Could 3D Printing save the Public Library system?

There is a discussion going on about wether 3D Printers should be offered in public libraries

In july the University of Nevada engineering library became the first in the nation to offer 3D printing resources to the public. On3dPrinting thinks this is a trend that is going to continue. Tod Colegrove, director of the DeLaMare library, said at that time: “We’ve brought the technology out of the lab and into access for all students, it’s a first for universities around the country where the machines are typically part of a specialized program or research lab.”

Using specialized software, the machine builds a three-dimensional plastic model from computerized drawings. “3D printers are typically purchased by a faculty member with grant funds in support of a particular research project, and installed in isolated departmental locations,” Colegrove said. “Printers remain largely inaccessible to students and faculty outside of a select few. We’ve changed that.” “In the arts, sciences and engineering, breakthroughs in learning or research often require going beyond pencil and paper,” he said. “With technology and a supportive environment, it becomes possible to breathe life into ideas – in the library. We have a waiting list for projects, which can take anywhere from 40 minutes to 40 hours, depending on the complexity.

But some do not agree. The author of thinks that libraries will not make a good install base for 3D printing. He is curious about is its impact on public libraries: “The theory goes that public libraries will provide great spaces for 3D printers. Libraries have always provided material for the benefit of the community for those who cannot afford it and 3D printing, on the face of it, seems to fit right in. Libraries are also in the centre of most communities, have space (as long, presumably, as one gets rid of those pesky books) to hold them and have helpful staff that could show you how to use 3D printers. I’m not aware of any UK library having one as yet but, in the USA, several libraries already have one and they’re feeling pretty cocky about being on the crest of the technological wave.”

“That’s right up to a point but let’s go deeper”, the author continues, “For one thing, even now, a pre-assembled 3D printer can be purchased for $500. That’s barely over £300. That’s just about fine for libraries now. They provide computers precisely for people who can’t afford similar amounts of money after all. However, these prices are at the start of the technological revolution. Last year, one had to spend perhaps $1000. You can see where this is going. 3D printers are going to be cheap. Really cheap. Cheap enough that everyone who wants one is going to have one. There’ll be no need for libraries to provide them for the poor because everyone will own them, like the ubiquitous smartphone. Perhaps there was a time when it would have made sense for libraries, therefore, to provide 3D printers to the populace but that time has already effectively gone even before most of us were really aware of the possibility.”

“The other selling point for libraries in this is that we have friendly staff who will be able to help people in learning how to use them”, the author says, “That may be so in some branches of course. However, I’m willing to bet that right now the majority of staff working in libraries have not even heard of 3D printers. A lot of library staff frankly need to be more highly trained in Word, let alone the next disruptive technology. Moreover, libraries are in no position to help anyone. The current cuts mean that there is never been such a difficult time for libraries to justify gambling on such a new technology. It would be an act of desperation. An act of desperation, that is, unless there was a national investment programme to get 3D printers into libraries and the political will not only to do that but to train staff in the bargain. With the current belief in austerity and, on the side of all main political parties, in the free market and localism, that is simply not going to happen.”

So what is your opinion, could 3D Printers save the Public Library system?


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