v30#4 Librarians Dream of Electric Cats: A Tech Team’s Journey into the World of Emerging Technologies

by | Oct 10, 2018 | 0 comments

by Jason Lilly  (Academic Specialist and Library Systems Manager, Indiana University School of Medicine, Ruth Lilly Medical Library) 

and Kellie Kaneshiro  (Assistant Director for Library Technology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Ruth Lilly Medical Library) 


The Ruth Lilly Medical Library’s Technology Team (Tech Team) came together at the beginning of 2015, under the guiding vision of Library Director, Gabe Rios.  A 2018 interview with the Director was published in the NEJM’s LibraryHub1 that provides an overview of introducing emerging technologies into our environment.  The original Tech Team was comprised of a Team Leader, a Library Systems Analyst, and an Emerging Technologies Librarian.  The Team Leader and Library Systems Analyst had been working together, managing the library’s website and social media. The addition of the Emerging Technologies Librarian was the catalyst that allowed us to move forward and create new services.  In this article, the team expands on 3D printing, data visualization, virtual and augmented reality, who helped us along the way, and some funding resources.

Networking, collaborating, and partnering with colleagues and institutional entities inside and outside the institution and beyond the walls of the library is a sound survival strategy.  The authors extend a special thank you to our colleague Jennifer Herron for the innovative and creative contributions that she made as a key member of the Tech Team.

3D Printing, Entering the Fray, Finding Our Niche

Initially we explored 3D printing applications in health science libraries.  The New Media Consortium Horizon Report 2014 Higher Education Edition, identified 3D printing as an important development in educational technology with a time-to-adoption horizon of 2 to 3 years.2  The Tech Team started off with an environmental scan of 3D printing efforts at the Indiana University School of Medicine (nine campuses) and on the Indiana University-Purdue University (IUPUI) campus.  We were able to meet faculty and staff in the radiology department and discuss potential roles for the library.  Our scan revealed that our IUPUI University Library colleagues had received a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant to start their own 3D print lab.  Connecting with colleagues at the University Library 3D print lab revealed that they had requests from the medical side of campus.  They also had many requests from engineering and informatics students, especially at the end of the semester when projects overwhelmed School labs.  University Information and Technology Services (UITS) was also in the process of establishing a 3D printing lab. Both the University Library and UITS utilized Makerbot printers.  The Herron School of Art was constructing a “Think It Make It Lab” on the Indianapolis campus during this time.3  During the Tech Team visits to the other 3D print labs, we were careful to focus on collaboration and not competition; colleagues agreed and were generous with sharing experiences.  The IUPUI School of Informatics was also involved with 3D printing, and the Tech Team met with two faculty members, one of whom was working with a maxillofacial prosthodontics resident from the School of Dentistry on developing a process using digital imaging, design, and 3D printing to make a better-looking and better-fitting facial prosthetic for patients who have had cancer surgery or facial trauma.4

From our environmental scan, there was a clear interest and need for 3D printing and a huge potential for interdisciplinary collaboration.  Our goals were to set a low barrier for 3D printing in order to expose as many medical students, staff and faculty to the technology and to act as a “gateway and innovation referral hub” for expertise and resources on campus.  Our Director connected the Tech Team with Kimberly Barker, Emerging Technologies & Digital Initiatives Librarian at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia.  She shared her experience with 3D printing and had success with her Cube 3 printer (small enough to be portable).  Another useful resource was the University of Florida’s email discussion list on maker-spaces and 3D printing in Libraries <librarymakerspace-l@lists.ufl.edu>.  Our Medical Library’s initial start-up cost in March 2015 was approximately $7,000, which included a Cube 3, CubePro Trio, two 3D Sense Scanners — one handheld and one for the iPad, and a stockpile of filament.  Quite unexpectedly, we were offered and agreed to house a Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation from UITS after another unit decided to purchase their own Makerbot printer. The experience of designing the space dubbed “The Nexus,” which would house the 3D print lab, was detailed in a 2017 article appearing in Medical Reference Services Quarterly.5

