Table of contents:
I work in a library district office that serves of consortium of 13 public libraries. The majority of these libraries are rural and wouldn’t have the time, resources, space, or staffing to embark on their own MakerSpace projects, so it was my goal to provide programming that would bring the technology to them. I received the printer in February 2014, and my first order of business was taking the time to get acquainted with the technology, which included reading a lot of online literature and watching tutorial videos (you can find lists of some of the resources I consulted here.) In true Maker fashion, i.e. self-sufficiency, MakerBot opted to not include a step-by-step manual for every possible setting on the machine. It was frustrating to not know at first what the various settings could do or what it all meant. What happens when I slow down the extruder speed? Why isn’t this printing as planned? Luckily there’s online communities and forums that can really help with this sort of thing. I felt it was important to contribute to this body of knowledge, so when I find the time, I document my trial and error situations either on YouTube or by posting comments on the build files on Thingiverse.
In addition to consulting the internet, I would occasionally pester the MakerSpace Project Specialist at the Arizona State Library to ask if he knew how to solve a particular problem. Probably the best piece of advice he ever gave me was to purchase a glass build plate. The MakerBot Replicator 2 comes with an acrylic plate, which due to it’s light weight I believe, made it sensitive to becoming un-level. An un-level plate can cause all sorts of problems, because a) the printer is not extruding on a level surface, but b) the printer doesn’t know that and spits out filament anyhow. If the extruder is printing even slightly higher than the plate surface the filament will start to curl and bundle under the nozzle and create a big mess (failed print jobs are pieces of art in their own right) and potentially lead to clogs. The glass plate is heavy and sturdy, and even after months I’ve not had to re-level the machine.
Luckily for me, most of my problems, such as problems with leveling, clogging, etc, seemed to happen in the very beginning of my experimentation. I say luckily, because I was happy to leave that bad luck behind me when I actually started using the printer in libraries. I think part of the problem in the beginning was the acrylic plate, but another part of the problem was that I was simply experimenting with prints that were way over my experience level, or simply bad prints in general. I would choose solid, sturdy objects to print in the beginning until you get a hang of things. Additionally, I would choose objects that have instructions, and have been successfully printed by others on Thingiverse.
Acquainting Library Staff:
My first order of business was simply getting the libraries in my district acquainted with what I was doing. I designed a PowerPoint which defined the history and context of MakerSpaces as a whole, in addition to the technical aspects of 3D Printing and its applications. I invited librarians from all across my district to attend a workshop in which they could get their MakerSpace questions answered. The biggest hurdle in implementing MakerSpace programming in libraries is convincing staff of it’s worth/value, and assuring them that it doesn’t always have to be expensive and space/time consuming. In order to address that concern, I created a document listing a number of cheap/small objects they could buy to get started on the S.T.E.M./MakerSpace path.
Preparing for Demonstration Tour:
Secondly, it was time to introduce the technology to library patrons. I knew that if we wanted to eventually create a library program with the printer, we’d need to drum up some excitement and educate the public on what 3D printing actually is! By now I had been tinkering with the printer for 3 months, so I felt confident enough to not only print, but also to answer questions about the technology. As the 2014 Collaborative Summer Reading Program theme was “Fizz, Boom, Read!” and all about science and technology, I thought it was the perfect time to kick off a county-wide tour demonstrating the printer.
Before you get started demonstrating your printer I highly recommend you shadow someone or attend a Maker-related event. I accompanied the State Library during a local library comic-con in which we had a booth dedicated to showing off the printer and telling library patrons about all the locations and ways they could use it in libraries. It was very helpful for me to have tagged along for this event, as it mentally prepared me for the types of questions and requests the public makes. I learned that day people tend to ask the same types of questions over and over: “How much does it cost?”, “How long does it take to build something?”, etc. and so for my demonstrations I tried to preemptively answer those questions by adorning my booth with both a F.A.Q. and 3D Printing Overview poster I designed.
Marketing the Demonstration Tour:
The final plan was to demonstrate the 3D printer throughout all the libraries in my consortium during Summer Reading Programming. I wanted to market this heavily so we could ensure great attendance. I racked my brain to find the best flyer I could come with. I came up with a snake-oil inspired campaign. As the printer was seemingly close to magic (I mean, the box is empty, and then all the sudden it’s not! ;), I ran with the idea of a Magic Box being shown at a carnival-style freak show. I used this imagery on my flyers, posters, and online marketing.
The tour was a success. I made over 10 demonstrations, ranging from adults, children’s summer reading programming, to even a local Chamber of Commerce. While tracking attendance was not an exact science, I had on approximately 300 participants. These numbers may seem low in large, urban settings, but in a library district in which some of the libraries are literally the size of one room, the numbers were very satisfying. Touring the printer was intended to not only acquaint communities with the technology, but also to gauge which communities were interested in 3D printing, and promote library services in general. Before every presentation I introduced myself by explaining what the library district is, and what digital products and services it provides – including promoting databases and eBook collections. Additionally, I used my time to handout library brochures, pamphlets, and bookmarks which promoted all our social networking accounts. Lastly, when it was convenient I’d ask attendees to fill out a quick survey which determined their experience level, as well as their interest in further programming.
- 81% Adults
- 48% had “no experience” or knowledge about 3D
- 90% “Extremely Satisfied” with the demonstration
- 67% interested in attending software workshops
- 62% interested in using the printer themselves
- User comment: “Blown away!”
As mentioned the tour was a positive experience for creating interest in MakerSpaces and 3D printing for both librarians and patrons. The tour resulted in further programming efforts as I got requests to return to libraries, and even local schools. Some libraries wanted even more in-depth programming, and so I began training myself in 3D design software in order to conduct design workshops. (You can view some of my step-by-step design instructions here.) Additionally, the library got quite a lot of marketing out of the experience, as the printer programming was referenced in 6 local newspapers.
Pinal County Library District 3D Printing Program in the news:
- Summer Reading Program Features 3D Printer Demonstration – Arizona City Independent (June 18, 2014)
- Fizz, Boom, Read! Science and Reading Collide at Superior Library – Superior Sun (July 1, 2014)
- 3D Printer Demonstration – Chamber Chatter: Coolidge Chamber of Commerce Newsletter (July 2014)
- Businesses Get Up Close with 3D Printer – San Tan Valley Sentinel (July 9, 2014)
- Printing in the Third Dimension Demonstration – Eloy Enterprise (August 7, 2014)
- San Manuel Library Demos 3D Printer – Copper Area News (September 30, 2014)
- 3D Design Workshop Curriculum – AutoDesk 123D Design
- 3D Handout for Kids
- “Come One, Come All to See the Magic Box! Travelling 3D Printing Programming in a Rural Library District” – Poster Session – 2014 AzLA Conference
- Directory of Arizona MakerSpaces (private and library operated) – An updated list can be found here
- Infographic: What is 3D Printing?
- PowerPoint Presentation: MakerSpaces and 3D Printing in Libraries
- Poster: 3D Printing FAQ
- “Tag Us” sign
- “What is Shapeways?” handout