3-D Printing in Libraries: Policies & Best Practices

All libraries providing access to 3-D printers should adopt written policies governing the use of their 3-D printers. Such policies should:

  • identify those eligible to use the library's 3-D printer;
  • outline all rules and regulations concerning user access, fees, and training requirements;
  • bar use of the library's 3-D printing facilities for illegal activities;
  • include a statement informing users that all other library policies apply when using the library's 3-D printer or printing services, including policies addressing user behavior, acceptable use, cybersecurity, copyright, intellectual freedom and user privacy.

Policies can also include a specific provision requiring users to comply with all applicable laws, including laws governing copyright and the manufacture of regulated or illegal items.

Though policies, by necessity, must address concerns about access, potential misuse, and liability, policies should also reflect the library's commitment to learning and the exploration of ideas.  A mission statement or statement of purpose should encourage users to learn about new technologies, exercise their imaginations, and assure their freedom to create, and design new projects within the parameters imposed by the technology.

Listed below are resources created by ALA and its members that provide guidance on developing effective policies and best practices for managing makerspaces and 3-D printers in libraries. We have also included other publications that offer both general information about 3-D printing as well as information about policy development for 3-D printers.

ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom or ALA's Washington Office Public Policy staff can consult with individual libraries on policy development, depending on the questions or issues raised by the library.


August 2018 Update: Recently, the U.S. State Department entered into a settlement agreement that would have allowed Defense Distributed, a non-profit advocacy group, to post and make available downloadable instructions and templates for printing guns and gun parts on 3-D printers.  On July 31, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik granted a temporary restraining order barring Defense Distributed from posting their files online.  On Monday, August 27, Judge Lasnik issued an order reaffirming and extending the nationwide injunction barring the online dissemination of files for printing plastic weapons.  The injunction will remain in place until the state attorney generals' case is resolved. (Attorney generals from 19 states and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit to set aside the settlement agreement or to prevent Defense Distributed from posting their files online.)

Libraries should be aware that the settlement agreement allowing online distribution of the plans is not binding on libraries and does not confer a right to use those plans to create guns on library 3-D printers in violation of library policy or in violation of the applicable law regulating the manufacture or distribution of guns in the United States.  This includes the law that makes it illegal to create, or assist in the creation, of a gun that is undetectable by x-ray machines or metal detectors.

These materials are not a legal opinion nor should they be regarded as legal advice. Readers should consult their own legal counsel for legal advice regarding their particular situation.


Resources for 3-D Printer Policy Development:

Progress in the Making: 3D Printing Policy Considerations through the Library Lens | ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (2015) (includes the sidebar "3D Printing, Intellectual Freedom and Library Values.") (2015)

Progress in the Making: An Introduction to 3-D Printing and Public Policy | ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (2014)

3D Printing in Libraries: A View from Within the American Library Association: Privacy, Intellectual Freedom and Ethical Policy Framework | Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology (2015)

Copyright Considerations for Providing 3D Printing Services in the Library |Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology (2015)

The Library's Legal Answers for Makerspaces, by Tomas Lipinski and Mary Minow | ALA Editions (2016)

Libraries Make Space For 3-D Printers; Rules Are Sure to Follow | NPR (April 2015)

3D Printers and Library Policy: Cool Technology Needs Rules Too | TechSoup for Libraries (2014)


3-D Printers: General Information

3-D Printers for Libraries, 2017 Edition, by Jason Griffey | Library Technology Reports

Progress in the Making: Librarians' Practical 3D Printing Questions Answered | ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (2016)

Toward A More Printed Union: Library 3D Printing Democratizes Creation | ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (2015)


Sample 3-D Printing Policies:

District of Columbia Public Library

Glen Carbon Centennial Library (IL)

Glen Ellyn Library (IL)

Jacksonville Public Library (FL)

Keene Public Library (NH)

Kirkwood Public Library (MO)

Meriden Public Library (CT)

Northbrook Public Library (IL)

Plano Public Library (TX)

Sacramento Public Library (CA)Idaho State University - Oboler Library

Michigan State University Libraries

Parkland College (IL)

Purdue University Libraries (IN)

University of Massachusetts - Amherst

University of Northern Iowa – Rod Library