Things I Never Learned in Library School: Public Libraries, 3D Printers, and Guns – oh my
We considered a lot of things when we were discussing adding a 3D printer to our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. These things included space, time, money and staff education. At the end of the day and after a lot of research, we decided that a 3D printer wasn’t right for our library for a variety of reasons, but none of those reasons included guns. It turns out, we should have considered guns as well. We were very naive about 3D printers many moons ago.
Like most librarians, I have been through active shooter training at my library multiple times. I’ve been taught where to go, what to do, and how to keep myself and my patrons safe should an active shooter come into the library. I was actually already working as a teen librarian when Columbine happened, and the landscape of what it means to work with teens has changed significantly since that day. Just this past year we saw teen led protests asking us to think about school safety and gun violence. Now, more than ever, working with teens means you have to think about gun violence, gun safety, and the second amendment.
Last week, the news began reporting that there was a possibility and a fight over whether or not plans for printing unlicensed, unregistered guns on a 3D printer could and should be released to the public via the Internet. Until I heard it on the news, I didn’t know this was something that I should be worried about, though of course it is. The distribution of these plans so freely on the Internet would change everything we know and talk about when we discuss the second amendment and a “well-regulated militia.” And as these guns are printed via plastic filament, they would be unrecognizable by standard safety equipment. This would literally change the entire discussion we are currently having regarding gun safety.
If you have watched the rebooted version of Lost in Space on Netflix, there is actually a character who prints a gun using a 3D printer, which becomes a significant plot point later in the episode. This gun is, of course, used by a bad guy to hold characters hostage and get them to do their will. As guns always do, this 3D printed gun changes the arc of the story and creates a new power balance.
So what’s happening in the public debate? The Trump Administration recently settled a lawsuit which opened the door that would allow for the CAD plans on how to print 3D printed gun to be released via the Internet. This means that anyone with access to a 3D printer could print for themselves a gun and that this gun would be unlicensed and unregistered. It would allow any and all people with access to a 3D printer to bypass current laws and regulations. This would create a large number 0f guns in existence that could not be traced to any specific time, place or person. A legislator introduced legislation to stop the release of these plans, which had not passed as of last night. At the last minute, a judge moved to bar the release of these plans until more is known.
Here’s the things: some plans for printing a 3D gun are already available on the Internet, though they were reportedly taken down. But if you understand anything about the Internet, you know that things uploaded don’t really ever go away. In the discussion about this issue on NPR this morning they emphasized that if you wanted to, you could in fact still find the first initial plans for printing a basic 3D printed gun.
What does this have to do with libraries? Many libraries provide access to 3D printers and if you haven’t already, you need to be thinking about what your policies are and how you will respond to this issue. Because many libraries have active policies in place barring bringing weapons into the library, they also have policies in place about creating weapons in the library. I did an informal poll on Twitter and many respondents indicated that they did, in fact, have a no weapons policies in place. A few respondents indicated that they will need to bring this issue up with their administration. One respondent stated that in their state, Kentucky, it was against the law to prohibit a patron from making a 3D printed gun if you provide access to a 3D printer.
I wonder how many libraries with 3D printers have a policy about guns? Knives? Sex toys? What kind, if any, of policies do libraries have in place? https://t.co/zNZ6wIIBJv
— TeenLibrarianToolbox (@TLT16) July 25, 2018
As a side note, it’s relevant, I think, to point out that even most cons which actively encourage cosplay have policies against bringing realistic looking weapons to the con. This is a matter of public safety and is, I think, good policy. It is public safety that we must consider as well as the law.
If your library provides access to a 3D printer, now is a good time to look at your policies and make sure they are current, relevant and accurate. Hopefully you have done the work beforehand and your policy does address things like making weapons. If not, now is a really good time to reconsider your policies.
Policies should be well thought out and articulated to the public and staff and consistent with public library standards. If you don’t allow weapons in the library, you can’t allow the creation of weapons in the library. And all staff should be trained on how to enforce the policy and how to handle any potential patron complaints. Remember, the discussion of gun safety is a very volatile discussion at times in our cultural discourse, it is entirely possible that staff will encounter some extreme emotions on both sides of this debate and they need administration help in knowing what to say and who to kick those complaints up to.
Library administration will want to continue to pay attention to this issue and keep their policies current. The issue of gun safety and rights isn’t going away and this just complicates that discussion. It’s the job of administration to be aware and pro-active. Public libraries fail staff and patrons when they are reactive as opposed to pro-active. We need to do our due diligence.
And in case you’re wondering, no I don’t think that patrons should be able to use 3d printers in the library to create weapons of any sort. It’s a matter of patron and staff safety.
Filed under: Things I Never Learned in Library School
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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