The maker movement and 3-D printing technology catalyze innovation and promote entrepreneurship by emphasizing “making” over “consuming” and facilitate experiential learning and rapid prototyping. To many, library Maker spaces are also often the only facility within their reach that offers open access to 3-D printing and scanning equipment. For these reasons, creating a Maker space for patrons is often an attractive project.
A growing number of libraries have already launched Maker spaces, and many more are planning to build their own. However, the increasing number of library Maker spaces or the frequent coverage of the Maker movement by the mass media does not mean that there has been a huge increase in the number of Makers among us. There are still many librarians and library staff who have never touched a 3-D printer or soldered a circuit board. This unfamiliarity, combined with the additional challenges of assessing the community’s need and securing the necessary funding, can create the impression that planning for and implementing a Maker space are daunting. So it is not surprising that many librarians begin with questions about what equipment they will need and how much it will cost. Here are some answers: a preassembled desktop 3-D printer of FDM (fused deposition modeling)–type costs from $1,000 to $2,500, and the price of a desktop 3-D scanner can range from $370 to $2,800.
There are online 3-D printer purchase guides such as one from Make magazine, updated annually, and you can find similar resources online for 3-D scanners as well. Needless to say, you can always buy more or less expensive hardware. But whichever model you choose, make sure to get an extended warranty and/or a service plan for at least one to two years. Desktop 3-D printers require a lot of troubleshooting and hands-on care. They are not appliances that you can simply turn on and expect to perform as they should.
You will need plastic filament for a 3-D printer. A one-kilogram ABS or PLA filament spool costs $20 to $50. So if you want to have a Maker space with, say, one of the most inexpensive 3-D printers that do not require assembly, with some plastic filament, you will need a budget of approximately $1,300 or so to get started.
The equipment is only the beginning, however. There are many more things beyond the hardware that you have to address and plan for before you are able to launch your Maker space.
These recommendations are based on some of the lessons we learned from participation on the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Health Sciences and Human Services Library’s Makerspace Task Force for our new Innovation Space (above) in April 2015. Although the Innovation Space was designed to serve the needs of university students and researchers, these considerations will be relevant to any library planning to develop a Maker space for its patrons.
It is important to think ahead about which staff, department, or team in your library will take responsibility for it. The person or team who plan and implement do not have to be the same as those who operate the space on a daily basis.
Even if your Maker space will consist of just one 3-D printer behind the Reference Desk, available for use by reservation, make sure to get a full understanding of what additional work will be required once it is up and running. This will help ensure that you have a plan in place that does not strain the preexisting workload.
Anticipate training needs
What kind of staff training and expertise will be necessary? If you have someone on your staff who is already familiar with the Maker movement and has worked with 3-D printing and scanning, that person can be an invaluable asset during the planning process.
Yet no matter how much personal experience one has, the staff who will be involved with the Maker space need to be adequately trained. You will need a plan to familiarize your staff with the new equipment, new services, and new work flow. You will need sufficient resources for the staff to learn new skills.
Be sure to set aside enough time for staff training and encourage staff members to play with the equipment and work on test projects collaboratively. This helps the staff become comfortable with new technology without being intimidated.
Establish clear service goals
What kind of services will you offer for library patrons and how? Of course, you will offer your equipment, which will be the first type of service. But will you also provide consultation and personal assistance for users who are completely new to such machinery? Or will you be mostly serving those who already know how to use this type of equipment and provide only basic introduction and safety information?
Perhaps the equipment will be accessible only to staff, who will take requests for 3-D printing or 3-D scanning from users and deliver the result. Depending on which service model you choose, staffing and services offered at the Maker space can vary.
Decide on payment for services
How will you charge for certain services? Equipment will need to be refreshed after a certain period since technology changes quickly. Consumables such as filament will also need to be purchased on a regular basis.
Your new library Maker space will require ongoing funding to be sustainable. Many libraries charge for 3-D printing, for example, in order to recoup the cost of filament and printer upkeep. If you decide to go this route, you will have to gather information about how much the service costs with all factors included. For example, 3-D printing would involve a 3-D printer, the amount of filament used, electricity, and staff time (if appropriate). Once you decide on the pricing scheme, you will also have to determine how the staff will collect the fee.
Envision work flows
Once you determine the equipment and the service to be offered at your Maker space, envision how the service will be rendered, from the first step to the end product. How will the user find out about the new Maker space? How will s/he interact with the staff to initiate the request? Once the request is made, what would be each part of the process until the user leaves satisfied? Discuss these steps with your planning team and other staff to be fully prepared.
Establish clear policies
Last but not least, what will be the policy for the new Maker space? It should specify who is allowed to use the Maker space and explain the process. It should also prepare the staff for contingencies during the Maker space operation. There may be users who want to 3-D print and assemble a functional gun or will not read the warnings and burn their fingers with a soldering iron. As long as some tools in the Maker space can be harmful, you will need to cover some basic safety issues and include that in the policy. [In 2015, the American Library Association hosted workshops that discussed guarding against liability lawsuits.]
The policy must also include activities or projects that are not allowed. And the policy should also answer common questions, such as whether a user will be charged for a failed 3-D print job.
Consider your community
The most important question to answer is related to neither equipment nor logistics. It is the community that the new library Maker space will serve. How will the new space become a valuable asset to your patrons? What kind of services and programs will the new space provide to realize that vision? Maker spaces may be a cool trend for libraries, but they will not make sense at every institution.
The importance of a clear goal for your own library’s Maker space cannot be overstressed in its planning and implementation stage. Some of what a Maker space can do for your community may become apparent only after you begin offering the service, for sure. Nevertheless, gather information about your potential community of Maker space users, and prepare as much as possible. Visit local Maker spaces, identify and talk to Makers in your community, and learn from their experiences.
Be clear about what you want to achieve with your new Maker space, whether it be the promotion of new technology or support for experiential learning. This will help you create a more concrete plan in terms of space, equipment, staffing, service, and programming, which will lead to the successful implementation of a new Maker space at your library.