OITP releases report exploring policy implications of 3D printing

3D Printer

Photo by Subhashish Panigrahi

3D printers can do incredible things – from creating food, to rendering human organs, to building spare parts for the International Space Station. A small but growing number of libraries make 3D printers available as a library service. Library 3D printers may not be able to make you a pizza (yes, that’s possible) or operate in zero gravity, but they are being used to do some pretty amazing things in their own right. Library users are building functioning prosthetic limbs, creating product prototypes and making educational models for use in classwork.

While 3D printing technology is advancing at a meteoric pace, policymakers are just beginning to develop frameworks for its use. This presents the library community with an exciting opportunity—as providers of 3D printing services to the public, we can begin to shape the policy that coalesces around this technology in the years to come.

To advance this work, ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) today released “Progress in the Making: 3D Printing Policy Considerations through the Library Lens,” a report that examines numerous policy implications of 3D printing, including those related to intellectual property, intellectual freedom and product liability. The report seeks to provide library professionals with the knowledge they need to craft 3D printer user policies that minimize liability risks while encouraging users to innovate, learn and have fun.

The report states:

“As this technology continues to take off, library staff should continue to encourage patrons to harness it to provide innovative health care solutions, launch business ventures and engage in creative learning. In order to do so, library staff must have a clear understanding of basic 3D printer mechanics; the current and potential future uses of 3D printers inside and outside of library walls; and the economic and public policy considerations regarding 3D printing.”

ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom contributed a piece to the report entitled, “Intellectual Freedom and Library Values,” which offers guidance to library professionals seeking to craft a 3D printer acceptable use policy that accords with the fundamental library value of free expression. Additionally, Tomas A. Lipinski, dean and professor at University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee’s School of Information, provides a sample warning notice that libraries may use with patrons to demonstrate awareness of the legal issues involved in the use of 3D printing technologies in libraries.

The report was released as part of the OITP Perspectives series of short publications that discuss and analyze specialized policy topics. It is the second publication in ALA’s “Progress in the Making” series, an effort to elucidate the policy implications of 3D printing in the library context. The first document was a tip sheet jointly released by OITP, the Public Library Association and United for Libraries.

About Charlie Wapner

Charlie Wapner is an information policy analyst for the Office for Information Technology Policy.


  1. The ALA OITP report considers liability, patent law and acceptable use issues but completely ignores air quality and workplace safety issues related to the proliferation of 3D printing in libraries. Research findings on 3D printers and hazardous particle emissions, which suggest possible adverse effects on staff and patron health of operating 3D printers in tightly-enclosed, climate-controlled library buildings, have been publicly available since mid-2013. In my opinion we should be invoking the precautionary principle and insisting that, until it can be demonstrated conclusively that 3D printers will not adversely affect the health of library workers and library patrons, we should not be operating them in libraries.

    Scientists warn of 3D printing health effects as tech hits high street

    Ultrafine particle emissions from desktop 3D printers

  2. Thought I’d share this news, “3D Systems Empowers 100 Museums and Libraries to Bring 3D Technology to Communities Through the MakerLab Club,” http://globenewswire.com/news-release/2015/03/23/717887/10125966/en/3D-Systems-Empowers-100-Museums-and-Libraries-to-Bring-3D-Technology-to-Communities-Through-the-MakerLab-Club.html

  3. I absolutely agree with you, Mark. 3D printers have become ubiquitous in libraries in recent years, but no one seems to consider the health ramifications of this move. It is an incorrect assumption that anything available for purchase is safe, or that it’s been tested. We should all remember that 3D printers are an industrial technology. We’ve taken a piece of machinery off the industrial manufacturing floor, where OSHA precautions such as local exhaust ventilation and respirators are required, shrunk it down into a consumer model, and placed it in libraries, without any of the safeguards that were present in the industrial setting. In addition to very high nanoparticle release, a recent study has come out that has found formaldehyde, phthalates, toluene, and ethylbenzene are emitted when using both ABS and PLA filament types. You can read more below, but unfortunately, the full text is not available for free. The ALA OITP should look more carefully at this issue, considering the mounting evidence of hazards for staff, patrons, and especially, children.


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