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3D/DC: A good day for libraries

An e-NABLE prosthetic hand. Photo from
An e-NABLE prosthetic hand.
Photo from

Last Wednesday, the Washington, D.C. think tank Public Knowledge hosted 3D/DC, its annual 3D printing policy symposium at the U.S. Capitol Complex. The all-day event brought together educators, government officials, 3D printer manufacturers, leaders of the open-source digital file-sharing movement, entrepreneurs and software developers from across the country.

Programming consisted of a series of panels on topics ranging from distributed manufacturing and the economy, to education, to intellectual property. Although the lineup of speakers included representatives from the private, public and non-profit sectors, most of the day’s remarks extolled the capacity of 3D printers to promote creative learning and expression. From Allison Vicenti, MakerBot’s Education Director, to John Schull, founder of a non-profit community of 3D-printed prosthetic makers known as e-NABLE, the experts agreed that 3D printing will only reach its full potential in the United States if people remain free to harness it to build new skills and bring their ideas to life.

For ALA, this common sentiment among 3D mavens is welcome news. These individuals are looking for actors that do exactly what libraries do. As ALA’s work on 3D printing to date emphasizes, the library community is unique in providing access to—and instruction in—this technology to the public at no or low cost. There are makerspaces outside of libraries, but these facilities are generally “pay-to-play”—they don’t boast the same ability to empower people of all ages, creeds and financial means to bring their imaginations into the physical world. In short, libraries exhibit unrivaled leadership in allowing for the free expression needed to leverage 3D printing technology to meet individual, community and national needs.

Luckily for us, ALA is not a voice in the wilderness on this point. More than one participant in Wednesday’s event spoke to the leadership our community continues to demonstrate in encouraging creativity through 3D printing. Leading scholar Michael Weinberg of the 3D printing marketplace Shapeways—an employee of Public Knowledge until recently—said that as the son of a librarian, he feels a personal appreciation for all we’re doing to connect people to the innovative power of the technology. Sophia Georgiou, the founder of a New York start-up that created mobile 3D modeling app Morphi, said that 3D printing enthusiasts should keep libraries in mind when looking for a safe space to learn and create.

The fact that 3D printing experts recognize libraries as leaders in providing access to—and building skills through—3D printing is great, but it’s not enough; our work is far from done. For starters, we need to make sure that this recognition expands beyond the brilliant minds that are steeped in 3D printing issues day-in and day-out. From a public policy standpoint, that means we have to make clear to policymakers inside and outside of the beltway that our ongoing efforts to establish a community-wide set of best practices for the use of 3D printers make us well equipped to play a role in developing the policy frameworks that are just beginning to coalesce around 3D printing technology. Additionally, we must leverage our growing status as 3D printing leaders to explore opportunities for collaboration with government actors and industry leaders in new 3D printing initiatives.

To these ends, ALA will continue its 3D printing work by cultivating relationships with key 3D printing players, both in government and the private sector. We also will continue to encourage library professionals to develop and share acceptable use policies for their 3D printers, so that the library community can establish best practices that guide the direction of 3D printing policy. And we will continue raising awareness of libraries’ work and value in this critical arena among key decision makers. You can help by sharing your successes, challenges and vision for the future by adding a comment here or emailing me directly at

Stay tuned for updates on our continued work in the 3D printing space, and for potential opportunities to get involved!

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Charlie Wapner

Charlie Wapner is an information policy analyst for the Washington Office.

One Comment

  1. […] and the public good. In my reflections on last year’s 3D/DC, I averred that the event was “a good day for libraries.” This year, “good” graduated to “great.” Libraries were mentioned as democratizers of […]

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