3D Printers & Maker Spaces

3D printers and Maker Spaces are officially “cool” in library circles at the moment. A whole new website, Maker Librarian, was launched just this week.  Senior people are talking about them for big cities libraries and I am aware of at least one that has been purchased.  So, I was delighted when, after I had written an article about 3D printers, a real Maker Space library expert got in touch and agreed to share his experiences. Here, then, is an interview with someone with a lot to say about how, why (and also, in some cases, why not) UK public libraries should be interested.

Michael Groenendyk has an educational background in both computer science and English literature. He began his library career working for the Regina Public Libraries in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 2010. He is currently enrolled in Dalhouise University’s Masters of Library and Information Studies program, where he was a main figure behind the creation and implementation of a Maker Space at the Dalhousie University Libraries in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He has given a number of presentations on the subject of Maker Spaces and libraries, and will be speaking on this subject again at the upcoming Access Library conference at McGill University in Montreal.

How would you define a “Maker Space”?

I like using a simple definition for Maker Spaces: “A shared work area where people build things collaboratively.”

“A shared work area where people build things collaboratively.”

Why do you think public libraries a natural space for them?

One of the most important mandates for public libraries has been to provide equal access to information and knowledge. 3D printing, 3D scanning and other Maker Space technologies have the potential to drastically change the world, yet it is very difficult for most people to gain access to these technologies. Also, there is little available information on to how use these technologies affectively. Thus I believe there is a good opportunity for public libraries to help bridge this divide.

I am also concerned over the growing irrelevance of physical books. I believe books will eventually become entirely digital and, as a result of this, public libraries will need to find another way to stay relevant. I think to stay relevant in a digital world public libraries need to start creating their own content. Maker Spaces are a great way to do this, as they encourage communities to get together and build new things that can’t be found elsewhere.

“I believe books will eventually become entirely digital and, as a result of this, public libraries will need to find another way to stay relevant.”

Finally, public libraries have always served as meeting places for their communities, where ideas and information can be shared. Maker Spaces serve the exact same purpose. They allow people from a community to gather together, share their knowledge and resources, and learn from each other.

What advantages are there to public libraries being involved?

The main advantages I see with public libraries becoming involved in the Maker Space community is that, through this, they are able to reach a section of their community that they may not have appealed to before. Another advantage is that they are able to bring members of their community and form links and friendships that wouldn’t have been possible in traditional public library programming such as book clubs and children’s’ story times. 3D printing and other Maker Space technologies are also really hyped right now, with news stories being written about them—especially 3D printing—every week, and many people who have never been to a public library before will come in just to see a 3D printer make something.

“3D printing and other Maker Space technologies are also really hyped right now, with news stories being written about them—especially 3D printing—every week, and many people who have never been to a public library before will come in just to see a 3D printer make something.”

Any disadvantages?
Maker Spaces are not for every public library. There’s typically a set audience that they appeal to, and if a public library does not have a tech-savvy community that will be responsive to a Maker Space, then creating one will likely be a waste of money. Even at its lowest prices, 3D printing is an expensive technology and 3D printers are definitely a purchase that needs to be justified.

“…if a public library does not have a tech-savvy community that will be responsive to a Maker Space, then creating one will likely be a waste of money.”

It also takes time to learn how to use Maker Space technology like 3D printing. If a public library doesn’t have tech-savvy staff, general equipment maintenance will quickly become an issue. I’ve heard a number of stories of public libraries that ordered do-it-yourself 3D printer kits in the early days of the 3D printer hype, only to discover afterwards that they didn’t have the technological ability to assemble one, and so ended up wasting a couple thousand dollars. Public libraries should definitely be wary of their own capabilities before they invest the time and money required to get a Maker Space up and running.

What is your experience of Maker Spaces?

Along with my colleague Riel Gallant, I proposed a plan to create a Maker Space at the Dalhousie University Libraries in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. We researched our proposal throughout the latter half of 2011, and it was accept by the Dalhousie Libraries in January of 2012. It took Riel and I about three months to fully develop and implement our plan once the Dalhousie Libraries had accepted it. We finally launched our Maker Space in late April and I’ve been working there for about 5 months now, troubleshooting the 3D printer and 3D scanner, and helping our patrons’ 3D print and 3D scan objects.

Milwaukee MakerSpace Library: picture by Pete Prodoehl

Apart from this I’ve also given a number of presentations on 3D printing, Maker Spaces and libraries for local libraries and museums and at various library conferences. Over the summer of 2012 I also gave 3D printing tutorials/demonstrations for the Super Nova Engineering Camps, where I had groups of 8-12 year old kids come into our library every week to design and 3D print their own models.

What is the minimum that the public library needs in order to make a Maker Space a success?

The minimum a library would need to set up their own Maker Space would be around $1000 [£650]. 3D printers can be bought for as low as $500 US now, a little cheaper than that if you are willing to put one together yourself using a do-it-yourself kit. Most average hobby-grade 3D printers are priced the $1000-3000 US range. You start seeing higher quality in 3D printers after the $20,000 price point, but this is far too expensive for the majority of public libraries to afford.

A view of the future: Image by dockdrumming

For plastic filament costs (or what the 3D printer prints builds objects with), in my experience, having a hobby grade 3D printer printing non-stop 24 hours a day will use about $60 worth of plastic over one month. The plastic commonly used with hobby-grade 3D printers is either ABS (Lego) or PLA (bio-degradable corn based) plastic. With higher-end 3D printers these costs easily triple. The costs of plastic filament increase with non-hobbyist 3D printers such as 3D Systems Cubify 3D printer, which force their owners to buy plastic filament from a fixed supplier.

Once they’re up and running hobby grade 3D printers do not involve that much staff time. Throughout a day a public library could expect to have a single staff member spend about an hour of time working with their 3D printer. The problem with hobby grade 3D printers, though, is that they break down, and when this happens unexpectedly (and it will happen soon or later) this can quickly become a drain on staff resources. The time it takes to set up and learn how to use a 3D printer can be a time consuming process as well, typically requiring around 2 weeks of intensive work.

“Many other building tools are featured in Maker Spaces besides 3D printers, such as laser cutters and computer numeric controlled (CNC) machines”

Many other building tools are featured in Maker Spaces besides 3D printers, such as laser cutters and computer numeric controlled (CNC) machines, which work much like 3D printers in that they can turn a digital 3D model into a physical object. Most of these machines are dangerous to operate, however, and are priced in the $20,000-$40,000 US range, and so are unsuitable for most public libraries.

  • #1 written by Jacqui Thompson
    about 3 years ago

    3D Printers in Gateshead Libraries
    Around 150 people descended on the Central Library on 29 September for our first ever eDay event. We wanted to encourage people to look at libraries in new ways and enable Gateshead residents to experience technology they might not have come across before. We couldn’t have held such an event without the help of Makerspace (www.makerspace.org.uk), a community-owned group of makers, creatives, programmers, scientists and engineers based in Newcastle whose 3Dprinters proved major draw. One visitor said “I’ve read about it and seen things on the television, but to actually see one here in Gateshead was amazing”.

  • #2 written by Ian Anstice
    about 3 years ago

    See also Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces: 16 Resources (http://oedb.org/blogs/ilibrarian/2013/a-librarians-guide-to-makerspaces/) March 2013 by OEDB. “…there’s another gang of information-literate people out there, a gang who are a natural ally of libraries and librarians: the maker movement.

  • #3 written by Denise Jones
    about 1 year ago

    We are having out first make fest in our beautifully designed central library-the interest so far has been amazing and a good example of a public library working collabatively with the academic and local creative community for the good of the local economy, business and education

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