3-D printing therapy for users with additional support needs

Maureen Hood describes how a public library service is using its 3D printer to provide services and experiences for its users.

Dundee Library and Information Service purchased a 3D printer with funding from Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) 'Training in New Technologies' fund.

The printer, a MakerBot Replicator 2 (5th Generation), was purchased for use in the Connections Department of Dundee Central Library. This department is a dedicated area for people who have additional support needs such as learning or physical difficulties, ADHD, mental health issues, autism or challenging behaviour - people who are unable to use mainstream public library services.

The Connections area of the library has an IT suite with eight PCs fitted with accessibility aids and assistive software, and a reading area for storytelling, reminiscence work or creative writing. The Connections Department is heavily used by groups in the Community such as social work, occupational therapists, residential care homes, speech and language support workers, carers as well as family members.

We are using our 3D printer to engage groups who already come into the Connections Department for IT, storytelling or creative writing sessions. These groups are now working on 3D printing projects which will benefit the library, themselves and other library users.

Our first 3D printing project was based around the book "Leo the Maker Prince" by Carla Diana. Groups with challenging behaviour printed out the characters and objects in the book, and then staff in the Children's Library used the printed characters and items to tell the story to children who are blind or partially sighted.  This way, the children can feel the printed characters as the story unfolds and they can become more engaged in the storytelling process.

Groups with mental health issues use the 3D printer as a way to develop their own projects and interests, as well as a form of art therapy. Individual members of the group have made objects for themselves, such as picture frames made by a group member interested in photography, giving him the opportunity to display his work, and building his self esteem. Printing coloured beakers for use at a family celebration, creating something imaginative and practical which will give another user in the group a sense of pride and achievement.

Using the 3D printer also gives people with additional support needs an opportunity to learn new skills, and make something that is both useful, and worthwhile. It allows them to help other as well as building up their own confidence and sense of worth.

In the future we plan to recreate some items from the past, such as button hooks, tea caddies and darning mushrooms. Things which are no longer available and can be used in our reminiscence packs to aid recall and stimulate discussion with elderly frail people or those with dementia.  One of our groups will be making book stands for library displays as well as leaflet holders, mouse mats, book marks and pencil holders. We also plan to print 3D accessibility aids that could help elderly people in their own homes, such as easy grip jar and bottle openers, cutlery covers and oversized control dials. In the future we hope to be able to create 3D print photographs, so that people with sight problems, who may not have seen their photo album for many years, can again enjoy and relive memories that were previously captured on film.

Maureen Hood is a Library and Information Officer with Leisure and Culture Dundee, Outreach Services and spoke at Internet Librarian International 2014 on 3D Printing Therapy.