In 2013, Hugh Rundle wrote a blog post titled Mission creep — a 3D printer will not save your library, in which they spotlight libraryland’s lust for technology, questioning the value, or rather, the point, of having 3D printers in libraries. Rundle argued that no business case existed for public libraries to provide 3D printing, drawing comparisons to their presence in libraries with laundry services or loaning cars.
“…individuals would find the service useful, currently they are expensive to buy or rent commercially, and potentially they could be helpful to productivity and the economy.”
At some point in the past, I had started to draft a response to Rundle’s article, reflecting on whether the three(!) 3D printers in my library had indeed saved it, or whether my work had been contributing toward the diversion of public libraries from the rest of the GLAM sector. However, feeling that such a post might not land well with my employer at the time, I stopped writing and never shared it.
However, after speaking to my (now former) colleagues about those 3D printers, and then accidentally clicking onto an old bookmark (No. Your 3D printer does not make you innovative — Thomas C. Murray), I think now’s as good a time as any to share my experience working with 3D printers in a public library. So, here goes.
When Rundle’s article was first published (nearly a decade ago!), I worked as a customer service officer at a library in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, enamoured by the idea of creative learning spaces and the opportunities they presented for reinventing the public library. At this time, the word ‘makerspace’ was barely a conference bingo buzzword, but I believed this venture might be just the thing to make or break us.
Rundle called it mission creep, and that’s pretty accurate. I’ve come to understand that this venture was just another stab in the dark at finding another service to solve our identity problem. Yet, it only tacked another thing to our already bloated workload.
I didn’t believe this when I accepted a job that would oversee the development of Melbourne’s first public library makerspace. I wanted the makerspace movement to bring about the change and innovation it promised, and I wanted to be a part of that change.