Library of the Future? 3D Printing, Books on Demand, Oh My!

The Washington Post has an article about DC's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library that shows a glimpse of many public libraries' future:

…D.C. Public Library system, which today is opening theDigital Commons at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The new facility, in a renovated 11,000-square foot section of the library's ground floor, contains a 3-D printer, an Espresso Book Machine that churns out tomes on-demand, an array of tablet devices, rows of computer terminals, and several meeting spaces outfitted with some of the newest productivity technology…

Next to the 3-D printer is a countertop full of tablet computers and ebook readers, devices on which DCPL finds an increasing percentage of its membership. Every major brand is represented—Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Microsoft—in what Cooper bills as something of a test counter. More and more, library members are loaning volumes on their devices rather using software like Overdrive for books or Zinio for periodicals. (Cooper says over 5,000 library members are using Zinio for public magazine subscriptions; the most popular title is The Economist.)…

Then there is the Espresso Book Machine. Printing books or magazines is not an inexpensive venture, but for the hopeful self-publisher, or someone desperate to obtain a tactile version of an out-of-print volume (sorry,Dream City won't enter the public domain for many more decades), this small press is an affordable solution. Cooper envisions school classes printing books of essays, people compiling family recipe books, or just aspiring authors yearning to see themselves in print…

The Digital Commons' other major component is what DCPL calls the "Dream Lab." About one-third of the space is carved up into meeting spaces and cubicles outfitted with various devices for collaborative work. Cooper is expecting to attract a long list of startup companies and community organizations that might not have permanent offices of their own, but still need resources like wireless Internet access, DVD players, visual projectors, and Smart Boards, interactive whiteboards that feature speakers, projectors, and, niftiest of all, styluses that leave trails of digital ink the way one would use a dry-erase marker on an analog board.

It's this kind of service that will help libraries continue to fulfill their vital role in the community. We may not see this level of service in our smaller branches any time soon, but I could definitely see something like this at the central libraries of Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point.


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