Chattanooga Public Library, Libraries, MAKE!, Technology, Teens

The 3 D’s of 3D Printing (Version 1.0)

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Megan Emery teaches a group of tweens and teens about 3D printing on The 2nd Floor of the Chattanooga Public Library

Over the past month, we’ve been working on a 3D printing program for the 2nd Floor called the 3 D’S of 3D PRINTING

The idea came out of brainstorming session between myself and Megan Emery.  While we were super excited to offer 3D printing to our tweens and teens, it got to be a lot less fun and more of a 3D printing factory.  We wanted to capture the excitement of the 3D printer, give it some guidlines, and help streamline the process.  What came out of the brainstorming session was this:

To introduce tweens, and teens to 3D Printing, they must go through three steps:


  • Tweens and Teens will use to locate an item they wish to 3D print.
  • Tweens and Teens will download the STL file.
  • Tweens and Teens will load the STL file into Makerware, resize the object, and make the object into an X3G file to be 3D printed.
  • 3D printed in 20 minutes or less


  • Using, Tweens and Teens will create a basic design that can be printed in 30 minutes.
  • Tweens and Teens will download the STL file.
  • Tweens and Teens will load the STL file into Makerware, resize the object, and make the object into an X3G file to be 3D printed.


  • • Using or, Tweens and Teens will create and/or download a object and have the object print in 1 hour or less.

• You must be present for the print
• The tweens and teens get a card that shows their progress (located at the 2nd Floor Workspace). Staff will mark their progress on the card using their initials.

Over the past month, we’ve beta tested the program with 22 tweens and teens (so far!) and have closely looked at where the program works and where it doesn’t work.  We’ve got some fine tuning to do over the next few months so stay tuned and we’ll keep you updated.  In the meantime, have fun 3D printing!

Chattanooga Public Library, Chattanooga, TN, Libraries, MAKE!, Technology, Teens

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:


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.



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.