3D Printing in Libraries: Inspiration or Distraction?

By Patrick Hogan |

Earlier this month, a good old fashioned blogosphere discussion broke out, complete with active comment logs and trackbacks.

Hugh Rundle started the conversation with “Mission creep -- a 3D printer will not save your library.” He argues public libraries lack a business case for 3D printing. Rather, technolust and fear of missing out are instead the drivers. “Yes, libraries provide access to information sources and creation tools that can be expensive to individuals, but that doesn’t mean that loaning or providing access to things that are expensive is what libraries are for,” Hugh writes. He highlights a number of projects and opportunities for libraries to support and curate patrons creative efforts in more appropriate ways.

The makerspace movement in libraries has raised eyebrows both curious and quizzical. By extension, bloggers responding to Hugh’s post considered the role of makerspaces in the tradition of library service. Read them together, as background for your opinion on 3D printers in libraries, or more generally, the role of makerspaces.

Dave Lankes offered a rebuttal in “Beyond the Bullet Points: Missing the Point and 3D Printing,” arguing that the 3D Printer was tool for innovation and creativity. “Why in a library? Because that is the core of the library – not the collection – idea creation and knowledge generation.”

The debate and a “knock-down philosopher brawl” in comments on Dave’s post attracted Andromeda Yelton’s attention. In “3d printing, library missions, and things beside the point,” she shares ideas from her emerging personal philosophy of librarianship, where the library is a fertile ground and spring ideas or new ways of thinking, whether from books or objects from a 3D printer. “Information is a tool. Libraries are experiences.”

Offering the academic library perspective, Brian Matthews, assistant director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Innovation and Learning, can point to curriculum-based needs for 3D Printing, expanding on a resource offered elsewhere on campus, but still scarce. Beyond that, he advocates for experimentation in “Search More, Plan Less: In Defense of 3D Printing,”, responding to local needs with local solutions despite unknowns of how the technology and user needs will evolve.

What do you think?

If you’re attending Midwinter, learn about makerspaces on Maker Monday. Among the events, Make magazine’s Dale Dougherty and Travis Good will talk on libraries’ role in the maker movement at 1:00 p.m.