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3D printing: coming to a library near you

Posting in Design

A public library has converted part of its facilities into a 'hackerspace' with 3D printing equipment to encourage innovation in personal manufacturing.

A few months back, we talked about the challenges faced by libraries in the era of ebooks, digital information and shrinking budgets. An emerging idea, now being pioneered at one New York state library, is to offer 3D printing facilities to enable constituents to develop and innovate new ideas and products.

The Fayetteville Free Library of Fayetteville, NY recently has assumed a new mission in efforts to serve its constituencies with 3D printing facilities. The "FFL Fab Lab" is a space set aside with 3D printing technology, which seeks to encourage innovation and learning of the concept. At the foundation of the FFL's Fab Lab will be a MakerBot Thing-o-Matic 3D printer, donated to the library. The Fab Lab's 3D printer uses plastic as its raw material.

As stated on the library's Fab Lab Website, the goal is to provide what is known as a "hackerspace" to the local public, providing access to equipment that may be too expensive to purchase on an individual basis:

"These spaces, known as Fabrication Labs (fab labs), Hackerspaces, and Tech Shops, share common goals: collaboration and 'making.' They exist to give their specific communities the ability to 'make' through sharing knowledge and skills. They provide the technology necessary to make almost anything. However, these spaces often provide services to a specific or targeted group and are not easily accessible to 'outsiders'  - traditional Fab Labs are tied to MIT and are generally found in underserved communities, Hackerspaces have membership fees, and Tech-Shops, on average, cost around $1.5 million to start. Imagine - what if the Fayetteville Free Library had similar tools as MIT at its fingertips (at an affordable cost), with the knowledge necessary to use them?"

As discussed on this website, along with its high customization, 3D printing offers enormous potential to minimize the costs of mass production, and even bring a lot of that production back to the domestic economy. The Fayetteville Fab Lab may also kick-start a new role for public libraries as well -- as incubators and resource centers for new businesses and innovations.

Phillip Torrone first pitched this idea in Make Magazine a few months back -- proposing a new, entrepreneurial and innovator incubator role for the nation's 9,000 public libraries:

"If the only public space where 3D printers, laser cutters, and learning electronics happens is in fee/memberships-based spaces (TechShops, hackerspaces), that will leave out a segment of the population, who will never have access. FabLabs often are geared towards under-served communities, so perhaps it will be a combination of FabLabs and hackerspaces. What if we were to convert just 1% or even 10% of the 9,000 public libraries in the USA to TechShops?"

For her part, Lauren Smedley, the genius behind Fayetteville's Fab Lab, "wants to prove that libraries aren’t just about books," as quoted by KQED. "They are about free access to information and to technology — and not just to reading books or using computers, but actually building and making things."

Smedley also would like to add a CNC Router and laser cutter to the Fab Lab's inventory, and also plans to offer free classes and programs on  3D Printing, 3D design software training, and computer programming.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure