Making a short story long - or 3d printers and libraries

I have been stuck in my head lately.  Usually I am not a real deep thinker; I know that sounds odd to admit, but the big “Why?” has never much haunted me.  My TV works, how exactly, well, I don’t really know.  The meaning of life? Heh, get up in the morning and, to quote Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.”  But lately I have found myself pondering, “What is library?” Not, “what is a library” though I have pondered that too… but what is the role, goal and end all purpose of a library?  I know, this might be too big a topic for one blog – especially one blog that is supposed to be about 3D printers.  But see, in a way, it is the 3D printer that has pushed along my thinking in this ponderous what-is-library-I-need-a-beer sort of way.

3d printers…where to start…Okay, see, I love technology, I also like working with my hands… creating things.  Let’s face it; a previous job has been auto mechanic, I took blacksmithing classes, I built my own house – these things say tool user.  I had internet before I had running water in my home.  I am a geek.  My excitement about 3D printers, and really the whole idea of libraries being places where folks can go to print off a plastic doodad that fixes their dishwasher comes from this place inside me, this hands-on making place.  

When I try a think about why I believe libraries are the right place for this ‘making’, I keep coming back to two things.  The first was when I was four years old. Yes, a long time ago. No, I didn’t have a pet dinosaur, I had a library card.  I was given my first library card, and then I sat on a carpet square, and a lady read a book, and then I got to play with glue and Popsicle sticks.  I will openly blame this moment for first kindling my love of libraries.  I didn’t know how to read, I wasn’t big on sitting still, though I am sure the lady reading the book was somewhat interesting…. It was the glue… the arts and crafts moment in storytime, and the plastic card that seemed very adult-like and somehow granted me the privilege of glue.  I was hooked.  Making (and in this particular case I will say, making a mess) in a library helped my literacy.  Nowadays, the world needs more kinds of literacy from us.  We need to read, yes. But we also need to be able to at least poke the computer keyboard with enough skill to fill in an online form.  We need to deal with electronics in all sorts of ways.  The making might involve more than glue and Popsicle sticks. Digital literacy is part and parcel with our community’s literacy needs.

The other thing I keep coming back to in my head is how I built my house. Seriously, I read a lot of library how-to books, I watched an entire series of how-to home wiring on dvd, and I asked people. (People are often some of the best reference books.)  For the record, my house passed code and has not fallen over.  I learn stuff I need to know from libraries. Libraries bring knowledge to communities.

But I don’t go to the library just for the books. It isn’t just the knowledge.  And here is where I go back to the question, “What is library?”  I have heard folks, ok, let me clarify, I have heard librarians say that libraries connect people with ideas. I have checked out movies and books from libraries that no idea, certainly no good idea, has ever sprung from.  I call it entertainment; some may call it a waste of time.  But libraries carry those movies and books. Library includes. Includes what I have heard described as something to offend everyone.  Did you know at one point fiction books were not carried in libraries?! There weren’t seen as scholarly enough. Things have changed. Can you imagine trying to remove even one small genre of fiction books from public libraries… like ‘mystery books with cats’...? Ha…Picture it, suddenly public libraries stop lending or owning mystery books with cats because, really, what use are they anyway?  There would be a riot. Librarians would need body armor.  But books with cats solving mysteries are important. (That is a sentence I never thought I would write, but it is true.) It isn’t just that folks want them. It isn’t that these books will bring humanity to a better place, or instill a sense of democracy in the common reader. Well, maybe they will, but libraries have cat mystery books because inspiration comes in odd forms, because relaxation is important, because access is important, because you never know from where insight emanates.  This brings me to 21st Century librarianship… the idea that there is more than bringing the world of ideas to the community, there is bringing our community to the world.  We become a conduit of ideas flowing… Less of the library seeming like a grocery store, where you pick your item and go home, and more of  a kitchen where things are being cooked up and devoured – recipes followed and modified. 

And then I think about 3D printers. I think about how the very essence of manufacturing is changing because of these 3D printers.  The Economist has done an extensive review of how manufacturing is changing because of 3D printing technology.  Some articles conclude that this is a third industrial revolution. What this could do is bring back many jobs and manufacturing to the USA. However, this new era will favor skilled workers more than ever. <cough libraries cough>   Digitally literate, CAD competent, adventurous folks...  

Perhaps it is the responsibility of public libraries to open doors of accessibility for their patrons. Some of the doors may contain mystery books with cats; other doors might contain glue and Popsicle sticks and 3D printers.  3D printers - maker spaces - are one more way to support people in coming to know the world and themselves, and to participate with the world.  It is part of what libraries are about.

Now that I have managed to make a short story long, I want to tell you how excited I was when the Pueblo City/County Library District got a 3D printer.  Maria Kramer, Youth Services librarian at the Rawlings branch, brought the 3D printer to the Beyond BTOP conference.  Her presentation has links to many wonderful videos about 3D printers.  The Pueblo City/County Library is creating a space in the library is where people gather to share their knowledge, help each other, and print stuff!


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