3D Printed Guns and the Library: A Reminder That Policy is Important!

The news cycle has been dominated by the impending publication of plans for 3D-printed firearms, originally set for August 1, 2018. A federal judge has intervened, issuing a restraining order to block the files from being posted, for the time being. For libraries with a 3D printer, this seems an appropriate time to discuss the importance of having a 3D printing policy.

So what are the key components of a good 3D printing policy?

Conformity with local, state, and federal law: Consider this the low-hanging fruit. Simply put, the library should make plain that its printers are not meant to facilitate a crime! However, as recent events demonstrate, technology often outpaces the law, necessitating further detail.

Prohibition against weapons: While the library seeks to provide access to information, it need not position itself as a DYI arms manufacturer. A prohibition should be flexible; rather than being firearm specific, it should include items that are unsafe, dangerous, or posing a threat to others.

Respect for copyright: In many ways, this is covered under the “conformity with the law” provision. As copyright represents a significant area of concern for a 3D printer, it is worth stating explicitly. Such a policy is doubly important if your library owns a 3D scanner, as copyrighted materials can be digitized and then uploaded as a schematic online.

Appropriate use: What constitutes proper use? Is there a time or size limit to prints? A monthly limit? How much assistance can/should staff reasonably provide? It’s best to be upfront about these things, both to manage patron expectations, and to ensure that staff provides consistent service.

Cost: How much, if at all, does your library intend to charge for prints? Two schools of thought are charging by weight or by print time. Weight is a good method for offsetting material costs. If your printer(s) use material types with noticeably different costs, you may need to set your pricing accordingly. In the case of charging by print time, this is an excellent method for preventing monopolization of printers and easing potential logjams.

Discretion clause: This is a final, catch-all provision that states the library’s right of refusal for prints it may find inappropriate or unwarranted. This clause can help deal with matters that may outpace explicitly written policy. In any refusal, you may wish to have a mechanism for petitioning the library’s Director and Board.

The nature of technology is change. As these changes often outpace our laws, library policies that are thoughtful, and as importantly, flexible, can provide an important safety net for your organization.

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