Use PLA in your printer

A new study just came out regarding air quality safety and 3D printing. To my mind, it just reinforced my choice to only use PLA instead of ABS, because of the KNOWN hazards of ABS. PLA may also be hazardous, but:

the primary individual VOC emitted from PLA filaments was lactide … albeit in relatively low quantities (p. F)


We are not aware of any relevant information regarding the inhalation toxicity of lactide, the primary individual VOC emitted from PLA filaments. (p. G)

I spoke about this issue here 2 years ago, and I still feel like a large, well-ventilated room with a PLA printer is unlikely to harm anyone–unless someone sits next to it all day everyday. Then an air filter is a good idea. But I am not a plastics scientist or health expert, so be cautious!



Azimi, P., Zhao, D., Pouzet, C., Crain, N., & Stephens, B. (2016, preprint). Emissions of ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds from commercially available desktop 3D printers with multiple filaments. Environmental science & technology.

FAQ: Policy & Procedures

Recently I was told by a librarian that they have never heard a compelling reason to work on policy. And we’ve all heard some librarian say (or said ourselves) we want practical solutions, not more theory. Some libraries don’t even have a procedures manual, because they think they can just figure things out as they go along–and of course, all the library’s personnel are on the same page, and implement policy equitably, right?

But policy, procedures, & theory are interconnected and all utterly necessary to public library practice.

Policy is not only cover-your-ass legalese considering the worst possible outcomes, but is also a statement of what you are doing and why. It is your first (and 2nd and 3rd…) line of defense against challenges, an outline of your goals and visions, and a map to the services you provide.  It should reveal your hopes and dreams for your community and your library’s place in it.

All of this rests on theory.

You want to make your community better and stronger, right? (I’m going to assume you do, because NO ONE goes into public libraries for the money!) Well, you have some theories on how you can accommodate this desire, which may involve literacies, or making things, or balanced collections, or storytimes, or a caring staff engaged in community affairs. These theories evolve into services and collections through practice and policy.

  • First, you decide x is the thing to do to make the world a better place (this is the theory).
  • Second, you write the roadmap for getting you there (this is the policy).
  • Finally, you follow the map, hopefully in an equitable and helpful way (these are the procedures).

Without a coherent set of policies, grounded in a strong mission statement, and elaborated in a comprehensive set of procedures, it is all too easy for public libraries to get their reputation for fussy, arbitrary, power-grabs. All too often a lack of coherent and visionary policies and procedures reads as “because I said so” bureaucratic bullshit. One staffer will require one set of behaviors, while another staffer allows another. And the rules don’t seem connected to the sense of welcoming, even revolutionary free open-access and social engagement that public libraries are actually about (in my opinion).

In light of public library makerspaces, many people are fumbling around with creating policies and procedures. I have been asked about policies and procedures a lot. I have spoken about the excellent East Troy Library’s makerspace policy, in a previous post.

Now, I’ve revised that policy to something that would have worked well in the library where I was a director, included some of the policies and procedures I created there, and offer you this sample Policy & Procedure Manual.

My goal is to ensure that creative spaces in libraries are socially just. This means that all people should have access to tools and information that they can use to pursue whichever dreams, visions, or ideas they deem fit. This should happen in an environment that is collaborative and supportive, so not only the education, job-skills, or even creative needs of the community are met, but also social and emotional needs, such as confidence, resilience, friendship, wonder, and plain old happiness.

I engineer these goals (my theories!) into the policies and procedures by trying to balance the needs of the many and the needs of the few, ensuring as many uses as possible are enabled, and that all sorts of social-emotional-creative needs are able to be met, instead o simply focusing on “don’t burn yourself on the extruder” types of policy/procedures.


Metaphors of Privilege

Latest discourse analysis of makerspace rhetoric–this one examining the metaphors and metanyms that librarians who offer makerspace services use, versus those used in the professional literature and blogs. The image of the poster looks VERY pink on my screen, apologies if this is true for you as well. You can download the pdf here.

EDIT: I’m proud (and surprised!) to say this poster won the Best Poster Award at iConference.

metaphors of privilege

ABSTRACT and references–at least the prepublication version. Please see iConference proceedings for 2015 for the citable abstract.



Policy for library makerspaces

owl oopsI am regularly asked for a policy for a library’s makerspace offerings. I’ve seen many of these, and provided a brief one elsewhere on this blog. But I was thrilled to recently be offered a shot at looking over East Troy Public Library’s policy. East Troy is a small town in Wisconsin, and is part of a group of libraries offering a mobile makerspace. I’ve been consulting with them for the past couple of years.

This file is the DRAFT policy penned by the wonderful director Alison Senkevich, along with my comments and suggestions. While it is not the final, approved policy, I love the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the policy.

My main recommendation: Ensure that a comprehensive procedures book is created alongside the policy to guide specific, quantitative guidelines for staff to follow when training, and ensuring use of the materials is up to the policy’s standards. If they do that, I hope to be able to share that as well!

Let me know if you have ideas, recommendations, or amendments you’d like to propose. The makerspace model in libraries is full of promise, but without strong policy, any makerspace will probably look like the 3D printed owl on the left of the photo above–starting out well, but devolving into chaos. (Note: the cat you see in the background was responsible for this mess. We call her Pandora for a reason–she is the original curious, and destructive, cat.)

East Troy Library General Makerspace Policy_comments


FAQs: dangerous tools in the library

I’ve been asked how my library (that I left in late 2013) handled dangerous tools such as soldering irons in our library makerspace. Here is how I’ve answered these questions:

As a small library we were often able to accommodate fairly dangerous activities safely that larger libraries might worry about, including soldering. We do have a liability release form, which we adapted from existing makerspace forms (one is here, adapt as you like but vet with your legal counsel).

What about kids and dangerous tools?
We never had more than five kids soldering at one time and often had two adults overseeing them. But sometimes adults were not closely supervising individuals, but let me explain how this worked:

We held several soldering workshops in which people of all ages (but mostly kids) learned to solder LED pins, printed circuit board kits such as the Octolively, and robot kits. We followed the “learn one, do one, teach one” model, in which each person “certified” to use the soldering tools on their own had to learn from us, demonstrate good skills and safety in a later interaction, then teach someone else how to do the task safely and well. At that point we used our best judgement to allow people to use the tools in a traditional makerspace manner–i.e. whenever they wanted to. Still, if the solderers were kids that we were concerned about being distracted, we would keep a close eye on them as they worked with the tools.

Our rules were:

1. MOST IMPORTANT: Always treat the soldering iron as if it is hot. At 475 degrees you’ll burn anything you touch, so it’s critical, even if you JUST saw someone taking the iron out of its box and plugging it in, to treat it as if it is at full temp. No waving it around. Always return the iron to its stand immediately.
2. Keep the mat under your work. We bought mats that one can iron clothes on, to prevent an accidental “set down” of an iron from melting or burning the table. (Before that we’d had one kid get distracted and set the iron on the cardboard she had under her  project. Since we were watching closely, it barely touched the cardboard before we told her to pick it up, but this made us aware that even with supervision, accidents happen.)
3. Use the helping hands. These are little metal stands that have clips on them to hold whatever you’re soldering.
4. Keep your grip far back on the solder. (i.e. don’t hold it so close to the part that’s being melted that heat travels up and burns your fingers, causing you to drop everything in alarm–this never happened)

5. Learn to fix your own mistakes, but make sure you tell someone when you’ve made one. (We helped extra with mistakes because it seems like it is easier to do stupid stuff with the soldering iron when frustrated.)

Did you have any incidents or problems?
The slight charring of cardboard is the only incident we ever had, and it happened only once. That said, these were good, responsible kids (and adults) who listened to directions, took our authority seriously, and WANTED to be able to continue using the tools. We told them that if there were an incident, it was likely the tools would go away forever. So, keep that in mind. I’ve had other batches of kids (and adults) who I’d never trust with soldering irons unless we were one on one. And even then, I’d worry. USE YOUR JUDGEMENT–KNOW YOUR PATRONS.

soldering hands

Did you hire expert teachers?
I was the “expert” and had never soldered before in my life. I learned via the fabulous Ladyada, Limor Fried, practiced a few times, then taught. No problem. I had another volunteer “teacher” in exactly the same position. She and I did great, and I think it made a great impression on the girls and women in the audience that we had just learned and were already pretty good, and we were female. I now teach classes on this and have taught a hundred or so librarians to solder! (if your library system wants a program on makerspaces, I’d be happy to consider it–I’ve done it for several systems so far)

Anyway, we did have expert volunteers for other stuff, such as robotics, and circuit bending, but usually I learned it, then taught it. For me, there are a lot of power/pedagogical reasons to be just ahead of the kids when teaching, and letting them surpass you is great. As I noted before, often the kids took over some of the teaching (part of our learn one, do one, teach one model) and our best soldering & 3D printing teacher was actually just shy of his 12th birthday.

Should I be concerned about kids using dangerous tools? What age limits should we consider?
Yes, you should be very concerned about kids using soldering irons. We had kids age 11+. Again, these were calm, responsible kids. I knew them, at least by name–I was not the teen librarian. I would have a great deal of concern about a rowdy group, one that “shows off” a lot when in groups, or kids I didn’t know at all to be fairly laid back. If you have kind of wild kids, I would highly suggest getting a 1:1 ratio of volunteers to eagle eye every move during the initial training period. And give kids plenty of elbow room so they don’t burn someone whilst gesticulating with soldering iron in hand!

Younger kids also soldered during our maker faire type of event, but only with their parents right there.

Where did you use soldering irons, and what about the fumes?
We soldered in both a small classroom and in the library proper. I was not concerned about the fumes, because we had good ventilation naturally circulating, but if you are concerned, see my post on 3D printing and air quality here.

I feel like the very limited time that people will be soldering, the large scale of most libraries, and the frankly small level of fumes being spewed out by the solder probably make this a non-issue for libraries. Now, if you’re doing intensive work over hours and/or have a small space with poor ventilation, that may be another story.I am not an expert on this, and your mileage may vary.

What other dangerous tools could people use?
Exacto knives are particularly terrifying, moreso than soldering irons, because people don’t respect their danger.
Dremel tool, hammer, scissors, paper guillotine (honestly, we never let this out in the makerspace area!), PVC pipe ratchet cutter, boiling water, oven and stove, knives, garlic crushers…
books, ideas, pen (being mightier than sword) and so on.

Any further questions? Check out my other FAQs, email me, or comment here. I also do workshops on all these tools and makerspaces in general.