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Making sense of a making discussion

The Whittemore House
The Whittemore House in Dupont Circle – site of the Dupont Summit.

Last Friday, I served as a panelist in a program on 3D printing at the Dupont Summit, an annual science, technology and environmental policy convening in Washington D.C. I was joined by Gadsden “Gad” Merrill, general manager at Tech Shop DC-Arlington, a subscription-based fabrication facility replete with 3D printers and other digital manufacturing tools. Gad offered a tour de force description of 3D printing technology and its major applications. I gave an overview of the library community’s leadership in providing 3D printing services to the public, and then dove into the technology’s policy implications – namely intellectual property, intellectual freedom, product liability and the economy.

Speaking at a conference program on one of your professional interests is just as much a learning opportunity as an opportunity to inform others. I learned a great deal from my co-presenter and from the people in attendance at the program. A couple of my major takeaways:

  1. Public understanding of the library community’s 3D printing leadership is low. I spoke with several people during and after the program who didn’t know that library 3D printing was even a thing. That’s beyond unfortunate for the library community, and it’s something we need to change. According to the latest data, 3D printing services are now offered in 428 public library outlets – not to mention in a growing number of school and academic libraries. These facilities are empowering people of all ages to engage in creative learning, solve health problems, facilitate advancements in science and engineering, and more. Raising awareness of this reality will not only help to update common perceptions of library services for the digital age, but also position the library community for participation in public and private initiatives and programs involving 3D printing. ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) is actively working to do this – we just released a short paper targeted to beltway decision makers that highlights the learning and entrepreneurship library 3D printing facilitates. Read it here.
  2. The maker community is relying on libraries to navigate the policy landscape surrounding 3D printing technology. Practitioners like the men and women of Tech Shop are bastions of knowledge on the complex mechanics of 3D printing, modeling and scanning. However, as one of Gad Merrill’s colleagues pointed out during the Q and A session, they simply don’t have the bandwidth to focus on the legislative, regulatory and judicial activity surrounding these activities. Library professionals, on the other hand, are already taking on this work. ALA OITP and our members have produced materials elucidating the policy implications of 3D printing, and the greater library community is working together to shape the direction of the frameworks for use that coalesce around this technology by sharing acceptable use policies and proactively studying copyright, patent and trademark issues.

OITP looks forward to future opportunities to trumpet the library community’s leadership on the 3D printing front – both as service providers and policy analysts. With the help of our 3D Printing Task Force, we will continue to spearhead written work and informative programming that underscores the efforts of libraries to foster a “democracy of creation” through 3D printing, modeling and scanning.

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Charlie Wapner

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

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