La. libraries begin to embrace 3-D printers

A few public libraries in Louisiana are moving beyond books, DVDs, newspapers and desktop computers to offer a new tool for their patrons: 3-D printers.

The Livingston Parish Library was the first library in the state to introduce the next wave of printing technology when it launched the device in early fall at its main branch in the town of Livingston.

Calcasieu Parish Public Library recently bought a 3-D printer, and East Baton Rouge Parish plans to roll out its 3-D printers in late spring, said Paulita Chartier, communications director with the State Library.

The printers cost about $2,000 each, Livingston Library assistant librarian Caitlyn Duncan said.

“Our mission is to enrich the lives of people who come to the library,” Livingston Library Director Giovanni Tairov said. “That used to mean appreciating the work of others. Today’s library has a broader mission: showing people what they can do.”

The MakerBot Replicator II in Livingston makes it possible for patrons to fabricate 3-dimensional plastic objects from software designs.

Patrons can submit a preset design or, for those experienced in 3-D design, their own design to print.

A normal printer works by putting ink on a sheet of paper, which is arranged to form images and text. 3-D printers are no different, but they use materials such as silicon or metal to print layers that ultimately form a product.

Rebel Meddler, of Livingston, put the printer to the test last month to craft a “fidget” ring.

The green plastic ring, a combination of three interlocking rings, was designed to fit together on her finger and easily spin around.

The idea was the brainchild of Meddler’s son, Austin Adams, 16, who created the design at the library in about 10 minutes, Meddler said.

Chad Mech, of Central, used the printer to create two small solar panels he needed for a solar light. The thin pieces of plastic were created from his design in less than 30 minutes.

Since the printer arrived, Duncan has created all sorts of objects, from toys with moveable parts to a sphinx, which took seven hours to craft.

The plastic used to make the objects is made from corn, she said, so it’s not toxic.

For many people — like the 38 percent of Louisiana residents without home Internet access — the public library is the only place offering free access to technology along with a helpful staff, Chartier said.

“A large part of the public library’s mission is to bridge the digital divide,” Chartier said. “So having this added service perfectly aligns with the role of a public library.”

In addition, 3-D printers can also inspire interest in science, engineering, technology, and math.

“Investing in 3-D printing allows access to a service traditionally unavailable outside of universities and private business,” Tairov said. “We want students of all ages to see that the hard sciences are not removed from everyday life.”

Other parish libraries may add the printers soon, though Chartier said each parish library in Louisiana has its own technology plan.

“Because 3-D printers are the next wave in technology, and because public libraries work hard to maintain current technology for their patrons in an effort to bridge the digital divide, it is logical that this service will become more mainstream in the future, especially as the equipment costs go (lower),” Chartier said.

“We saw this happen with libraries moving from computers/printers in libraries beginning in 1996, to laptops, to wireless, to check out laptops, to iPads,” he said.

Prior to 1996, computers for patrons were unheard of in a public library, Chartier said.

“Today every library in the United States has dedicated Internet access,” Chartier said.

“Public libraries are living, breathing entities that reflect the needs of their communities,” Chartier said. “So as technology changes, libraries must adapt to reflect the needs of their communities.”