Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Rethinking 3D Printing in the Library, it’s not as complicated as you might think

When we first put together the Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (Ohio), we thought a lot about 3D Printers. At that time, we decided that for our staff and our space and our budget, the correct answer was no. It was a question we revisited a lot in the four years that I managed that space and the answer we kept coming back to was no. And although I am no longer working in that position, I imagine if I still was the answer would still be no for a variety of very legitimate reasons.

However, this summer I have been working a lot with and thinking a lot about 3D printers. This new revelation has occurred for a variety of reasons. One, I now work at the Central Library of the Fort Worth Public Library and they have a 3D printer out and open to the public at all times that the library is open. Two, I sent Thing 2 – who is 10-years-old – to 3D printing camp at the local schools – and she rocked it!

Our local school system offered a variety of STEAM Camps this summer and my child has attended four: 3D printing camp, rocket camp, art camp and baking camp. She enjoyed each and every one of them, though if you are familiar with my space loving kid you will not be surprised to learn that she adored rocket camp the most. But I was most surprised to see her engaging with 3D printing camp. And yes, she is now asking for a 3D printer. No, it’s not really in our personal budget.

3D printing camp used Thingaverse, which is a free 3D printing program. It’s the same program that we use here at my library. My child is 10 and she was able to easily upload and print this super cool shark below.

The shark was a pre-loaded design but they were required to manipulate it in some way so that they could learn how to use the software. That’s why you see the star on this shark’s head, she added it in her attempt to learn how to use the design software. She then designed a 3D keychain with her name on it and a balloon car, which they used to do balloon car races on the last day of camp. All of this took place in the course of 3 hours a day over a 4 day period. So in just 12 hours she was pretty comfortable designing and using a 3D printer. As I watched her design I realized that a lot of tweens and teens today are already using a variety of skills that relate directly to this, including designing PowerPoint presentations.

But what about 3D printers in the library?

At the library, our printer is always out and open to the public. It’s also always free. It’s by the staffed desk in our teen room, though anyone of any age can use it. The set up includes the printer itself, a laptop and a brief but simple instruction sheet. There is staff nearby to help users get started and to help send the final print job to the printer. The staff will also look at the print time before sending the job and tries to keep all print jobs to around 30 minutes so that there isn’t a long wait for the next patron. There is no sign up sheet or waiting list, it’s just first come, first served. There is also a small gallery of 3D printed objects kept out as examples for the patrons.

This works surprisingly well. Patrons are always impressed and interested. I have seen a lot of patrons of all ages have a great time. On occasion, someone walks in with a specific need or a design that they have created – patrons can bring in their own designs and print them – and the machine is in use and they either have to wait or come back another time. But on the whole, this approach works surprisingly well and it’s both satisfying and easy.

Staff even have used the machine to print replacement pieces for the various games that are available on the gaming shelves in the Teen Scene or items for an upcoming storytime or program. It’s a pretty useful tool and investment.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite projects:

And here’s a 3D printed model of the library at which I work:

Two of the biggest hurdles I often hear about 3D printing in the library is ease of use and budgets. I’ve changed my mind about ease of use after watching my own child engage with a 3D printer and watching patrons use ours in the library. Yes, more complicated designs or creating a design from scratch requires a higher level of skill, but there are a lot of free, already created designs out there for use.

As for budgets, a good printer that holds up to a lot of public use is not an inexpensive investment and there is the ongoing cost of replacement filament. Cost is a genuine hurdle and I can see how it could prevent many libraries from having one. Cost is what is preventing my newly excited tween from having her own 3D printer. Of all the issues I hear librarians discussing, this is indeed the most realistic and potentially hardest to overcome. The initial investment can be mitigated through things like grants, but keeping up with the need for filament can be costly.

The other hurdles I often hear discussed involve the implementation, the how, when, where and why of who gets to use the 3D printer. It turns out, just having one out and open to the public with no sign ups or complications can and does work. A lot of people simply enjoy seeing the printer in action and gaining an understanding of what one is and how exactly it works. I know that for me, when I first started reading about 3D printers I couldn’t even fathom what it meant or how one worked. Seeing it in action made a world of difference to me in my understanding of what this tool was and what it is capable of.

If you have the space and budget, I recommend investing in a 3D printer. You don’t even necessarily always have to out and available to the public if you have space or staffing issues, just having one around for programming is a good investment. Each library is different and there are always logistics to work out, but some good policies, procedures and guidelines goes a long way to addressing these issues and concerns.

As a librarian for 26 years, I have found that I often change my mind about various topics as I gain new information and experience. 3D printing is yet another topic that I have changed my mind about. I’ve gone from a not to a yes as I have seen it in action and it’s pretty cool. And as always, providing access and educational opportunities to patrons is the goal, and providing access to a 3D printer definitely fits within those goals.

MakerSpace: DIY Fidget Spinners Three MORE Ways


Earlier I shared with you 3 ways we are making fidget spinners in the Teen MakerSpace at the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH). Today I am going to share with you 3 additional ways we have had fun creating our own fidget spinners. All three of these ways involve using a ball bearing. We bought a bulk order of ball bearings off of Amazon for a reasonable price. The ball bearing spinners definitely work better than the non-ball bearing spinners that we created.


