Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Other Duties As Assigned"

We have had a 3D printer in our library since June of last year. We started with an Ultimaker 2, and it was a beauty. It's bright and very exciting-looking. And out of the box, it worked pretty well. I was pleased with the first few projects, and so were our students. 

What I was not prepared for was the popularity of the printer. It took about a month for people to catch on. But then, for the next three months, my queue for printing was always about 5 people long. I created a request form, and started keeping a log when I realized I couldn't just hold everything in my head anymore. 

Then, at the beginning of this semester, we purchased a second 3D printer. After various fits thrown by the Ultimaker at the end of Fall, I felt like I was taking a breath of fresh air when I started printing with the Taz 5

It looks so much more complicated. It feels like it's serious business when you pull it out of the box, but it's actually (in some ways) easier to use than the Ultimaker. And so far, no fits to speak of (other than a couple of prints that inexplicably stopped with no explanation). 

When I started this job as a Reference & Instruction librarian, I thought I would be teaching classes, answering questions, and sitting at my desk a lot. With the addition of our Tech To-Go program and 3D printing to the library, I've added a whole new set of skills to my resume. 

I'm by no means an expert in 3D printing. But I probably know more than a lot of people. And there's so much interest in what they are and what they do, that I even began offering an "Introduction to 3D Printing" seminar once a semester. We only have a few people attend each time, but those people are fascinated from start to finish. They love seeing the printer at work. They ask all kinds of questions, and I even end up learning quite a bit from them on how you can use the 3D printers.

I know at face value, 3D printing may not seem practical. It's expensive, for one. And some people see it only as a glorified toy-maker. But I've seen how our students have responded to it, and it's been amazing. The things they think of and attempt often surprises me. For instance, one student had a simple problem - the handle on his (very old) mini fridge broke. This is a student who is in a heavy equipment maintenance program, so it's not as if he has spent much time learning design or drafting. Earlier in the semester, I showed him the online tool Tinkercad. After a couple of small projects that he had made for fun, he was able to design a brand new handle, up to the perfect specifications for his old fridge. 

In the end, he was able to print a handle for about $7 at the library. To find the right replacement part would have cost him upwards of $50. For that cost, he would have been able to buy an entirely new fridge.

Becoming a 3D Printing hotspot on campus was not something I had anticipated in this project. But it's been delightful seeing how the students use the technology. And I have a feeling this skill will come in very handy as I continue my library career.