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The Mummy in the Library: 3D Printing as the New Monster Creation

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By now, the myth of the library as a repository of dusty books, occasionally leading to the unleashing of a mythical mummy, has been well put to rest in most people’s mind. The library continues to be a place working to keep up with trends in technology, from the printing press to VHS to the world wide web. In a statement released by the American Library Association, the newest metamorphosis in the library comes in the form of 3D printing:Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 7.52.01 AM

“With the onset of the digital revolution, the library community assumed a leading role in the effort to help people of all ages build the skills and competencies they need to thrive in a high-tech world. 3D printing expands the frontier of the ongoing digital transformation of our society, and – in keeping with our reputation for digital leadership – library professionals are helping people and communities take advantage of this development. Library 3D printing is empowering people to engage in creative learning, launch business ventures and solve complex health problems.”

For this reason, the American Library Association has released an informative PDF document entitled, “Progress in the Making: An Introduction to 3D Printing and Public Policy.” This document is designed as an introduction to 3D printing for librarians and covers a broad array of 3D printing topics as relate to library printing.

As the primary arena for legal action against libraries relates to intellectual property rights, this issue as impacted by 3D printing is featured front and center in the document. The ALA calls on librarians to re-familiarize themselves with intellectual property law as it has changed in response to these new manufacturing technologies.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 7.52.10 AMIf you have ever tried to make photocopies at a library, you have most likely already seen the institutions response to the problems of intellectual property theft in terms of print documents. The ALA notes that a professor in the University of Milwaukee School of Information Studies addressed the new issues presented with 3D printing by simply modifying the intellectual property notice from the photocopier and posting it to the 3D printer.

Another area of concern for libraries arises as the result of any products that are created on 3D printers under its care. Issues ranging from the production of 3D printed weapons to sex toys are briefly raised as specters before the 21st century librarian. These may be the new mummies that rise from the resources held within the library.

The PDF ends by referring librarians to a few further readings and the admonition not to be afraid. Unfortunately, the document does not even superficially touch upon the ways in which libraries should positively utilize the capacity to offer 3D printing to its patrons. Obviously, this is a document meant to address one particular issue, but it does read a bit like a doomsday note rather than an invitation to explore new territory.

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