DIY Polymer Clay Spinner


Polymer clay has turned out to be a pretty popular item in our Teen MakerSpace, so the teens wanted to explore if they could successfully made a fidget spinner out of clay – and they did. To make the spinner they simply built up the clay around the ball bearing and shaped it into a shape and size that they liked. Our teens made both two and three sided spinners. We baked the clay as directed with the ball bearings already in place.

DIY 3D Pen Spinner

3D Pen Fidget Spinner #1

3D Pen Fidget Spinner #1

I have mentioned many times how our 3D pens are pretty popular, so of course we decided to see if we could make a spinner with one. I actually really liked this spinner the best out of all six that we have made. We used a ball bearing for the center and pennies for the outside spokes to save on the number of bearings we used in subsequent spinners. To make our spinner we built up the 4 individual elements first, making solid circles around the ball bearing and the three pennies. We then connected the four pieces.

3D Pen Fidget Spinner #2

3D Pen Fidget Spinner #2

Light Up LED Spinner Hack


One of our regular teens had the idea to hack a fidget spinner to make it light up using LED lights and button cell batteries. He placed the batteries where the outside bearings usually go, putting them in place using hot glue. He then put an LED light on the end of each and used electrical tape to hold them in place. You can see a short video of our spinner in action here.

The best part about making fidget spinners in so many different ways has been watching the teens explore, create and problem solve. There has been a lot of comparing and contrasting, creative thinking, and working together to try and figure out some of the best ways to try and make new and different types of spinners.

MakerSpace: 3D Pens, Reviews and Tips and Tricks

Many on our staff at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County were clamoring for a 3D Printer when we were discussing creating our MakerSpace, but we were worried about cost and space. And I personally was worried about the learning curve: I know nothing – and I mean nothing – about 3D Printers. So I was hesitant to set myself up for failure right out of the gate and worried about losing momentum and staff support when others saw my failure. So we opted instead for a 3D printing pen, which turned out to be a really excellent place to start in 3D printing.

3D Printing Pens work kind of like a glue gun, except that they use filament – the same stuff used in 3D Printers – to create 3D works of art. They are less expensive, pack up easily, and they are a great place to start when considering the world of 3D printing. Here’s our first attempt at using a 3D Printing Pen.

We have 2 different types of 3D Pens: the 3D Doodler and a 7Tech 3D Pen which can be found on Amazon by several different names.


The 3Doodler and Filament


The 7Tech 3D Pen

After working with both of the pens I prefer the second 7Tech 3D Pen over the 3D Doodler because:

  • The 3D Doodler takes longer to heat up and advance the filament
  • It is harder to load and navigate the filament
  • You can only use 3D Doodler brand filament, which comes in short sticks so you have to reload it more frequently
  • It is less intuitive for first time users

In comparison, with the 7Tech 3D Pen you can buy spools of 1.75 Filament (often at rock bottom prices) on Amazon. These are more continuous strands so you can focus more on building your creation and less on reloading your filament.

A Note about the 7Tech 3D Pen:

If you do a search on Amazon for a 3D Pen you will find a variety of pens by different names that look basically the same, though they may vary in color. The most common name you have probably heard of is the Scribbler. These pens are a different make and model than the 3D Doodler, the most popular brand name 3D printing pen. These pens are all a version of Model #: RP100A and they take a 1.75 mm filament. You can read some about the Samto version here.

Tips and Tricks for Using Your 3D Pen:

Overall, we really enjoyed using our 3D printing pen. For our first project, we simply tried to make a cube.


We then freehanded something that we called a T-Rex skeleton, mostly just because I like dinosaurs and it kind of looks like one. I went back in and added itty bitty arms to keep it on theme.


We then discovered the magic of templates.

Tip #1: Use Templates Whenever You Can

3dpen6 3dpen7 3pen8

You can freehand draw your own template, which is what my coworker did here. But you can also do a Google search for 3D Pen Templates and find a ton as well. We started a Pinterest board to pin some of our favorites which we keep stocked in our MakerSpace. 3Doodler also has a book which is a great inspiration and starting point, even if you don’t use the 3Doodler.

Tip #2: Buy Some Type of Mat

The 3Doodler actually sells a mat, and even if you don’t use the pen you can use the mat. You can also use a regular cutting mat that you purchase at your local craft store. The mat makes it easy to lift your project off when you are done.

Tip #3: Know Your Filament

There are 2 different types of filaments, ABS and PLA. They have a few differences that are important depending on what you intend to try and make. 3Doodler has a good comparison chart to help you understand the differences.

Tip #4: The Tip of Your 3D Pen is Like a Soldering Iron

You can make little pieces and then solder them together using the tip of your 3D pen.

Tip #5: Be Patient! And Start Small!

Your first time creating with a 3D pen will not be a masterpiece. It takes a while to learn how to keep a steady hand, how best to manipulate the pen and filament, etc. Start with a smaller project and work your way up. It can take a really long time to make a complete project, patience is key.

In the end, we were able to create a very cool catapult using our 3D Pen. (In the interest of full disclosure: my coworker did this, not me) and it can fling um, spit balls (but without the spit, because gross).


And here’s a picture of me sitting in the Teen MakerSpace wearing the 3D glasses that my coworker made . . .


I highly recommend getting a 3D printing pen for your classroom or Maker Space if you can.

Additional Resources:

Testing the 3D Pen, and Conclusion – PC Magazine

3D Printing Pen Tutorial – Instructables

3D Printing Pen Tutorial | Make: DIY Projects, How-Tos

Stencils on Pinterest | 3doodler