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Ask Pam Carswell about 3D printing, and the Minot Public Library’s Teen Librarian breaks into a broad smile.
“It’s been very popular with kids, but we’re also getting more adults using the printer, too,” she said. “It’s been so much fun and such a learning experience for us since we started 3D printing.”
Carswell wrote a request a few years in a row to Best Buy’s Community Grant fund before being approved in January for a $4,200 grant, which paid for a 3D printer, a scanner, a laptop computer, and some training for staff members.
“I think they approved our grant just because they got tired of me writing to them,” she said, laughing.
Once the equipment was purchased, the real learning began.
“I was completely new to 3D printing when I wrote the grant. We did get some training from a Minot State University professor, and then we just started making things,” she said.
Their first project Carswell and her staff attempted was a Batman key chain.
“We thought it turned out great, but we couldn’t get it off the build plate. So like good librarians, we googled it. It said cold can help get items off the build plate. So we put the project outside in the cold weather for a while, and then we were able to get it off using some dental floss. That’s how we learned,” Carswell said. “We learn more by doing than any other way. I would say now we are advanced beginners.”
And that’s how the library’s 3D printing program began. Since then, Carswell and her staff have held multiple events to teach children and adults to use the printer.
“We just finished our Bells and Whistles program, where we challenged the kids to design their own bells or whistles, or they could use our designs, too,” she said. “The whistles work, believe me, and the bells make noise, too.”
The designs for the bells varied from ones that looked like standard hand-held bells to others that resembled pieces from a chess game. Some bells took four hours to print. The smaller whistles took roughly 45 minutes to print.
The charge to use the 3D printer is 20 cents per gram of filament. A typical whistle cost less than $2, a bell around $2.50. A lot of people have printed cable savers, which help protect the point where a phone charging cord attaches to the plug.
“Cable savers cost about 20 cents to make,” