Thursday, May 26, 2016

3D Printers: Program or Service?

I'm always reflecting and evaluating how something is working especially something as expensive as our Ultimaker 2 3D printer.  Before purchasing a 3D printer, make sure to have a talk with staff about what they hope to accomplish with this printer. Is it a program? Is it a self-directed service? Is it both? This is true for any kind of new equipment such as video to DVD conversion, scanners, free Adobe suite products, and other items in our digital media lab. Ideally, people would come in, sit down and independently use the equipment for personal projects but some might need that initial tutorial for the confidence to begin.

I don't think we are at a point yet where most people have enough exposure to 3D printers to offer it as just another service (like our ink jet printers) without some beginner programming. It needs highlighting in newsletters, website, social media, etc. Sometimes it just takes that one hour program to encourage the self-directed learning that you hope to provide as a 3D printing "service".  Advertising a program like 3D printing and having no one show up? Don't be discouraged. This advertisement has planted the notion that your library has a 3D printer available.  Maybe Intro to 3D Printing is too vague? The reference department here did a series of directed workshops like board game pieces, jewelry, hand drawn prints and mother/daughter prints, to provide guidance with their initial printing endeavors. Some patrons gladly went off on their own projects but others liked the narrowed project guidance.

I feel like a carnival barker sometimes but try to bring your printer out in a visible space once in a while before the program itself. If you show it, they will come, eventually.  Even a simple display with 3D printed sample items is a real eye catcher and an opportunity for talk at the desk.
Since January, I have run monthly 3D printing beginner workshops (6 kids each) with only a few return customers coming back to print more. But the ones that have returned to print on their own made some really incredible things, one even winning a science fair! I am hoping this summer, when school commitments are over, kids will return to designing. We are going to hold weekly classes on Friday afternoons in July.

I have also emailed Boy and Girl Scout troops to offer a programming. I have had one Boy Scout pack visit and two Girl Scout troops this year. Remember they don't expect libraries to be offering these things so you still need to reach out, shout it from the rooftops and have patience.


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