After creating some basic ground rules (mediated model of service) and policies, the 3D print service was soft launched in the fall of 2015.  The Emerging Technologies Librarian obtained some presentation time at the medical student orientation and promoted the service with 3D print coupons.  The Emerging Technologies Librarian lowered the 3D printing barrier further for students by directing them to resources for 3D print models (for example, Thingiverse…).  While the focus of this article is on technology, what makes technology useful is the people behind, around, and using (and assisting others with using) the technology. The Emerging Technologies Librarian created an interdisciplinary 3D-print group that created a “brain trust” and a corresponding e-mail discussion list where questions could be asked and experiences and information shared.  The team quickly learned that the printers can be temperamental and that the technology changes quickly. In early 2016, 3D Systems removed itself from the consumer market and discontinued selling Cube 3 printers. The filament for these printers is proprietary, and if stored too long, PLA and ABS filament becomes brittle, causing time-consuming jams and rendering them unusable. The Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation has been more reliable, and in the summer of 2017, an Ultimaker 3 was purchased and is working well.  It has the ability to print a variety of materials and has dual print heads. For 2018, a Formlabs 2 SLA (stereolithography) printer was purchased and will enable us to print more delicate models. The 3D printing software such as Makerbot Print Software, Sculptris, Blender, Maya, and Cura have a considerable learning curve. Available 3D print models often have flaws that need to be fixed or tweaked. The Tech Team hired some part-time student workers with informatics or engineering backgrounds for this purpose. Also, be sure to talk to your organization’s legal counsel and even run policies by them if they are willing to review, and consider noise and ventilation issues.

The Nexus and Data Visualization

The Nexus is our student collaborative learning space on the 2nd floor of the library.  The idea behind the space is “ideas coming together by students working together.” The Library Systems Analyst was the primary point person who coordinated with the Library’s Business Manager, interacted with the construction team, and worked with the Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL) to bring the space to fruition.  The main feature of the lab is an IQ Wall6 which was installed in collaboration with the AVL.  The wall is comprised of eight 55 inch, high resolution, Planar screens in a 4X2 configuration, stretching sixteen feet across the room.  The IQ Wall has a touch overlay making the entire expanse touch sensitive. The total expenditure for the wall was approximately $90,000, and the final installation was completed in the summer of 2016.  In addition to the IQ Wall, a 98 inch touch enabled Planar screen and mobile stand were purchased for a special projects room. Total expenditure for the 98 inch was around $40,000. The Tech Team has hosted Data Visualization classes utilizing the Nexus collaborative learning space and the IQ Wall, a successful medical student peer-to-peer session on the use of concept mapping for studying clinical and basic science topics, and have given several “Tech Talks” on topics such as 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.  The IQ Wall is also a good platform to mirror what someone is seeing in VR. That way, those not wearing the VR headset can still experience what the wearer is seeing and share the experience. This past spring, videoconferencing and recording capabilities were added to the IQ Wall in collaboration with UITS Learning Spaces. It is hoped that this added capability will allow streaming of events and give the students an opportunity for collaboration across our nine campuses.

Despite the great events hosted in the Nexus using the IQ Wall, student use is underwhelming.  The spirit of the Nexus is a collaborative learning space, not dedicated classroom use. The challenge is to get our library users to see the possibilities and find new innovative ways to utilize the IQ Wall.  For example, we added Solstice, a software solution to project mobile apps onto the IQ Wall, making it excellent for group study.

