Along with researching papers or studying for exams, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dents will soon be able to go to the library and create their own iPhone cases or dorm room lamps.

The school is opening a 3-​​D printing lab this fall within its library to give all stu­dents access to this trendy man­u­fac­turing tech­nology, which has been tucked away in engi­neering and design labs.

This is a tech­nology that’s moving out there,” said Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice pres­i­dent for aca­d­emic affairs at Northeastern.

The ongoing evo­lu­tion of 3-​​D printers — they are becoming smaller, cheaper, and easier to use — has prompted uni­ver­si­ties, high schools, and local gov­ern­ments to add these devices as their libraries push into the dig­ital age.

The modern library, Director said, is “not just a place where you store books, and infor­ma­tion doesn’t just come in 2-​​D phys­ical forms. Infor­ma­tion comes in all sorts of forms. Now, it’s in 3-​​D.”

3-​​D printing is really more of a man­u­fac­turing oper­a­tion than tra­di­tional printing. Using spe­cial soft­ware, pro­fes­sionals and tin­kerers alike can design objects or random shapes, and the printer cre­ates three-​​dimensional ver­sions of them by extruding suc­ces­sive layers of plastic filament.

Northeastern’s lab will be part of the school’s newly opened Dig­ital Media Com­mons at Snell Library. The dozen or so machines will include full-​​size and smaller desktop printers, 3-​​D scan­ners, and laser cut­ters, from man­u­fac­turers such as MakerBot Indus­tries LLC, whose Repli­cator 2 printer costs about $2,000.

Many uni­ver­si­ties are ordering them, said Jenifer Howard, a spokes­woman for New York-​​based MakerBot. Overall demand for the printers has been so high that MakerBot opened a second fac­tory last week. So far, it has sold more than 20,000 Maker­Bots, which are small enough to sit on a desk.

Read the article at The Boston Globe →