as we see it. Most people look at this and think we are largely building tchockies and, I’ll admit, this isn’t entirely inaccurate. So, why do we want to get involved?
It’s a good question. Let me start my response by asking a series of questions:
● “Why do libraries have regular (ie 2D) printers?”
● “Are these better than the kind of printer they would have at home?”
● “Do you provide all the software that can be used to print on your printers or do you assume that some patrons have other software at home they will use?”
● “Is having high quality printers in a library a way to help offset the cost to our patrons?”
● “Do patrons have to type/design their projects at the library in order to use the library’s printer or can they do this at home, bring in their product and then use our printers?”
● “What is the ‘value’ of a printer in your library? What is the value to your patrons?”
When you answer each of these questions for a regular or high quality printer, keep in mind that each one of your answers can likely apply to a 3D printers in your library.
Why have a 3D printer? As with a regular printer, it has use and value to your patrons. Even today, with the cost of printers and computers being quite cheap, many patrons still print at the library. Things like school projects, plane tickets and resumes are all very valuable to the patron. Imagine a patron printing out their resume in order to get the best quality for the money.
Now imagine that patron also using our 3D printer for that job interview, printing out a prototype or example of their work and competency with a product.
How far fetched is this? Not terribly. Within 4 months of open Studio M at my library, we had 3 patrons come in order to print out prototypes for their original designs; one was for an application to an engineering school at a university and two were to test the applicability of their designs before applying for patents and mass market.
Did I mention that all three of these patrons were in high school?*
These patrons came in and used our 3D printer in pretty much the way another patron may come in and type their resume, business proposal or contract. The software they used wasn’t even in the library, they worked on the project at home. When the time was right, they came in, made their prints. They tested them out, made corrections and printed again (I still love seeing a patron take calipers out of their back pocket like they would a pen). And again, happily paying the fees until they got the end product they desired.
Does this behavior sound as familiar as someone using Word for a report or project?
With each passing month we are finding more and more patrons designing products, for fun and/or prototypes, and printing them in our library. They are largely doing this through software they are using at home or school and then bringing it into the library in order to print. Not unlike how some of our patrons are using our regular printers in order to print resumes, pictures, etc.
The need for a printer is justifiably there. While, yes, at the moment you won’t likely find patrons using it in the same demand as a regular printer, the need and want of 3D printer will increase in the general public as the users become more comfortable with the technology and the software becomes more commonplace.
As the technology progresses, so will the usable medium they use. Right now, most home users are limited to PLA or ABS plastic. Who knows, a couple years down the road, maybe an inventor finds a way for home users to use metals or porcelain; think of how that may change users perceptions on materialism, lifestyles and fashion. We, as librarians focused on our patrons needs and interests, have a chance to help them realize how 3D printing can affect them.
We are starting to see this happen. The 3 high schoolers are a great example but the more I research the more I realize they are simply on the trend, not ahead of it. Next week, I will write about some ways that scientists, doctors and regular everyday people have created truly amazing things in order to change lives!
*I mention their age because they are the upcoming library users, supporters and taxpayers. They are also exceptionally comfortable with technology that is often mind boggling to us. If we want to remain relevant and gain the support of the future users, we need to show them we are invested in their future as they are. To spin a quote from a famous song, I don’t believe children are the future, I am fully aware of it.
Emergent Technologies Librarian
Monroe Township Public Library
4 Municipal Plaza
Monroe Township, NJ 08831
732-521-5000 ext 123