3D Printing in Libraries: My Experience

Before I arrived in Chattanooga six months ago, I had never seen a 3D printer nor did I have much interest in them.  Over those six months, I’ve had many experiences with a 3D printer from both close up and afar.  I haven’t seen anyone write about their experience with 3D printers in libraries in great detail before, so I decided to give it a shot.  Here’s what I’ve been thinking/feeling:

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AT FIRST you will have a mix of emotions.  The machine is scary because you’ve never seen anything like it before.  There it is, sitting there, printing something really neato out of a spool of plastic.  You’ll want to jump right in and print something out for yourself.  You want to use the machine.  You need to use the machine.

YOUR FIRST FEW ATTEMPTS will most likely fail.  This is a great thing because you will learn a lot.  I highly suggest that you browse around on Thingiverse for a bit, find something that you would like to print and use that to get familiar with 3D printing.  You will get a feel for the types of files that your 3D printer will accept, see how they look on a computer, and get to watch them print out before your very eyes.  The next step I suggest that you take is to sign up for an account on Tinkercad and play around with their simple 3D design tools. Tinkercad offers new users a simple setup with pre-made shapes, letters, numbers, etc and an easy way to download your designs and send them to a 3D printer.  It is what I have been using with the tweens and teens that have visited my library.

ONCE YOU GET OVER THAT INITIAL HIGH and print a few neat things (bracelets! shapes! your name!), you may get bored with 3D printing.  For myself, I zoned out for a bit and didn’t make any attempts to print anything.  I had it in my head that all I could do at that moment was print out novelty items and what I wanted to do was something IMPORTANT.  I got through this by reminding myself of two things:

1. This is BRAND new technology.  Having it in your library is sort of like having the first ever computer in your community back in the day.  It’s fancy, it’s fun, and it is limited.  Learn to work and understand those limits and know that the best is on the way.

2. THE KIDS/TWEENS/TEENS are loving that you offer this service for them.  No matter what they’re making, they’re having a unique experience in the library.  They’re leaving our institutions having had an experience they most likely can’t have at many other places.  You’re introducing them to a new world.

Chunks of plastic removed from a 3D printer.  It was not much fun getting these out and it took 1-2 hours.

Chunks of plastic removed from a 3D printer. It was not much fun getting these out and it took 1-2 hours.

You also have to remember that learning about all aspects of 3D printing TAKES A LOT OF TIME.  The first few times our machine got jammed up with plastic I had to sit there for a few hours, take it apart, fix the problem, and put it back together.  This is challenging.  You have to remember that you do not have all the time in the world and that your library work time is precious.  But this is something you will come across, so be prepared.

AND IN THE END, I can’t wait till the next kid/tween/teen comes in and blows my mind with the 3D printer.  Despite any drawbacks I have mentioned in this post, I think that teaching youth about 3D design, printing, and everything else is one of the most rewarding things I have done in a library.  To see a teen do this on a computer and turn it into a real thing that they can hold is AWESOME.

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NOTE: I’ve only used Makerbot 3D printers so far.  I have seen other 3D printers but I have not spent much time with them.

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4 responses to “3D Printing in Libraries: My Experience

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this! It mirrors my experience almost exactly, except we use the Afinia H479. The time-consuming part is a reality that I definitely want prepared for, but the satisfaction of watching someone design and then print their first thing is amazingly satisfying. This will be a really useful go-to blog for those considering adding one to their library!

  2. I’m so glad you wrote this! It mirrors my experience almost exactly, except we use an Afinia H479. The time-consuming part is a reality that I definitely want prepared for, but the satisfaction of watching someone design and then print their first thing is amazingly satisfying. This will be a really useful go-to blog for those considering adding one to their library!

  3. Ditto! We have two different brands now, but still get chills when kids see their first design printed! We are now working with the schools to bring the experience more to more kids!

  4. Pretty much my experience also, with a Printrbot Jr.

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