Editor’s Summary

ASIS&T Special Interest Group/Scientific and Technical Information convened a panel at the ASIS&T 2014 Annual Meeting that explored potential impacts of 3D design and printing on libraries, museums and educational institutions. Rooted in the 1970s, the current 3D printing process was first used in 1984 and now allows limitless creations to be made by downloading or scanning and printing a digital file. The tangible product vitalizes interaction with the original and among viewers, enhances understanding and stimulates creativity. But, as with the use of photocopiers, questions of ethics and intellectual property arise. Management of the technology also raises practical questions of access, workflow, budgeting and support.

This special section delves into 3D technologies as teaching tools and considers policy, copyright and intellectual freedom, critical issues for information professionals. Articles open with a discussion of the use of 3D printers in library makerspaces by community members, the potential for broad experiential learning and practical issues for libraries. An exploration of 3D printer use for academic studies far beyond traditional areas follows, with a look at collaborative efforts between university departments to support and use the equipment and a reminder of the need for ethical management and consumer education about 3D resources. The final articles explore the benefits of manipulating 3D copies of museum pieces and enjoying the creative potential for hands-on activities in various settings, as well as contemplating libraries’ role in adapting intellectual freedom policy for 3D technologies.


3D printers
library and archival services
access to resources
diffusion of innovation
intellectual property

Special Section

3D Printing and Digital Fabrication Technologies in Libraries and Museums

Introduction: Considerations and Potential Impacts

by Moriana M. Garcia and Tod Colegrove

“[3D printing] completes the circle – the real world to the digital and back to the real world.”Chastain, A. (2014).

If you print it, they will come. – Virginia Quarterly Review, 90(4), 12-18.

This issue of the Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology focuses on 3D (three-dimensional) printing and digital fabrication technology. Sponsored by SIG/STI (Special Interest Group/Scientific and Technical Information), the ASIS&T special interest group concerned with enhancing access to information in the pure and applied sciences, this issue explores developments around 3D technologies (3D printing, scanning and design) and their potential impact in the library, museum or educational setting. Are these technologies potentially transformative of the way we fundamentally support and provide access to numerical, image and textual information? Or just another technology bubble in a long chain of shiny distractions? This issue is dedicated to helping practitioners sift potential from hyperbole as we collectively explore the possibilities.

There has been much recent interest surrounding the “overnight success” of the more than three-decade’s old technology of 3D printing, leading to potentially overblown expectation. Like the eBook, 3D printing was invented long before the technology reached tipping point. Indeed, numerous differing processes for 3D printing have been invented since the late 1970s, with the most widely popular type of printer today utilizing a process that was invented in 1984. With the founding and development of the open source 3D printer RepRap project (Figure 1) – short for replicating rapid prototyper – and the subsequent expiration of the patents associated with the core 3D printing process, the stage was set for the proliferation of 3D printers and companies: prices dropped within reach of the consumer market and the public’s imagination was caught.

Figure 1. RepRap 3D printer. Photo credit: RepRap version 1.0 (Darwin) by CharlesC - CC BY-SA 3.0

Figure 1. RepRap 3D printer. Photo credit: RepRap version 1.0 (Darwin) by CharlesC – CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/

Indeed, the ability to print an extended three-dimensional object from a digital file might seem something straight from the pages of the science fiction possibly housed on the library’s shelves. The same technology that can enable the consumer to relatively instantly have the latest accessory is a magic that can enable a researcher halfway around the world to share a tangible replica of a fossil just unearthed – simply by downloading and printing a digital file. In the hands of the library or museum, it can become an engine of engagement, with knowledge creation, learning and increased relevance a natural benefit. Beyond enhancing and supporting ongoing skills development and lifelong learning, members of the community are leveraging access to 3D services to prototype ideas and to engage with information in ways fundamental to the human experience: the world around us is, after all, three-dimensional.

