Student Snippets A Window Into The Daily Life & Thoughts of SLIS Students

3D Printing: A Nerd’s Fantasy Realized!

Jill Silverberg
Have you ever been online and saw something that you wanted? I’m sure the answer is yes, but how many times have you actually acted on that impulse? But what if the thing you wanted is something a bit bizarre? Like an Ocarina of Time? Or maybe you want your own House Crest from one of the Four Houses of Hogwarts? As a self-declared nerd, these items are merely just an example of things from various books and video games that I have wanted since I was a child. Of course, like most early twenty-somethings, I am not currently at a place in my life financially where I could justify buying these things. Thankfully, I don’t have to.
When 3D printing was still a concept that one could only read about either online or in the newspapers, I thought it was the coolest things ever. I still do. However, I never thought that I would ever have the chance to see one up close, let alone 3D print something. On Newbury Street, there is a printing shop that has a few printers in their storefront windows; that was about as close as I thought I would ever get to seeing one. The ‘printer of the future’ on one side, me standing on the other, face pressed against the glass. But then, things took a turn for the serendipitous! SLIS’s very own Tech Lab came into possession of a 3D printer! The first time I saw it in the fall semester, I could barely believe my eyes. For something that can do what a 3D printer actually does, it didn’t look as remarkable as I thought it would. Imagine a normal printer but sliced in half. Where the other part would be, is an open space with a platform that rises when the printer is active. In the back, a spool of colored plastic is attached and fed through a tube. Making it work is just a matter of pressing a few buttons. One to unload the plastic, another to load, and finally, go! The first time I saw the printer in action, I was mesmerized. It literally took something from the computer, and made it real. Wow! 
Jump forward to January during winter break. Since I work for the Student Services Center, I was back at work the first week of the year. It was during this time, in between prepping for Spring 2015 Orientation, cleaning out lockers, and working on other projects that I happened to walk into the Tech Lab to find it totally deserted minus the staff. While I stood in front of a shelf filled with different 3D printed objects, I asked aloud, “How much does it cost to use the 3D printer?” The answer: “Nothing, it’s free to use to who ever wants to, once they’ve been trained of course.” 
Twenty minutes later, I was set up in front of the computer connected to the printer, searching this amazing website, This is just one of the many growing databases of patterns that one can upload to be printed through the 3D printer (you can also use an SD card too). Since it was my first time, I was worried about printing something too complex; if anyone can break a 3D printer by accident it would totally be me. Opting for simplicity, I settled on an elephant keychain. In just a matter of minutes, the pattern went from being on the computer screen to being an outline, gradually being filled by hot plastic. Forty-five minutes later, I poked my head into to Tech Lab to see how things were coming along. Sitting on the platform of the printer, was my little elephant. From that moment onward, I was hooked!
As the title of this blog post suggests, 3D printing, at least in my experience, offers me the chance to make what was once just my imagination, into reality. From a Ravenclaw and Slytherin Crest to a blue Narwhal, if there is something that I want to see brought out of a 2D existence, I can probably make it happen. Today, for example, I decided to give my purple elephant keychain a companion. I had an idea in mind, and went to to see if it could be made into a tangible thing. A few clicks later, my file was being uploaded into this program called Makerbot, w
hich is synched to the printer itself. Even though I’ve used this printer a bunch of times, I never get tired of watching it make something out of data. Less then an hour later, I was the proud owner of a 1UP Mushroom, just like those found in the Super Mario universe.
Growing up, I have watched technology come along way. From modems and pagers to Wifi and Google Glass, I could almost create a timeline of this technological progress and use it to tell the story of my life. When the first IPod came out, I was in 7th grade, etc. The existence of a 3D printer is just another signifier of how far we have come and suggests that we have only reached the tip of the iceberg in terms of how far we can go. Within the context of the library and information science field, technology has come a long way. Today, most libraries utilize an online card catalog, and most 


check patrons out using specific software. Archives and historical societies create digital finding aids and online exhibits, while others utilize social media to encourage online volunteer projects. As technology only progresses, moving past 3D printers and onto something even more groundbreaking, I feel that technology will only continue to have a place within the LIS field. One can only guess what the future might hold.