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Going hi-tech: 3-D printing classes just one of the offerings at DeKalb Library

DeKALB – Patty Ruback of DeKalb was always interested in 3-D printing, but it was not until the DeKalb Public Library offered a class about the technology that she decided to try it.

Ruback and her 8-year-old daughter Saige have taken three 3-D design classes at the library, learning and creating items together. Ruback also has taken an introductory class about Arduino by herself.

“I have always been interested, and I was excited when I saw that the library was offering classes,” Ruback said. “We even used the 3-D printers to create Christmas presents. My daughter made a Pokémon figure, Charizard. The classes were free and fun, and I loved that we could attend the classes together, as a family event.”

In 2016, the library renovated its original 19,500-square-foot building and created a 46,000-square-foot expansion. The $25.3 million expansion and restoration project more than tripled the size of the library. With the additional space, a “makerspace” was created in the renovated Haish building, where library patrons can learn how to use technology, including 3-D printers.

The library’s makerspace includes two Ultimaker fused deposition modeling printers, a sterolithography desktop Formlabs printer, a MakerBot digitizer desktop 3-D scanner and a Cricut vinyl cutter. The room also features whole-wall dry erase boards, a collaboration table with two screen projectors and will soon offer high-definition video conferencing.

The library offers an introductory 3-D design class at 7 p.m. Mondays where participants can design and make a ring. The advanced 3-D design class is held at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, where patrons can create a keychain. A TinkerCAD open lab is held from 3 to 5 p.m. the second and fourth Thursday of the month.

Patrons of the DeKalb Public Library can use software, such as AutoCAD or SolidWorks, or websites, such as TinkerCAD or Thingiverse, to design 3-D models. After the designs are saved as an .STL file, a physical representation of the object can be created using a 3-D printer.

To create 3-D objects, the two Ultimaker printers use plastic filament from a spool. The plastic is heated to approximately 200 degrees Celsius and melts to create a design layer by layer. The Formlabs printer creates by using a laser to harden photosensitive resin. Designs created with the Formlabs printer are higher quality because of the level of detail and smoothness the laser can achieve. Both the plastic and resin come in a wide range of colors and textures.

Josh McCarthy, the library’s help desk supervisor, has been teaching the library’s 3-D design classes since they first started in October. He said the classes have been very popular, most reaching capacity. The classes are open to adults and children age 8 and older.

“There is really nothing like the library’s makerspace in the area,” McCarthy said. “The library in Maple Park has a 3-D printer that is brought there a few times a week, but they have no designated area for creating. Everyone seems to be excited to learn something new and create things. Learning how to use the printers is pretty easy, with the technology doing about 85 percent of the work.”

After learning how to use the technology, library patrons can create objects from their own designs.

“We have had people interested in making everything, from toys for Christmas stockings, board game accessories, parts for drones and giveaways for grab bags,” McCarthy said. “It is more for hobby and casual use than for commercial use. The only restriction is that we ask that they do not make weapons.”

Creating items in the library’s makerspace does have a cost: 10 cents per gram in the Ultimaker printer and 30 cents per gram in the Formlabs printer. There also is a $5 fee for setup and cleanup. Those who do not have a DeKalb Library card can purchase a yearly $15 3-D printing library card.

“The charges cover cost and maintenance,” McCarthy said. “Making money is not the point. We strive for digital literacy and for patrons to learn about software, printers and technology.”

Other technology classes offered at the library include computer basics, such as learning how to use a mouse, keyboard and flash drives, introductory and advanced classes about Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and three levels of classes that teach Arduino, an open-source electronic prototyping platform that allows users to create interactive electronic objects. In the future, the library plans on integrating additional technology and classes; there are plans to purchase a laser printer to add to the makerspace.

McCarthy said he is looking forward to bringing the latest technological advances to the library under the leadership of the library’s new director, Emily Faulkner. While at the Chicago Public Library, Faulkner helped implement and expand programming for the library’s Maker Lab, which featured 3-D printers and electronic cutters.

“We are creating and learning about new technology every day, and I don’t think that 3-D printers will be going away,” McCarthy said. “3-D printers are creating prosthetics, concrete bridges, brick roads and printing skin for burn victims, speeding healing by 70 percent. It’s almost like how new and fascinating computers were in the early 1980s. We had no idea how much computers would change our lives. In 20 years, who knows what the future will bring?”

Demi Aderiye, a help desk worker that teaches Arduino classes, said that by bringing technology and teaching the community about technology, the possibilities are endless.

“Everyone, from 8- or 9-year-old children to 60-year-old adults, are attending the classes,” Aderiye said. “People are very interested in learning, and it’s very hands-on. With technology and knowledge, you can do almost anything.”

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