The potential offered by access to 3D printing and digital fabrication technology seems undeniable: renewed relevance to, and engagement with, end-users of the institution whether library, museum or archive. It offers opportunities for research and creative endeavor not previously possible, driving renaissance across disciplinary and organizational boundaries, including rebirth and re-imagination of practice across academia and industry alike as we collectively begin to learn a new art of the possible. Nevertheless, it raises anew the old questions of intellectual property and ethical policy, much as the introduction of photocopiers did in the latter half of the 20th century. Who has the right, if any, to duplicate a physical three-dimensional object? Is it a question of patent law, copyright or both? Does the answer change if the object under consideration is of antiquity, such as a sculpture or other work of art? What are the risks involved, and are they outweighed by potential benefits both to the institution and more globally? As we move to rapidly adopt and implement, what guidance can be offered to help maximize potential while providing the support for intellectual freedom and privacy our customers expect and deserve? Further, the introduction, support of and access to these technologies raises questions of ethical use – including new variations of repurposing and remixing existing objects both physical and digital.

Even as institutions around the world grapple with the answers to such thorny questions, the practicalities of day-to-day operation intrude. While many of the finer points of the big picture questions will only be resolved over time, practitioners are forced to deal with the realities of now: equipment implementations and limitations, workflows, integration with existing services and offerings, budgets and justifications. Our reality is one of potentially implementing and supporting access and services associated with such digital fabrication technology from the standpoint of the brass tacks – while understanding, and to some extent catalyzing, the promise of its incorporation and use, enhancing and more deeply enabling end-users’ practice. If we implement it with at least a partial sense of how the resource(s) can be of use or integrated with existing practice, a form of evangelism can take over to ensure potential users are informed of its existence and possibilities. From the classroom to the field, together we can explore the potentially transformative nature of 3D technologies – forging the path as we carry both organizational and professional practice forward.

This special section of the Bulletin drew inspiration from a panel organized by SIG/STI and presented at the ASIS&T 2014 Annual Meeting. The panel, titled “3D Technologies: New Tools for Information Scientists to Engage, Educate and Empower Communities,” brought together public and academic librarians, museum professionals and information science researchers, all working with or doing research on 3D technologies. The program provided a broad understanding of the applications of 3D technologies in libraries and museums and highlighted the transformative value that public access to these tools brings to their user communities. The collection of articles presented here expands on the notion of 3D technologies as tools for community empowerment by exploring the pedagogical opportunities raised by the presence of 3D services in different educational settings. These articles also examine policy issues, mostly dealing with copyright and intellectual freedom, since those concerns have become some of the more pressing challenges faced by information science professionals supporting 3D services to the public.

Our first contributors, Stephanie Prato and Lauren Britton from Syracuse University, bring their experience with public libraries and their research on DIY (do-it-yourself) social dynamics to discuss the impact of makerspaces in the community and their potential as democratization tools. In their article they also explain some of the most common challenges faced by libraries trying to achieve true innovation, which many agree goes beyond 3D printing and requires in-depth training of the user population on 3D design. The authors argue that access to a 3D printer or a milling-machine through a library makerspace is just the first step on a journey aimed to transform a library user into a creator and independent learner. Although the access to new digital technologies is seen as a marker of innovative learning, Prato and Britton remind us that more research is needed to identify the real gains for the community and to distinguish those from the media hype.

In the following article, Amy Van Epps and colleagues from Purdue University explore the applicability of digital fabrication to non-traditional fields in academia. After a brief introduction on the history of 3D printing and its importance to engineering education, the group discusses several examples of innovative use of these technologies in disciplines such as English, anatomy and veterinary science. According to the authors, one of the big advantages of establishing a 3D printing service in an academic library is to make the technology accessible to a wider audience, thus helping to break the walls between engineering and other disciplines. In fact, some of the more promising uses of 3D printing currently in development are coming from non-traditional areas, including biology and chemistry. Unlocking the creative potential of these technologies to the entire academic community is a responsibility that libraries can, and perhaps should, take, even if just to reveal to their users the exhilarating fun of making an abstract idea become something tangible.

The next author to share his experience with 3D technologies in an academic setting is Kevin Messner from Miami University Libraries. He describes in detail the process of developing a 3D printing service, from a rocky beginning to a well-established access point for the community. The program’s success was achieved in part thanks to collaborations and partnerships with faculty and students already experienced with the technology. Leveraging the community’s expertise allowed the library to expand their training program and add scanning and design to their fabrication services. As a natural development of these enhanced capabilities, the library has recently updated its equipment and now offers access not only to home-level desktop 3D printers, but also to professional, industrial-quality ones. Cooperation with different departments throughout the university has ensured the continued use of the new machines.

