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An Interview with Jeanne Antill, UMass Amherst

We have covered many various stories and conducted interviews in and around MakerBot Innovation Centers to this point. Most often times, when we hear about them, they are, as one might expect, tied to a college or school of engineering and science. In late March of this year, UMass Amherst became the latest campus to open one of these amazing centers. However this Innovation Center differs from the others because it is located in the W.E.B. DuBois Library, rather than tied to their campus’ College of Engineering. Up to this point, as we learned, the campus had pockets of 3D printers spread out around campus, but nothing was centralized or widely available. While the DuBois Library is certainly not the first library in the country to explore 3D printing—in fact it’s a growing trend among both academic and public libraries—but it is the first we have heard of to do it to this level. The customized space at UMass Amherst currently boasts 50 MakerBot 3D printers and is set to open fully this coming fall. To learn more about their process with the Innovation Center and gain some further insight, we reached out and were granted an interview with Jeanne Antill, director of the Digital Media Lab at UMass Amherst. The interview was conducted via email, and the transcript is here below.

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1) What prompted you to look into becoming a MakerBot 3D Innovation Center? Had anyone among the staff and faculty had experience with other 3D printers or 3D design?
An enthusiastic UMass benefactor, Lorrey Bianchi, visited the MakerBot retail store on Newbury Street in Boston and watched the customers reacting to the printers and the kind of buzz it was generating. He contacted Jay Schafer, the W.E.B. Du Bois Library director, about meeting with MakerBot to discuss their offerings.

I was aware that 3D printing would be a great new technology to include in the expansion of our Digital Media Lab and was anticipating being able to support 4-5 printers but after hearing more about the “Innovation Center” concept with centralized management platform, it became obvious that the best way to have a meaningful impact to the campus and community was by establishing a more substantial offering. MakerBot worked on a proposal and based on our campus population, 50 proved more realistic.

There are faculty in various locations on campus using 3D printers for their individual labs but up until now, there has been no central resource that has been open to all students and faculty.

Having this 3D center here in the library is a powerful example of an active learning spaces that can be centrally available and open to all. Every new offering such as this changes the way students and faculty interact with the library and enables them to explore all the other services and resources they may not already be aware of such as the Digital Media Lab green screen rooms, sound rooms, equipment checkout service, Learning Commons micro climates, etc.

2) What types of reactions have you had across campus since the Innovation Center was announced?
We have had a wide range of interest the moment the word got out. Makerbot offered workshops for faculty during one of the coldest and snowiest Februaries on record and the workshops were filled to capacity.

We have had multiple requests daily for pilot projects to test out ideas and curriculum possibilities across diverse disciplines as School of Education, Landscape Architecture, Building Construction Technology, Studio Arts/Sculpture, Classics, Engineering, individual student projects, K-12 teachers from the area, etc.

We are now focusing what staffing model is needed to effectively support the explosion of activity we expect in the fall.

3) What is being done to promote its existence and technology? Have their been any mention of cross-campus partnerships or partnerships out in the community?
We are currently piloting projects with select faculty, students, and librarians from 5 colleges. We are also working with the Center for Teaching and Faculty Development and our Academic Computing teams to develop workshops and outreach activities to support faculty interested in incorporating 3D printing into their curriculum.

There are PR activities are being created in partnership with our Development office on a daily basis. We give tours several times a week and have hosted the India Counsel General, Ambassador from NYC, to the NPR StoryCorps producers, and local business groups.

In April, we participated in a HackUMass event that drew 500 hackers from all over the country. Many used our 3D printers to complete their projects during the 36 hour hackathon.

Also in April, I spoke at the 2015 Western Mass EDC Innovation Tour which was designed to showcase new technologies and entrepreneurial activities to leaders of local businesses and educational groups. Everyone is excited and energized by this new resource.

4) Who will be able to take advantage of having this type of resource on campus? Will it be limited to students in a specific major or course?
The printers will be accessible to the students, staff, and faculty for class or personal projects. The print service will also be available to the public as time allows. We will prioritize class projects but want to keep things as flexible and open as possible during this time of exploration. I am excited to see the diversity of project ideas we are presented with.

5) What impact do you think it will have on the education of your students?
The rapid process from conceptual idea to physical object is powerful and unleashes a whole host of learning opportunities. It is an exciting new way to engage students at the intersection of the technical and creative arenas. It is also a real world tool that will give them an advantage when working with future technologies in the workplace.

6) When will the Innovation Center be fully up and running? Will it be open the same hours as your library?
We plan to open up the center to pilot projects, school groups, and individuals throughout the summer and begin a fee-based service in the fall.

The hours have not yet been determined and we are currently considering staffing models to make the center as accessible as possible to the patrons.

7) As a library, what are you doing to obtain materials that teach students about 3D printing? Will there be a separate collection housed in the Innovation Center that students can borrow material from?
We are actively cultivating Use Cases and tapping into existing faculty and user forums to share ideas and case studies. We are working on sample lesson plans, overview videos, online subject guides, 3D demos, and workshops.

We are also discussing various makerspace possibilities and want to encourage patrons to bring in materials to create objects to scan.

We are creating a gallery of both printed objects and uploading files for use or modification and there are many such online resources that already exist.

8) What advice, if any, would you give to another library/librarian who are interested in beginning an Innovation Center on their campus or a place of business?
Ideally, a core staff would be already versed in basics of 3D print software so the learning curve can be manageable and knowledge shared with others via small group workshops. Most technologies are only useful when applied so having a small staff dedicated to learning and managing different file types and software programs would be a huge advantage.

Getting a file network setup to the specs of internal IT requirements can take longer than expected so time needs to be built into the schedule for full network installation and testing. There can be issues with fire walls, security, power usage, data usage, and networking speed to consider.

Setting appropriate expectations is key. In the beginning, there will be many print fails and it takes experience interacting with a variety of file types to fully understand the setting and how to trouble shoot the printers. We tell our patrons that the 3D printers are best for prototyping ideas and print imperfections are to be expected.

As I mentioned earlier, having a staffing model is place is ideal but many institutions cannot create staffing prior to proving the need so it is often a catch-22.

9) What are some of the long-term goals of the library and UMass-Amherst as it relates to both 3D printing and education in general?
To continue to evolve services and learning/exploratory environments that enable creative and technical learning opportunities.

10) Have you had a chance to print much yourselves yet? If so what have you done and what are future plans for objects?
We recently printed a replica of the library that opens to reveal a printed artifact. It was produced as a gift for library donors at an annual “Friends of the Library” event. It was out first foray into mass production. We learned a lot about tolerance settings and the role of finishing tools.

We are excited about the various partnerships with community and other 5 colleges because we are the most central location and are a powerful ally in outreach throughout the region. We have had a series of meetings to discuss possible collaborations across the region and we are excited by the possibilities.