As part of New Professionals Day Ireland 2015 #npdi15 Maynooth University Library are offering a demonstration of their latest service: an Ultimaker 3D Printer. Although the technology behind 3d printing is not new, it has taken some time for it to migrate from public libraries and academic departments into academic libraries. This is changing however, and such facilities are increasingly common in libraries in the USA and UK. Academic libraries in Ireland are following suit, generally by collaborating and forming partnerships both on and off campus.
Libraries have long offered a blend of services that cater for both consumption and creation, and the creative potential of 3D printing is an increasingly important element in these offerings. 3D printers in Library Makerspaces have proven successful in allowing users to bring their creations to life. They are also of growing importance in a range of educational settings, in particular in design and technology, but beyond that too. Understanding the 3D design and printing process is a useful skill for librarians, whether to develop custom hardware for use in the library, or to assist users looking to realise a design or prototype. As with so many services, the Library as a neutral, welcoming space can bring very distinct transferable skills to providing a facility which, while in many ways ‘dynamic’ and ‘cutting edge’, is perhaps surprisingly similar to what we already do.
Many 3D printers in operation today are built based on free, or Open Source, blueprints available online. Although most libraries will buy a printer that is ready to use, this is an interesting example of the extent of possibilities available when you start to explore Open Source tools and technologies. Cura, the software needed to process 3D designs and prepare models for printing in the Ultimaker, is also Open Source, meaning that it is continuously developing and improving based on the collaboration of the 3D printing community.