Virtual and Augmented (or is it Mixed?) Reality — the Next Frontier

In 2016, the Library Systems Analyst attended South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.  This experience reignited a prior interest on his part in Virtual Reality.  At SXSW there were multiple VR sessions relating the technology to use in medical practice.  Further research indicated that VR is an established technology that has been utilized in health and medicine.  The Tech Team purchased two HTC Vives in spring of 2017. After exploring the possibilities, regular sessions VRidays (Virtual Reality Fridays) were held starting in November of that year.  A group of graduate students used 3D Organon VR Anatomy to study vertebrae and the complexity of the Brachial plexus. Others are also excitedly examining Organon for its uses. The Library Systems Analyst purchased a high end MSI laptop which allows VR to be taken “on the road” and the portability has proved valuable to expand the technology to School of Medicine campuses beyond Indianapolis.  


Buy-in from both the Library Director and School of Medicine leadership is crucial.  The Ruth Lilly Medical Library has been exceedingly fortunate in having generous donors for our technology efforts.  Our colleagues at IUPUI University Library secured a Library Technology Services Act (LSTA) grant for their 3D printing lab and utilized the same grant for a Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab.  Librarians from the Greenblatt Library in Augusta, Georgia secured funding for their Creative Technology Lab from a National Network of the Libraries of Medicine Southeastern/Atlantic Region grant.   The Institute of Museum and Library Services offers grants.   Your organization or institution may offer grants, or it may be possible to partner with others.  If your technology plans can be linked to innovation and technology transfer, that may be an avenue to pursue.  A great example is Digital Health @HSL, Health Sciences Library, University of North Carolina.  It might also be worthwhile to talk to companies that make 3D printers to see if there are educational discounts available.  

Closing Thoughts and Future Challenges

No two academic medical libraries are alike.  Funding and priorities for innovation vary. To anyone seeking to be innovative with technology in a library space, be bold, don’t be afraid to fail, learn from your mistakes.  It takes a certain amount of fearlessness. Go to conferences outside of the library box. South by Southwest was one example given here, another is RAPID + TCT (3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing Event).  Go to library conferences, interact with like-minded colleagues, liberally exchange and share ideas and shape them for your environment.  Reach out to your broader campus and community. We all work with some smart people, many of whom generously share their expertise.

Acknowledgements to the 3D Print Group “Brain Trust” and to Mike Boyles and his staff at the Advanced Visualization Lab for being great partners, and to Todd Kirk with the UITS Student Technology Center Labs, a great resource and co-chair for the 2018 Health Technology Symposium (featuring 3D printing).  None of this would have been possible without a supportive and visionary library director and School of Medicine leadership.  


  1.  NEJM LibraryHub.  “Dipping a Toe into Emerging Technologies:  A Librarian shares his experience introducing innovations like 3D printing and virtual reality to medical school.”  Accessed June 8, 2018.
  2.  New Media Consortium. “NMC Horizon Report 2014: Higher Education.” Accessed June 8, 2018.  https://www.nmc.org/publication/nmc-horizon-report-2014-higher-education-edition/
  3.  Lynette Taylor.  “Herron Announces the Think It Make It Lab, where art, design and technology converge.”  Accessed June 8, 2018. http://www.iupui.edu/~iahi/herron-announces-the-think-it-make-it-lab-where-art-design-and-technology-converge/
  4.  IUPUI Newsroom.  “New IU School of Dentistry digital process gives Evansville man his face back.”  Accessed June 8, 2018. http://archive.news.iupui.edu/releases/2016/02/dental-prosthesis-digital-bellichhi.shtml
  5.  Herron, Jennifer, and Kellie Kaneshiro. “A university-wide collaborative effort to designing a makerspace at an academic health sciences library.”  Medical reference services quarterly 36, no. 1 (2017): 1-8.
  6.  Indiana University Knowledge Base.  “IQ-Wall at Indiana University.” Accessed June 8, 2018.  https://kb.iu.edu/d/bcoy
  7.  Johnston, J. and Boyles, M.  “When (Virtual) Reality Meets the Classroom.”  Accessed June 8, 2018. https://campustechnology.com/articles/2017/03/07/when-virtual-reality-meets-the-classroom.aspx


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