Transforming Lives through 3D Printing at the Library

unleash-creativity[1]In September, I attended the NDLA annual conference in Jamestown. One of the sessions I attended was “3D Printing @ Your Library” presented by Greta Guck, the director of the Leach Public Library in Wahpeton. I thought it would be an interesting session, but it turned out to be considerably more inspiring than I expected!

Greta talked about how she was inspired to acquire a 3D printer after hearing Mick Ebeling speak at the ALA 2015 Midwinter conference. The founder of Not Impossible Labs and author of Not Impossible: The Art and the Joy of Doing What Couldn’t Be Done, Mick has used 3D printers to create prosthetic limbs for people in Sudan who have lost their arms due to violence in the area.

After the conference, I did some research and one of the articles I found about “Project Daniel” makes an excellent point: “To many people 3D printing can seem trivial or a bit silly, but for some this technology has the potential to transform lives.” Many people probably do think of 3D printing as something neat and cool, without stopping to think about the life-changing applications of the technology.

I was aware of people using 3D printers at their libraries to create life-changing projects such as prosthetic limbs. If you are not familiar with these stories, you can read about how a librarian in Massachusetts used the library’s 3D printer to create a prosthetic hand, and how a teen used the 3D printer at a library in Kansas to make a prosthetic hand for a little boy.

While you might not have people in town in need of prosthetic limbs, making a 3D printer available in the library still has the ability to transform lives in your community, and that’s what I found most inspiring about Greta’s session. The first person to use the 3D printer at the library was a kid. She has teachers bringing classes to the library on field trips to see the 3D printer. While you can find designs online to print, you can also use computer aided design software to create your own designs. This is an ideal way to introduce kids to technology that they may not have access to anywhere else in town, and to encourage them to build skills that they will be able to use in their future careers. This is a very fun and practical way to encourage the development of STEM skills. When it comes to education, parents always want to give their kids every advantage and access to a 3D printer at the library opens doors to skills and career opportunities that otherwise might not be available locally.

Libraries can transform lives by providing access to technology, so the library is the perfect home for a 3D printer. In the paper “Progress in the Making: 3D Printing Policy Considerations through the Library Lens,” ALA states that “library staff should continue to encourage patrons to harness [3D printing] to provide innovative health care solutions, launch business ventures and engage in creative learning.” For communities with access to 3D printing at the library, the potential opportunities are endless!

After mentioning her intention to look for grant funding to purchase a 3D printer at Rotary, Greta received funding from the (former) Masonic Lodge of Wahpeton to purchase her 3D printer, and she began the 3D printing program this summer. You can find the details of the program at the Leach Public Library website.

How would a 3D printer in the library make a difference in your community?

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