making makerspaces: libraries vs. 3D printers

Honestly, I didn’t really know (or care) about 3D printers, till I got drafted into the team that is setting up the Makerspace at Auckland Central City Library. For the last three months though, I’ve been watching, reading and thinking. Then today Matt Finch wrote this:

As it’s #ALIALibTech, here’s my (pro-maker) 3D printers-in-libraries worry http://t.co/JJPhwUQzqW

— Matt Finch (@DrMattFinch) October 31, 2013

Because I love Matt’s work…I respond.

My 3D printer worry is simply this: libraries are spending a lot of time talking about this one gadget, which I don’t see communities crying out for. I don’t see it in schools, or on the high street. I don’t see businesses trying to get the general public to pay to use a 3D printer.

Maybe I live a sheltered life? The only time I ever saw one outside of a tech event was at the studio of a stop motion animator who used it to build his miniature props.

Are we really going to wait till bloody large corporations have captured the market before we bother to get involved? It happened with computing, so most libraries (and most of the world) run Microsoft systems, while the hipsters run Apple. For once, we have a situation where the ‘set it free’ tech has come BEFORE the put-it-in-a-box companies have had a chance to tie this down to copyright and patents and trademarks. I have no doubt that will come…but I have already chosen my side.

3D printing is a way of seeing. It is not governed by mass production restrictions, not corralled by restrictive IP. It allows to you to *make what you can imagine or design, without having to own a factory to do it. It sets us free!

Schools are very quickly catching up to this. Vik Olliver of DiamondAge and Tim Carr of MindKits report constantly being behind demand. Catalyst Computers have been setting them up in Christchurch schools. Last week AUT had a printer break, and Danny Dillen of Vivenda has been working 18 hour days to keep up. The visionary Mindlab have been running sessions…for a cost. Are we saying new game changing tech should be available only to those who can afford it? That was the story with writing, till Gutenberg set it free. And that is how libraries were formed.

As for businesses, show me the business trying to get the general public to storytime…yet libraries run it as a matter of course?

I see so much desperate need for basic support and resources in libraries. I’d rather have library organisations focus on that then endless raving about the 3D printer.

When I come across branches which have only a couple of staff, whose shifts may only overlap for an hour a day, struggling to deliver rhyme time, or story time, or other basic outreach programming, I can’t help but feel that 3D printers in themselves are not a priority.

I’m going to quote @hamishl on this one: “His basic premise of juxtaposing understaffed libraries with 3d printers doesn’t really make sense, because it’s a capex opex thing and for the cost of our 3d printer you could keep a library assistant employed for what, a couple of weeks?”. A 3D printer costs NZ$1500. PLA costs NZ$30 for 100 metres. As Hamish says…how many staff were you planning on employing with that? How many books can you buy?

Sure 3D printers are not for all libraries. Neither are zombies or Nerf gun battles. Should it therefore be for no libraries at all?

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