I love libraries. A lot of people consider them outdated in our current era of Amazon and eBooks, but I still find them incredibly important, on both a personal and a societal level. I’ve discovered my favorite authors just by wandering among the shelves and picking up anything that looks interesting, which is something I can’t do on Amazon. Libraries have also offered me places of peaceful solace during difficult times; there’s something so very soothing about picking up a stack of books or magazines and just sitting for a few hours in a quiet environment among other people who are reading.Beyond just books, though, libraries are incredibly valuable in terms of the resources they provide to their communities. I used to live in a pretty poor neighborhood, and at the time not everyone had access to computers or the Internet. The local library was usually packed with people taking advantage of the technology they needed to find jobs, do their banking, or handle other important tasks that they couldn’t do without Internet access.
Now, a new service is beginning to appear in several libraries: 3D printers. At the beginning of the year, 250 libraries were offering 3D printing services to patrons; now, at the end of the year, that number has risen to 428, according to a new report released by the American Library Association (ALA) entitled “Toward A More Printed Union: Library 3D Printing Democratizes Creation.” Not only are libraries offering free access to 3D printers, but they’re also putting a lot of effort into teaching patrons about them.
One example is the Frisco Library in Texas, which offers a class on designing 3D models in Tinkercad and then printing them using the library’s 3D printer. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. offers classes on 3D printing and scanning to those who attend an introductory session at the district’s recently opened Fab Lab. Schools are also taking advantage of 3D printing resources provided by their libraries; the David C. Barrow Elementary School in Athens, Georgia recently used their library’s 3D printer to teach a third grade class about rocks and minerals by allowing them to print their own jewelry. And you may recall the large MakerBot Innovation Center that was opened this year at UMass Amherst’s W.E.B. Dubois Library; as 3D printing becomes more of a staple in college curriculum, university libraries are stepping up to provide facilities that accommodate the technology.We first started hearing about the adoption of 3D printing technology by libraries last year, when the ALA released its first report on the intellectual property and policy implications of 3D printers in libraries. Since then, the ALA has continued to encourage libraries to pursue the technology, and to urge government agencies to collaborate with libraries in using 3D printing to advance health care, education and other industries.
The newest ALA report also suggests that libraries step up as leaders in setting public policies regarding intellectual property, copyright and acceptable use policies surrounding the public use of 3D printers. According to the report’s author, Charles Wapner, libraries are in a prime position to take the 3D printing revolution to all facets of the public, leading what he describes as a “democracy of creation.”
“Libraries are a national network of community anchors,” ALA President Sari Feldman said. “As libraries transform, they can help our leaders harness the power of 3D printing to achieve individual opportunity and progress in every part of our country.”
Let’s hear your thoughts on this story in the ALA 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.