My National Library: Co-creating collections (2015)

My National Library: Co-creating collections (2015)

The advent of the world wide web has seen an exponential increase in the amount of information in circulation. The accompanying ease of access to this digital data raises questions about the role of libraries and archives in the future. At the same time these very technologies and infrastructures provide exciting opportunities to reinvent and reinvigorate libraries. In particular, disruptive technologies like 3D printing offer special opportunities to transform libraries from repositories into interactive and creative spaces, enabling visitors to engage playfully with the library space while discovering and learning.

As a result, 3D printing and Makerspaces are being adopted into the service offering of libraries worldwide. However, this is often seen as a desperate attempt for physical libraries to maintain relevance through a digital diaspora, as information over the internet can be found faster, cross-referenced instantly, and accessed anywhere. With this in mind, The National Library of New Zealand/Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa and the School of Design Innovation at Victoria University of Wellington embarked upon a collaboration to explore 3D printing’s potential to open up archives to the public in new and useful ways – to move beyond the typical Makerspace as a default setting, and give it a more compelling reason for being, thereby expanding the National Library’s mandate to ‘collect, connect, and co-create knowledge’ in powerful new ways. Two Summer Scholarship students and a research assistant from the School of Design set about exploring this potential.

From this emerged the 3D Digital Archive of the Future exhibition. It documented four speculative scenarios that would enable 3D printers to take on a pivotal role in the Library experience. Three scenarios were based on two current exhibitions and one Library collection.

The fourth scenario, My National Library, creates a new system of making in the form of a digital platform, in which users can scan family heirlooms or heritage objects and upload them to the online space. This enables the user to 3D print a replica and embed meaning into the model through their own research and related discoveries, augmented with metadata associations in real time. The embedded information can be tracked with image recognition and digital resources can be managed via smart-devices, with interactions being stored on the user’s My National Library webpage. The resulting replica is not just a poor plastic imitation, it is smart replica, an AR empowered repository of information which can be physically and virtually shared with family and friends, while generating new archival material with the National Library.

National Library of New Zealand Manager of Public Programmes, Peter Rowland says the exhibition challenges the traditional library experience by allowing people to actively engage with the collections, “You are no longer a voyeur, you become a curator, an author, a co-creator. For some people, it’s been confounding in the best sense.”

Materials and Processes –Closeup


CAD modelling software – SolidWorks, Rhino


3D printers – UP BOX, Stratasys J750

Project level

VUW Summer Scholarship.  Supervisors Simon Fraser, Walter Langelaar, Tim Miller, Rhazes Spell

Students: Ryan Achten, Ruth Barnard, Dylan Hughes-Ward

External Partners

The project was supported by the National Library of New Zealand and the New Zealand Product Accelerator with special thanks to Peter Rowlands.

National Library Blog

The 3D digital Archive of the Future: Report

Backstory: Journal of New Zealand Art, Media & Design History