This next two paragraphs have some demographic information so that you have an idea of whom I’m trying to serve (i.e., you can skip them if you want to get to the meat of the technology discussion).
I work at the Waukesha Public Library in the city of Waukesha, the 7th largest municipality in WI at around 72,000 people. We have a a service population of almost 100,000. The building itself is about 73,000 square feet with a collection of around 350,000 items.
Waukesha has a Hispanic population of about 10% with the remainder of our population being predominantly Caucasian. Our public is a pretty even mix across age groups and incomes. Technological interest also runs pretty evenly from early adopters to neophytes.
I’ve wanted a 3D printer forever. OK, only a few years, but in the world of technology a few years is almost forever. I didn’t bring up the idea to our executive director initially because I wasn’t sure I could justify the expense.
As assistant director in charge of technology at the library, I can justify spending up to a few hundred dollars on new technology. Try out a Raspberry Pi? Sure. Pick up a Surface? Go ahead. But spending a few thousand dollars? That felt like it needed more than my whim.
But after those few years went by and 3D printers were still a topic of discussion and I didn’t have one yet, I approached the executive director and our Friends group and got the money to buy a MakerBot Replicator 2 and a MakerBot Digitizer (it was the Digitizer that finally pushed me over the precipice to buy 3D equipment; more on that later).
So we bought the machine, set it up, and started printing a bunch of objects. At first it was just things on a SD card in the printer: a nut-and-bolt set, a shark, chain links, a comb, and a bracelet.
People loved watching the machine work. Particularly when it was making the chain links. They couldn’t understand how it could print interconnected chain links. I tried to explain that it printed in 100 micron thick layers (slightly thinner than a sheet a paper) and it built the objects up one layer at a time which let it make interconnected objects.
It made more sense if you could watch it.
Our young adult librarian starting making plans for her teen patrons. This past October we read Edgar Allan Poe as a community read and she had her teens make story jars of different Edgar Allan Poe stories using objects we printed: hearts, ravens, bones, coffins, etc.
One of our children’s librarians used the printer to enhance a board-game design program he ran. He printed out dice, figures, and markers that the kids could use when designing a game. Then they got to take their game home when they finished it. More recently he printed out a chess set that assembles into a robot for the winner of our upcoming chess tournament.
I printed out hollow jack o’ lanterns that showed a spooky face when you placed a small electric light inside them. When I realized I needed a desk organizer for the 3D printer I printed one instead of buying one.Now, as for the Digitizer. We’ve tried digitizing objects. To me that was the coolest thing we could do: make copies of physical objects. Unfortunately, the digitizer has worked poorly at best. It cannot handle small objects—things larger than a egg work best—and it cannot scan complicated or dull objects very well.
Our failures include a kaiju wind-up toy, a LEGO Eiffel Tower, and a squishy stressball brain. Our only success was a Mario Bros. mushroom candy tin. That scanned perfectly, but it’s round, shiny, and the perfect size. If you’re considering buying a digitizer, I would think twice about it (honestly, I’d recommend not getting one at this time).
Now the question I ask is: what’s next? The Replicator 2 isn’t the best machine to put out for public use as it would require quite a bit of staff oversight. There are some 3D printers—the Cube printer from 3D Systems for example—that are better suited for public use in my opinion. It’s currently a moot point as we don’t have space in our public area for one at this time, but I think offering one for public use is in our future plans somewhere down the line.
I’d like to use it more for programming in the library. I want to showcase it to the public more. Our technology committee will make plans so that we can do both of those things.
More importantly, what about the rest of you? Who has a 3D printer in their building? Do you use it for staff or public? Do you want to get a 3D printer for your library? What sorts of questions to have about them?