Once again at the forefront of technology, the Brookfield Public Library is the first library in the area to purchase a 3-D printer. The printer takes computer designs and turns them into real physical three-dimensional objects.
Chicago’s Harold Washington Library recently purchased three 3-D printers, and a few larger suburban libraries have also purchased them.
“There isn’t anyone who works in libraries who doesn’t know that 3-D printing is where it’s at,” said Brookfield Public Library Director Kimberly Coughran. “I suggested that we purchase one.”
The library used money from a state grant to buy a MakerBot Replicator 2 3-D printer, a consumer oriented desktop 3-D printer. It cost the library $2,594 to buy the printer, three rolls of plastic filament and a service plan.
The printer takes a design, usually fed to it via a memory chip, and then creates the object. The printer runs a plastic filament through a heated nozzle to melt it and then drops the liquid plastic onto a flat surface, layer upon layer, to create a long-lasting and durable object.
Pretty much anything can be made. In the short time the library has had the printer staff and members of the library’s teen advisory club have already made a small plastic replica of the Stanley Cup, a comb, a bracelet, a nut and bolt, and an octopus among other things.
“[It prints] pretty much whatever your imagination can create,” said Frank Murray, the head of reference and electronic services for the library. “We pride ourselves on providing information for people to consume, with books, etc., but we’re starting to push in the direction for people to create their own information and the 3-D printer is one step in that direction.”
The 3-D printer will be introduced to the public in August with the library hosting workshops on 3-D printing so residents can learn about the printer and how to use it.
The printer will mostly be kept in an office and only brought out into public spaces for programs. Since it takes some time, at least 15 minutes and often much longer, for the printer to create an object, patrons will be asked send in their designs and then pick up the objects after they are made.
This will also allow library staff to monitor the designs. The MakerBot Replicator 2 3-D printer is not capable of producing a firearm. Some expensive 3-D printers that cost from $50,000 to $100,000 use metal and are capable of producing weapons.
Library staff members will approve all designs before they are produced.
“Ultimately we do have oversight, and if there is a question about a print we will discuss that with the creator, but I really don’t foresee that being a problem,” Murray said.
Murray said that the library is not planning on charging people for a single print job.
“As of right now the library is going to offer that service for free,” Murray said.
But the library is researching the printing costs and is planning on charging for requests for multiple prints of the same object or for printing very large files.
The library’s 3-D printing workshops scheduled for August are currently filled, which indicate a high level of interest in the printer.
Murray still encourages people to still sign up for a workshop, because more will be scheduled.
“It’s just a creative process that we are really excited to offer to Brookfield,” Murray said. “We’ve already seen a large amount of interest from the community. Our programs are booked. [There are] huge waiting lists, but please still sign up for our programs because we’ll get you in the next one.”
The directors of the Riverside and North Riverside public libraries say that they have no current plans to purchase 3-D printers, but that could change in the future.
“We’re always open to new ideas and trying to provide our patrons with current and up-to-date technology,” said Janice Fisher, the director of the Riverside Public Library.