Continuing with the academic theme, Jessica Chan and Sandra Enimil from the Ohio State University (OSU) Libraries explore one of the more contentious issues related to the adoption of 3D technologies in educational settings: policy development and protection against copyright and patent infringement. As the authors make clear in their article, librarians have been dealing with copyright issues related to text, images and other digital formats for decades, so embracing 3D technologies just adds a new layer of complexity to a knowledge base that already exists in the library community. Their clear explanations and examples, derived from their experience managing copyright at OSU Libraries, go a long way toward reassuring librarians and information scientists that they already have the necessary expertise to face the challenges that will arise with this new type of service. Furthermore, as the authors remind us, discussions about patents, trademarks and copyright with users should be welcomed as educational opportunities to empower them as creators and ethical consumers of information.

Our next author, Megan Hancock, museum coordinator at Denison University, leads us on an exploration of the applications of 3D technologies to support cultural materials around the world. Public engagement with objects in their collections has always been a challenge for museums. Given the fragile or priceless nature of museum objects, visitors rarely have the opportunity to interact with them in a way that goes beyond visual appreciation. However, 3D technologies may provide a solution to the balance of preservation versus access, which could be particularly important for educational programs. Prolonged interaction with museum artifacts could potentiate and deepen the learning experience for the users and provide them with a new sense of ownership and responsibility. Of course, giving visitors the chance to print these artifacts creates a new set of copyright problems, but the gains to the institution and the public seem to outpace potential risks. As reported by Hancock, some of the most prominent museums in the United States and abroad are already scanning some of their objects and sharing the 3D files with the public, with amazing results.

In the final article of this issue, Barbara M. Jones, from the ALA (American Library Association) Office for Intellectual Freedom, shares her vision of libraries as places where users’ creative potential and freedom of expression are protected and encouraged. She addresses some ethical considerations that librarians should keep in mind when they decide to build a makerspace or start a digital fabrication service, including how to preserve users’ privacy, respect their intellectual freedom and ensure equitable access to the service. She also describes a series of principles that practitioners could use as guidance when writing a thoughtful and acceptable use policy, aimed at protecting both the library and the users’ fundamental rights. She argues that creating legal content by using a 3D printer or a design program in a library setting is a form of expression that should fall under the protection of the First Amendment.

In sum, the articles that we have compiled for this special issue offer a variety of perspectives on 3D printing and digital fabrication that should enlighten and inform practitioners and researchers interested in the topic. We believe that the content will be particularly relevant to those interested in understanding the impact that public access to fabrication technologies in libraries and museums could have on their user populations. We hope to inspire information scientists to pursue new lines of inquiry opened by the implementation of these revolutionary technologies in educational settings. Decades ago, the digital revolution changed the face of librarianship and information science. Since then, we have been working hard to digitize everything in our world that could be digitized in the name of preservation and access. 3D technologies are the next step in this evolution and, surprisingly enough, they are bringing us back to the analog world, déjà-vu with a new twist. As we move forward, there is nothing to fear. Based on the examples on this issue, we are more than ready for the challenge.

Acknowledgements: We would like to acknowledge the contributions of all the authors, the support of Bulletin editor Irene Travis and the sponsorship of SIG/STI.

Note: Dr. Richard J. Urban is currently exploring the adoption and use of 3D technologies for scientific and cultural heritage collections. He is hoping to learn more about the scale and scope of these technologies across the LAM community. If you or a colleague have implemented or are planning to implement a project that uses 3D technologies to digitize, publish or print collection objects, specimens, historic/archeological site or architectural structures, he hopes you will complete a survey available at: https://fsu.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_07ldHqy5d2JxuPX

Moriana M. Garcia is the natural sciences liaison librarian at Denison University. She holds a master of library and information science degree from Kent State University and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. She has been a member of ASIS&T since 2008, where she has occupied different leadership positions, including chair of SIG/STI in 2012-2013. She can be reached at morianagarcia<at>gmail.com

Tod Colegrove holds a master of science in library and information science with a concentration in competitive intelligence and knowledge management from Drexel University, complementing his M.S. and Ph.D. in physics, with over 14 years of experience in senior management in high-technology private industry. He currently serves as head of the DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library at the University of Nevada, Reno. He can be reached at pcolegrove<at>unr.edu