Libraries have long been a place where new technologies can be seen and interacted with for the first time. In the 1980s, it was the personal computer. In the 1990s, the World Wide Web. Now, 3-D printers are becoming increasingly available in libraries across the country, and they are part of the transformation of the role of the institution.
At the Johnson County Library in Overland Park, Kan., the Maker Space opened about a year ago. It's a small room filled with the library’s latest tech gadgets; there’s a green screen and a camera for making videos, a 3-D scanner, two computers with professional photo editing software and of course, the 3-D printers. They (the library has bought a second printer just to keep up with demand), sit buzzing and whirring throughout the day with print jobs .
Incorporating "maker spaces" and 3-D printers into the services offered at public libraries is part of a larger push to transform libraries into a space for creation and invention. American Library Association president Barbara Stripling says this kind of technology is a growing trend at libraries.
“It’s enabling libraries to transform their relationship with communities,” she says, "and to empower community members of all ages to be creators of information not just consumers.”
At the Johnson County Library, the 3-D printer is utilized in many ways. Kids make toys, adults practice with the technology to develop their job skills and inventors create top-secret prototypes of their inventions.
Here are some of the things Maker Space librarian Meredith Nelson has seen come out of the 3-D printer:
- Prosthetic hands for those with physical disabilities, like teen Mason Wilde who printed a hand for a nine year-old boy.
- A new device for flossing teeth and other prototypes for new inventions, which Nelson says are kept top-secret by their creators.
- Customized robot toys and Lego attachments.
- A 3-D cone used to teach pre-calculus students about conic sections.
- A series of original busts designed by a local artist.
- A 3-D model of the Hepatitis B molecule used for a high school science fair.
The maker space is open daily during regular hours at the Central Resource Library. Open hours are every Monday evening from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.