Dec 10, 2015 | By Kira

The American Library Association has just issued its third paper on libraries and 3D printing, this time emphasizing the increasingly important role public libraries play in the ‘democracy of creation’, creating new opportunities for economic development, education, and more, by providing access to 3D printing technology. The four-page ALA paper, officially published by its Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) and authored by Charlie Wapner, highlights the 3D printing leadership of libraries and urges public and private sector leaders to look to librarians for collaboration and partnership in advancing entrepreneurship, education, science, engineering through 3D printing.

A library patron observes 3D printers at the W.E.B Dubois Library at UMass Amherst

In the current digital age, equality of opportunity requires that all individuals—regardless of their age, education, social status, or economic background—have access to digital resources, including the Internet, computers and now 3D printers, and more importantly, that they have the skills to navigate and understand them. For decades, public libraries have been uniquely positioned to provide these resources, even going so far as to create dedicated mobile-tech libraries on wheels to reach rural, poor, or underserved communities. As technology has continued to advance, so too has the libraries’ dedication to harness the power of these technologies for the community good.

According to the ALA, 428 branches of public libraries across America offer 3D printing services, up from just 250 the year before. Now, the cost of owning and operating a 3D printer is still significant, however most public libraries offer the service to anyone with a library card for little to no charge. In fact, it is precisely because 3D printing technology is still prohibitively expensive for individual users that libraries see it as their responsibility to provide access to those who could benefit from it. And not only do most libraries offer access to 3D printers, they provide instruction on how to use software programs and create designs. As a result, says the ALA, the library is the first stop for many people interested in learning about and participating in 3D printing.

“Libraries are a national network of community anchors,” said ALA President Sari Feldman. “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.”

The benefits of library 3D printing reach across a range of disciplines, from education to economic development. At the educational level, libraries leverage 3D printing to maximize students’ competence in high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields (STEM), from K-12 right up to university level.

For example, 3rd graders in Athens, Georgia, used their library’s 3D printer to design and build their own jewelry as part of a geologic lesson on rocks and minerals; while University of Nevada-Reno students used their engineering library’s 3D printers to build robot parts and complex chemical models.

A student at the David C. Barrow Elementary School library with a 3-D printed creation.

Library 3D printers are also invaluable resources for local entrepreneurs and for economic development, offering small businesses the opportunity to create low-cost 3D printed prototypes to bring their ideas to market, or encouraging community members to undertake philanthropic projects, such as 3D printed prosthetics for local or international children in need.

Through all of these examples, the ALA hopes to make one thing clear for policymakers across America: “Libraries are cornerstones of the communities they serve; together, they represent a robust and unrivaled public infrastructure—and this makes them ideal partners in government initiatives involving 3D printing.”

Thus, the paper urges public and private sector to join libraries in unlocking the full potential of 3D printing for Americans, and to make librarians a resource for policymakers as they begin to build a framework for governing how 3D printers will be used in years to come. As we know, the future of the 3D printing industry depends on us educating the next generation in all aspects of digital fabrication; and it only stands to be strengthened through the equal opportunity and democratic creation that library 3D printing offers.

3D printer on display at Baillieu Library in Melbourne, Australia

This paper, titled "Towards a more Printed Union", is the third 3D printing publication released by the ALA’s OITP since September 2014. The papers are part of a series of informative resources labeled “Progress in the Making,” meant to help library professionals navigate the legal and regulatory complexities of providing 3D printing as a service. The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 58,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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