Retrospective analysis of a sustainable 3D printing service in an academic library

Publication Date18 November 2019
Date18 November 2019
AuthorJean Louise Bossart,Sara Russell Gonzalez,Neelam Bharti
SubjectLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,Library technology,Information behaviour & retrieval,Information user studies,Information & knowledge management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Retrospective analysis of a
sustainable 3D printing service
in an academic library
Jean Louise Bossart and Sara Russell Gonzalez
University of Florida Marston Science Library, Gainesville, Florida, USA, and
Neelam Bharti
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the sustainability of an academic library 3D printing
service. Originally intended to introduce students to an emerging technology, the 3D printing service at the
University of Florida (UF) libraries expanded to support teaching, learning and research, allowing faculty,
staff and students to engage in the maker movement.
Design/methodology/approach This paper analyzed usage data collected by the librarys 3D printing
service from April 2014 through March 2018. These data include the number of prints produced, amount of
filament consumed, user academic demographics and whether it is for academic assignments, research or
personal projects.
Findings The data show that the initial 3D printing service users were predominantly engineering
students; however, over the four-year period, the service has built up a consistent and diverse user base and
expanded the number and types of printers. With grants covering the purchase of the 3D printers and a
modest charge for printing ($0.15 per gram of model weight), the 3D printing service has achieved a
sustainable level.
Originality/value UF was one of the first academic libraries to offer 3D printing services and has collected
four years of data to evaluate the sustainability of the service. These data demonstrate that the service is a
valuable and sustainable asset, allowing students and researchers to visualize and innovate in such diverse
fields as anthropology, archaeology, art, biology, chemistry and mathematics.
Keywords Academic libraries, Sustainability
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
The 3D printing service was started at the University of Floridas (UF) Marston Science
Library and the UF Health Science Center Library in April 2014, and one year later in March
2015 in the Education Library, as described in Gonzalez and Bennett (2014). Initially, library
staff-managed the services, processing and printing 3D models that patrons submitted
in-person. However, an online submission with semi-automated services was introduced in
2017 that reduced the staff time needed to work with patrons individually. Once the 3D
model was submitted, 3D staff examined the model for printability, sliced it for printing and
charged the patron based on grams of filament needed. Once paid for and printed, the
patron was notified to pick up the completed model.
This service was initially funded by a student technology fee grant and is supported by
charging patrons for material used and labor provided by the libraries. The libraries charge
$0.15 per gram based on the weight estimate of the model. The patron is not charged for
failures due to equipment issues.
Library Hi Tech
Vol. 37 No. 4, 2019
pp. 669-678
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/LHT-12-2018-0196
Received 14 December 2018
Revised 13 June 2019
13 August 2019
Accepted 13 August 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
The authors would like to thank the George A. Smathers Librariesfaculty and staff for their support of
3D services. Specifically, Denise Bennett, Joe Baca, Ernie Williams, Christine Yip, Emily Brooks, Jessica
Bergau, and Austin Marcellus provided invaluable assistance with set-up and operation of the 3D
laboratory. 3D printing at the UF libraries was funded by University of Florida Technology Fee Grants
in 2013 and 2016.
Sustainable 3D

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