Session Notes: Computers in Libraries Conference – 3D Printers: Not Just for Tchotchkes | Compendium

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Allison Frick

Allison Frick

by Allison Frick,
Youth Services Librarian,
Glenside Free Library

When people think of makerspaces, they usually think of 3D printers.  I have always held back from purchasing one for the Glenside Library, where I am the Youth Services Librarian.

Kids are better at STEM learning than most adults give them credit for, and could certainly learn how to use a 3-D printer.  The problem with 3D printers in a Youth Services environment is making sure that everyone gets a turn.  3D printers are slow, especially compared to other items in makerspaces, like lasercutters.  3D prints typically take hours, and some particularly complicated ones can take days.  

The Computers in Libraries conference in DC had some wonderful suggestions for how to deal with these issues.  Instead of printing keychains and other small items that would probably end up in the garbage sooner rather than later, Half Hollow Hills Community Library 3D printed prosthetic hands in partnership with the global volunteer organization E-Nable. In addition to 3D printing the parts for hands, the librarians also set up times for the community to get together and assemble the pieces into working prosthetics to be shipped out around the world. Patrons are encouraged to use the 3D printers for their own projects.  To avoid the bottleneck of slow printing times, only one patron per day may sign up for the printer, so that if the print runs long it does not negatively affect other patrons.  Patrons are expected to pick out their own designs and filament, and observe the print for the first ten minutes to understand how the technology works.  If people are really excited about 3D printing, classes are offered in Tinkercad, a free online 3D modeling program and Scuptris which has a slightly more fine-arts focus.  Other libraries repeated the need for using free, open source software like the free version of Autodesk, specifically 123dMake.  123DMake is excellent because it also enables to you to prepare files for working with a lasercutter and allows you to choose the cutting format that works best with your medium: flat pieces that can be cut out of paper and folded into a low poly sculpture vs a cardboard structure made out of different types of slices.

In order to manage the prints that people make, some libraries have started having a “pick up wall” where 3D prints are put into plastic bags and pinned to the wall.  This enables patrons to be self sufficient when getting their prints and allows library staff to focus on other things.  Another way to streamline the maker experience in libraries is to utilize Youcanbookme, a cloud based online service that can allow patrons to book an appointment with a 3D printer or other tool in a libraries makerspace and can be synced with a Google calendar. Peer to peer instruction was mentioned in multiple sessions as a way to streamline the learning process and help the maximum number of patrons to achieve their creative visions.  Some libraries even gave students more print time if they take a Tinkercad workshop, so that in the future they can create their own designs in addition to downloading already made work. Easily implementable solutions like these helped make the idea of 3D printing and makerspaces in general seem more manageable in a library setting.

The Computers in Libraries Conference is definitely worth the trip and has something for everyone.  Whether your library has successful fab lab or you are just starting to explore the possibility of coding, this conference is worth the trip.

Resources to support libraries that have 3D printers or makerspaces:

The Printers
The Makerbot Replicator 2 is extremely reliable if you want to print just PLA. They have a great
marketing team but there have been some serious issues with their extruders.
LulzBot is often considered the gold standard of 3D printers

PLA vs ABS ….Go with PLA for household use
15 cool filaments that you need to know about. Wood! Sandstone! Conductive PLA for 3D printed circuits!
Filament of the Month While this may not be the cheapest option, it is a fun way to experiment with different kinds of filament

Makerbot Apps
Sculptris : use this for digital sculpting, and projects that skew more towards art rather than industrial design
Sketchup This program allows you to design models for 3D printing, as well as architectural models, landscape architecture, game design, commercial interiors and more.
The 27 best sites for free STL files for 3D printing . My personal favorite is Thingiverse If you do now know what you want to make, you can download a file. This program is also great for things like the lasercutter.

People who are doing similar things
Check out the Makerspace Directory This is not a complete list, but it is a great place to start.
MakerJawn is based in Philadelphia, and supports the Free Library system. This is a great example of what one can do within a very large library system.
The Hacktory is a West Philadelphia makerspace that serves as an onramp to technology. This is an inclusive space that welcomes all people.
The Make Space : Makerspace located in State College
Make717 : Makerspace in Lancaster

Ideas for making things other than tchotchkes
BRAINS! Surgeons are practicing on 3D printed models of patients brains to perfect complicated surgeries
Human Fossils: Paleoanthropologists went on a 3 week expedition in South Africa, and live blogged and tweeted their findings, as well as creating files to 3D print the fossils that they found
Dinosaurs : scientists used 3D modeling and 3D printing to recreate the missing fragments of a new dinosaur and print them out of bonelike gypsum on Projet CJP Pro 660
Housing To quote the immortal Chuck D, “Don’t believe the hype”. The technology exists to 3D print shells of buildings but there is serious concern about whether or not they can withstand things like earthquakes. These buildings are also not designed for amenities such as electricity or windows, which makes them more difficult to construct and more expensive than they first appear.

Fine Art
Fine art is also an alternative to Tchotchkes!