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3D/DC: A great day for libraries

3D/DC 2016 panel on workforce development.
L-R: Diego Tamburini, Autodesk; Charlie Wapner, American Library Association; Adam Schaeffer, D.C. Public Library; U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (CA-41). Image from Becky Button, via Twitter.

Last week, I participated in 3D/DC, an annual Capitol Hill event exploring 3D printing and public policy. Programming focused on 3D printing’s implications for education, the arts, the environment, the workforce 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 technology too many times to count over the course of the day, and the library community had not one, but two representatives on the speaker slate.

It was my privilege to be a panelist for a program exploring the role of 3D printing in closing the workforce skills gap. Thankfully, my national-level outlook on how libraries harness 3D printing to build critical workforce skills was buttressed by the on-the-ground perspective of Library Associate and Maker Extraordinaire Adam Schaeffer of the Washington, D.C. Public Library (DCPL). The other participants on the panel were Robin Juliano of the White House National Economic Council, Gad Merrill of TechShop and Diego Tamburini of Autodesk. You can catch a video of the panel here.

I described libraries as informal learning labs; places where people are free to use digital technologies like 3D printers, laser cutters and computer numerical control (CNC) routers to build advanced engineering skills through the pursuit of their personal creative interests. I argued that in combination with the suite of other job search and skill-building services libraries provide, library 3D printers are powerful tools for fostering workforce preparedness. Adam Schaeffer offered powerful anecdotes to illustrate this point. His kinetic overview of the wide array of products he’d helped patrons launch with a 3D printer was a tour de force of the 21st century library’s power as an innovative space.

It was a pretty light lift to convince those in attendance of the value of library 3D printing services to the task of workforce development. Nearly every word I, and my Library Land compatriot, Adam, uttered in furtherance of this effort was met with a sturdy nod or a knowing grin. I found this surprising at first – but after a minute, I realized it was in keeping with an ongoing trend. In my just-over two years at ALA, I’ve seen a steady proliferation of stories in popular news and blog outlets about 3D printers being used in libraries to build prototypes of new products and foster engineering and design skills. As a result, library “making” has reached an inflection point. It’s no longer seen as quaint, cute or trivial; it’s acknowledged as a means of advancing personal and societal goals.

That this is the case is a testament to the ingenuity of library professionals. From New York to California and everywhere in between, the men and women of the library community have built communities around their 3D printers; library makerspaces have become cathedrals of creativity – and their congregations are growing by the day. I know…Because last week, I was preaching to the converted. To all the library makers out there: keep up the good work.

ALA would like to thank Public Knowledge for including libraries in 3D/DC this year. I’d personally like to thank Public Knowledge for the opportunity to speak during the event.

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Charlie Wapner

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

One Comment

  1. It’s really exciting to see that technological innovations are not putting libraries out of business, as some may have thought with the increasing digitization of the world, but are actually helping drive people to libraries. I hadn’t even considered libraries to be a place where people could produce and work with their prototypes, but it makes sense now that I’ve heard about it. Thanks for sharing.

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