Monday, January 12, 2015

Policies for the Future - 3D Printers

Many public libraries are looking to implement a makerspace / creation space culture in their buildings, with their staff, and with the community. One tool to help bring this culture to the community are 3D printers, allowing users to design and print out actual objects. But beyond promoting something that is up-and-coming, there is a need to address  the applications to the profession's core principles, As people learn how 3D printers can be used and implemented, and as growth increases, libraries are just now trying to create policies around the use of 3D printers.

3D printer at Fab Lab
3D printer at Fab Lab. Photo courtesy of Keith Kissel
The American Library Association's (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) recently released a report on the numerous policy implications of 3D printers as it relates to libraries. Based on the findings of a 2013 Digital Inclusion survey there are over 250 public libraries that currently have a 3D printer. Users are creating everything from parts to build a robot to creating the prototype for artificial limbs. The potential ways 3D printers can be used are limitless.

The report goes into the history and background of 3D printers. Some of the concerns regarding 3D printers are:
  • 3D printed guns and how/if to regulate. Related to this, should libraries allow for the creations of these and similar items?
  • Potential dangers of chemical application of the materials that are used to construct the items.
  • Other issues regarding Intellectual Freedom.
  • Other issues regarding Intellectual Property.
  • Copyright protection.
Before the report's conclusion, the OITP regards the library's role with 3D printers. The OITP states that libraries should provide training for the library staff on the use of the equipment, as well as instructions for the community on how to use the 3D printers. Libraries should also inform the public on the potential impact there is using 3D printers. As the report states, "Therefore, in developing any such set of practices, it is in our [librarians'] best interest to think chiefly about what is practicable and consistent with the mission of libraries, and secondarily about what might eventually be held by Congress, regulatory agencies, the state legislatures or the courts to be outside the bounds of the law."

Included at the end of the report is a draft of a warning notice libraries can put next to their 3D printers. This warning notice was prepared by Tomas A. Lipinski, Dean and Professor, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

3D printers are expensive and are not available to purchase in any store. Offering many opportunities for hobbyists, for entrepreneurs, with STEM skills and lessons, 3D printers offer much, but also many policy debates regarding information freedom, intellectual property, and copyright protection. The library community must help shape the policies on use of 3D printers, and help make sure that the public communities get the best benefit from the 3D printers and the makerspaces in libraries, and to help others understand the importance and policies associated with 3D printers.

Written by:
Ryan Claringbole, Public Library Development Team