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Granite Geek: 3-D Printers Help Turn Libraries Into Makerspaces

Makerbot Replicator 2
Harris County Public Library, via Flickr/CC - http://ow.ly/AuFTA

Attention residents of Milford: we don’t want to alarm you, but there is a replicator in your library.

Actually, it's a Makerbot Replicator 2, and it’s not as sinister as it might sound. This device is better known as a 3-D printer.

David Brooks tested out the printer for his Granite Geek science column for the Nashua Telegraph and Granite Geek.org, and he walks us through the process.

"This particular one is pretty small, pretty simple," he says. "It looks about the size of a microwave oven, and it looks kind of like a weird computer printer, because it has a head very much like a computer printer, that moves around like it. And what you do is you get a file, a computer file, that describes the shape of the thing you want to make. And you give them that software at the library, and they load it into the machine, and it chuckles away to itself, and the head moves around and squirts little bits of plastic down – layer upon layer. And they slowly build up and create whatever it is you want to make. It sounds easy when you say it that way but it’s not."

There can be pretty fantastic uses for these devices – I’ve read articles about printing out 3D windpipes for people whose natural windpipes weren’t working correctly. But at the library, what are the most likely possibilities?

I suspect the most likely possibilities will be printing out cool little plastic toys and tchotchkes, which is exactly what I did. I printed out an olde English “T” which is the logo of the Telegraph, about the size of my palm. And that was lots of fun.

So it’s going to be used mostly to play with and learn about 3-D printing, rather than to do anything useful. But who knows? There could easily be entrepreneurs that need access to a 3-D printer to do a quick prototype. They can run down to the library now and do it there.

In fact, the director of the library in Milford said, of this printer, “We’re creating content, not just storing content.” Having a 3-D printer on hand isn’t just a shift in what libraries do but in what libraries are.

Yeah, and this is happening all over the place, not just Milford, trying to redefine the library as people shift to e-readers and e-content – and also as the recession has made the need greater for assistance. Although I believe Keene is the only other one in New Hampshire at the moment, there are a number of libraries that have 3-D printers, and some of them have gone further than that,  and have other aspects of what is known as a makerspace – places where people can come and work on creating material, literally, as a proto-entrepreneurship, trying to help people not only learn so they can have skills and businesses but maybe even help them create the business.

Now you had mentioned that you had created the Telegraph’s “T” logo, and I wanted to draw attention to one line in your column: “I admit I didn’t pay the library the eighty-cent fee, probably a breach of journalism ethics.” Is this perhaps a “3-D printer-gate”? Do you have to put a statement out saying “mistakes were made”?

Fortunately, I have a legalistic out, which is that they have not set up their policy yet, establishing that price. 20 cents a gram is likely to be the price, but they hadn’t set it in print yet, so I was not legally obligated to pay it.

So you’re not a scofflaw, you’re an early adopter.

Exactly, there you go! You get in there before the laws exists and do whatever you want and pat yourself on the back for being ahead of the curve.

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