The DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library at the University of Nevada, Reno, has become the first academic library in the U.S. to offer 3D printing and scanning services to all students and the community at large.
Using specialized software to create 3D drawings, students can now print these objects on one of two 3D printers at DeLaMare—a Stratsys uPrint acquired in May and a 3DTouch, which can also produce multicolored objects.
3D printing is not entirely new in libraries: In March, the Fayetteville Free Library in upstate New York received a substantial state grant to acquire a MakerBot Thing-o-Matic, and other universities have them as well. However, many are attached to discrete academic departments or labs, typically in engineering, architecture, or design. Sometimes, even individual faculty members may have their own setups for their own use, and/or for students to use during a course. Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab made the news for “printing” a human ear from silicone last year, while in Europe, a professor at the University of Glasgow has developed a 3D printing system to create chemical compounds, like drugs.
What is remarkable about locating 3D printing and scanning services in the DeLaMare Library, rather than in labs or departments, is the potential for collaboration and colearning across disciplines. For Lisa Kurt, Engineering and Emerging Technologies Librarian, acquiring these capabilities is part of a “natural progression”: “We could see this as an opportunity to bring departments together, which is huge.”
As Kurt said, “We’ve always been supportive of people doing things such as writing papers, writing books, writing in general, and critical thinking, of course, but part of critical thinking is also making” and exposure to these new technologies “could totally change their academic career and that’s really, really powerful.”
For the DeLaMare Library, the 14-month vetting process included outreach to the Reno Collective coworking space; a local makerspace Reno Bridgewire, and other specialized schools that had direct experience with different models of 3D printers. Director of DeLaMare Library Tod Colegrove advises, “Talk to the folk in the trenches, and ask, ‘OK, what goes wrong? What’s the market like?’ and so on and then go back and actually battle it upstream with the library administration to justify it.”
Colegrave warned that mismatch between specific patron needs and the available technologies can quickly turn the adoption of new technologies “from a success to an ugly failure.” One faculty member, for instance, had purchased a MakerBot Thing-o-Matic, a model priced competitively for individual use, but in a relatively short amount of time, it had broken beyond repair
Ultimately, the DeLaMare Library decided not to go for the more hobbyist, less expensive, MakerBot setups which form the backbone of the Fayetteville Fab Lab. The specific needs of faculty and students, especially in engineering, led Colegrove and Kurt to pursue a more robust setup.