3-D printer helps Library gauge interest in maker spaces


“The machine is really, really fun to look at.”

That’s what Sean Patev, a graduate student in the field of plant pathology, says about his 3-D printer, which he is bringing to a series of library events this fall to help Cornell University Library gauge student interest in 3-D printers and maker spaces – places where people gather to think creatively, invent and build.

“You can just stand there and watch it, like a campfire,” Patev said.

Dozens of students were doing just that on their way through Mann Library lobby last week. The printer consists of an open frame with a stylus in the center adding layers of plant-based plastic until it has created an object; in this case, a disc imprinted with the Mann Library crest. Although they’re eye-catching, 3-D printers are just one element of the kinds of maker spaces the library is considering.

“I even think that ‘maker space’ is too narrow a way to describe what we’re thinking about,” said Kornelia Tancheva, associate university librarian for teaching and learning. “Spaces that are technologically rich and enable the creation of things – they could be ideas, they could be actual things. Some refer to them as ‘fabrication labs.’”

As the role of libraries has evolved, Cornell library has grown increasingly interested in finding ways to use its spaces to provide better services. Last spring, librarians reached out to Patev after reading an article in the Daily Sun about his 3-D printer and maker space at Carl Becker House, where he is a graduate resident fellow, in hopes that they could build on student enthusiasm as they investigated bringing maker spaces into campus libraries.

“The academic library has been changing from primarily a location for passive consumption of knowledge,” Tancheva said. “I would like to see the library as a place where knowledge is not only consumed, but produced and disseminated.”

A task force is studying the feasibility of adding maker spaces to Mann, Engineering and either Olin or Uris libraries and is due to make its report by the end of 2015, Tancheva said. Patev also brought his printer to a graduate student reception at Olin Library Sept. 8 and plans to demonstrate it at an Engineering Library event later this fall.

At Mann, students watched the printer work, some adding their names to a list for more information. Spencer Debenport, a postdoctoral associate in crop and soil sciences who is using Patev’s printer to design lab tools, said libraries seem like a natural fit for the concept.

“Having [the printer] in a publicly supported place, where you can come up with your own design and then just go to the library and print it, seems like a great option,” Debenport said, as he watched it in action. “Since there are so many different applications for it, having it in the library makes a lot of sense.”

This story originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.