3D printing: replication or innovation @ your library?

Yesterday I sat down with a colleague who works at a public library where there is a Central Library construction project well underway. In her role as the Emerging Technologies Manager she’s attending both to current community needs and library resources and the steep planning toward features of the new facilities and services on the horizon. She’s been amassing and working with staff around 3D printing equipment, of course. However, unlike the “maker” model we’ve both heard discussed in a large number of library programming contexts, innovation rather than replication is the primary value community access to 3D printing will target here. Library value to attach to replication opportunity isn’t neglected. However, the focus in that vein is on intellectual property knowledge capacity building in both library staff and 3D printing members of the public, not how to make replicated consumables.

Promotion of the equipment targets the small business community for now (with expandion, of course, to other communities of interest coming). Prototype building for something new, rather than repeating what already is lines up well with the evolving nature of how the public library supports what the community wants to achieve, rather than suggesting that library–and 3D printer–use is the end in itself.

My colleague and I then turned to discussing a book (hey, we are librarieans) that Maria Popova had featured in this past weekend’s Brain Pickings newsletter. Carol S. Dweck’s 2007 Mindset(Ballantine) discusses how the examination of twenty years of research suggests to Dr. Dweck that humans seem to develop, from earliest childhood, along one of two mindsets toward identity maintenace: those with a fixed mindset seek to demonstrate personal mastery by repeating efforts at which they know they have succeeded, while those with a growth mindset seek the same sense of wellbeing by trying new, yet unachieved efforts. The paradigm of 3D printing put to use for the purpose of replication and the alternative of its use for innovation took us even further in our musings.

According to Dr. Dweck’s analysis, those with a growth mindset not only aren’t personally interested in replicating what they have done successfully, they also have great difficulty understanding that the replication mode actually does authentically concern others, those with the fixed mindset. Of course, those with the fixed mindset might have just as little apprehension of the authentic focus on innovation suggested by those with the growth mindset. What might you be able to do with the knowledge if you were to evaluate not only which mindset is yours (by predilection, remember, not consciously chosen) but also which one moves members of your leadership team and your staff? Could a way forward be found for those battles between the “we’ve always done it this way” contingent and the “oh, let’s try this” faction? Might just acknowledging that people do tend toward one mindset or the other, as a starting point, shed some light on how change management needs to be undertaken locally? How can we experience the same information about what different resource can “do,” if we don’t first understand how differently we may be defining “do”?

The new Central Library is now slated to open in November 2014. I plan to return to see it in all its glory, of course, but I plan on using the 3D printing resources then as well. I’m working on an innovation in bridge-building, a way to get bridge footers planted on both sides of the mindset alternative, the better to offer a way for the replicators and innovators to understand each others mindsets well enough to work with both in the evolving institution we call “library.”

To 3D or Not 3D: That’s just one question

One of the most popular place in the #clanoise exhibits was the California Library Association’s own makerspace area, which came fully loaded with soldering stations and three-dimensional printers for conference attendees to explore through use. Libraries and makerspaces have been a trending topic at both library conferences and in local and regional initiatives. With today’s online-accessible Smithsonian X3D Conference underway, it seems a good time to talk about 3D printing in a way that contextualizes its possibilities in Califorrnia public libraries.

The Smithsonian presenters note: “We want to make sure any technology we bring in is in service of our mission” (at 2:25 of the Overview video linked above). This might be the begining point, too, for any local public library when considering including a 3D printer in their makerspace provisions. In your library, would three-dimensional printing, as a service provision, be about explorationand discovery of knowledge through access to information? Or, as lots of conference goers in Long Beach seemed to find, is the thrill of producing the driving force the library hopes to highlight?

Let’s take another step back, however, before analyzing what a 3D output experience might do for your own community. Public libraries didn’t “invent” makerspaces, in spite of the increasingly rapid adoption of them as a kind of plug-and-play program element…or a desirable program element. Themakerspace ethos grew up in a variety of communities and among several related movements. In its broadest terms, the makerspace is a publicly accessible collection of cooperatively held tools and experts in applying them to find project solutions. (Hmm, the public library’s print collection comes to mind, complete as it is with library staff (experts) who connect members to “solutions” to whatever their projects might be, from pleasure reading or listening to figuring out how to compute health insurance costs).

As well to consider is that makerspaces have developed “out” in the community, frequently with a monetary charge for membership. Bringing the makerspace into the public library does the same thing for access as the public library providing an alternative to fee-based services and experiences such as the newest books, live performances, and even classes in citizenship or test taking. So, maybe the first question would be: what are the demonstrated needs for a makerspace in your community? Followed by: where are the community-based experts who can shepherd the energy into the public library purview?

Now, back to 3D printers and printing. Revisiting the question at the end of paragraph two here: to what purpose would this investment respond? In a library context, there are some uses of three-dimensional printing that are definitely off the table: we aren’t going to provide access to printing dental crowns or other body parts, a technology now used in medical practice. We can provide access to printing out plastic bot-sized bits; will that be the occasion to teach children (and adults) about trademark infringement? Or we might want to put the 3D printer to use as an element of exploration that is less about reproduction and more about exploring; if that be the case, how would we fit it into our library’s larger program of service? Is it then a makerspace item or independent of makerspace-ness and instead in the suite of service tools that include software and hardware employed to deliver a wide variety of information and experiences, both mediated and unmediated by staff?

Now, here’s hoping you get some time in the next two days to peek in at the Smithsonian X3D.