What if all it took to gain access to the technology of 3D printing was your plastic library card? Considering it’s been hard to even find a book about 3D printing at the library, and the supply of new tomes on the shelves seems to be dwindling, I’ve been worried the library itself may be turning into an antiquated institution, squeezed out of existence by electronic, paperless options.
It’s exciting to hear that with a number of 3D printing programs on the horizon libraries will be enticing budding geniuses and technogeeks back into those big buildings filled with books. While it’s a game changer for sure, allowing innovators of all ages to have access to what they need, a host of concerns and questions follow in offering technology that has the potential to break so many barriers.
You may not be aware that right now there are 250 libraries in the US that offer 3D printers to patrons, according to OITP Perspectives, a publication by the American Library Association (ALA). From Boy Scouts making actual functioning automotive wheels to students producing prosthetic hands, these 3D printers are helping to accomplish noble tasks, and are spreading the STEM curriculum to the communities.
The crucial element in libraries getting involved in 3D printing is that it is free. While it’s not so hard to get your hands on or get to a PC or printer, it is for most people nearly impossible to get to a 3D printer or, even further, to buy their own. Affordability in general is one of the biggest issues with 3D printing — and while desktop 3D printers are becoming more and more affordable, there is still expense involved, not to mention software, materials, and maintenance. Many individuals want to try their hand at the new technology, and prefer to dip their toes in gingerly at first before diving head — and wallet — first into the maker movement. With a learning curve associated with digital design and 3D printing, libraries offer a great benefit, doing what they do best: offering a safe, quite haven for learning.