Your Library’s Digital Collection & the Post-Holiday Bump

Originally published at LinkedIn Pulse

The holiday season is often considered a down time for libraries, as it can be difficult to compete for our patrons’ time and attention. Generally, we offer fewer programs and may experience a brief downturn in checkouts between Thanksgiving and New Year. Following this period, however is an ideal time to promote your library’s collection of eBooks, eMagazines, streaming movies and music.

New Toys = New Users

Tablets, computers, eReaders & smartphones are all expected to be popular gifts. Once a patron owns one of these gadgets, they become a potential user of your digital branch. With a few considerations, you can successfully convert a large percentage of potential users into actual ones.

Offer Introductory Device Classes

A patron that cannot use their mobile device cannot use your digital collection! Before you make any effort to promote your collection, ensure that you are offering patrons the opportunity to learn the basics of common mobile devices. Consider offering introductory classes on iPad, Android and Kindle Fire devices starting in the second half of January. Patrons attending these classes should be shown the basics; how to turn them on/off, connecting to WiFi, installing/deleting apps and using the web browser. All of these basic actions are the precursors to accessing your digital collection! Once the class has ended, you can hand out flyers advertising compatible collections, or engage in a short demonstration. If your library offers one-on-one appointments, you can also make them at this time if a patron wishes to know more.

Offer Live Demonstrations of Your Digital Collection

Not everyone is a tech newbie! For every patron who may have just gotten their first smartphone, there’s one who just upgraded to an iPad Air 2 from an earlier model. These patrons don’t need lessons on how to use their device–they need to know what the library has to offer them! Demonstrations, either scheduled or drop-in are an excellent way to showcase your digital branch. These can be formalized classes such as “Free eBooks on Your iPad,” “Streaming Library Movies,” or others appropriate to your collection. In the case of drop-in, set up an attractive display with posters and informational flyers. Utilize digital signage; a re-purposed monitor & slideshow, or something more formalized, like Overdrive’s Media Station. Have a mobile device or two with “dummy” accounts so patrons can see your collection in action. Ensure you have staff assigned to the display during peak hours and advertise this presence to your public.

By capitalizing on the post-holiday influx of mobile devices in your community, you can draw in large numbers of new users. By creating an atmosphere of excitement and effective tech support, you can assure these new users become permanent users!

For more information on running a successful digital branch, consider purchasing my book “Making the Most of Digital Collections Through Training and Outreach,” published by Libraries Unlimited.

Dungeons & Dragons & 3D Printers

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Role-playing games (RPGs) such as Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder have long enjoyed legions of fans.  More recently, Netflix’s hit show “Stranger Things,” has also served to drum up interest, as Dungeons & Dragons serves as a major plot point. Some libraries have sought to capitalize on this interest by offering meetups/gaming sessions and by purchasing rule books. Even if your library doesn’t actively offer programs, you may have noticed a role playing group using your floor space or meeting rooms.

While some role playing groups simply utilize pencil and paper, many prefer to use miniatures to represent their characters and the various monsters/foes they encounter. Miniatures can be extremely pricey–some simply use paper stand-ins rather than shell out for costly pewter or plastic commercial options. For libraries in possession of a 3D printer, you have the potential to offer these patrons a dynamic service/program designing and printing tabletop miniatures.

Offer a Public Print Service:

Elf ranger schematic
Elf Ranger D&D miniature by MattDB

With 3D printer and a public print policy, you likely have an affordable alternative for those wishing to utilize tabletop miniatures. Existing schematics for game  pieces  abound at Thingiverse and other open-source 3D model repositories. In this scenario, you need only make these your gaming groups aware of the service. This could be as simple as a quick sales pitch when you see the group meeting. Alternatively, you could place a poster near where you house your games and/or rule books or go one step further and place a flyer inside them!

Offer Programs and Workshops:

While printing someone else’s model can provide value to the RPG crowd, teaching these patrons to design their own can be a truly rewarding experience! Every player has a unique character they’ve created in the game world. The crux of 3D printing is its ability to prototype inexpensively. Combine these two truths and you realize what a perfect partnership they form! Rather than rely on a stock file, which is effectively settling for something that looks like the character they’ve imagined, an original design allows for a far closer creative expression! Sensing this, some companies are offering custom 3D printed miniatures–at a significant cost.

TinkerCAD miniatures
Dungeon Delvers by Dutch Mogul. Designed in TinkerCAD

Free software that is up to the task abounds. At entry level, a course centered on TinkerCAD  can provide an effective tool for creating miniatures. If you or your patrons have access to an iPad or Android tablet, 123D Scultpt+ is excellent for creating characters and creatures. More confident designers can utilize Blender (Mac, Windows, Linux). When designing, plan on printing scaled to 25 or 28 mm, which is the standard size in most tabletop RPGs.

3-D printed and painted "female knight" by Stockto
3D printed and painted “female knight” by Stockto

Once these miniatures are printed, you can offer companion programs! Generally, the designs your patrons print will come in a single color. Offering follow up workshops on painting and accessorizing these miniatures can continue to draw crowds. Beyond character design, a more narrow focus on printing and assembling terrain are natural progressions. Finally, the library can take advantage of inexpensive print costs and open source models to include miniatures in library-owned box sets for public use. If pieces go missing (they will), simply print and replace!

Fans of tabletop RPGs are a natural audience for 3D printing programs and services. Libraries increasingly cite a desire to draw in “new adults” age 18-30–a core constituent of these games. With a little work and creativity, you have the potential to better serve current library users as well as draw in new ones!

3D Printing in Libraries: Putting Your Misprints to Work!

Let’s face it, even the most carefully maintained 3D printer will suffer misprints. In the past, I’ve muttered some choice words before throwing the offending object out. Happily, there’s another way! Enter the “3D Printing Swear Jar!”

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Rather than depositing them directly in the garbage, I now collect these misprints and later put them to work demonstrating concepts like infill percentage and supports. I use them in 3D printing classes to conduct “autopsies” where we try to discover what went wrong–was it a poor design or did the printer get bumped?

Believe it or not, your patrons often find these partially finished or even mangled prints to be of interest. I’ve been asked by folks of all ages if they can take home a stray strand of filament–scoring a half printed octopus is a real prize! Before throwing anything out, simply put it in a bin near your 3D printer with a sign that says “take one.” If your printer isn’t located on the public floor, choose a high traffic area like your reference desk or circulation.

As a final option, your land of misfit prints can find a home in a makercraft. Maker programs are always starving for consumables–repurposing some ruined filament is a great way to save some money and maximize your investment in a 3D printer.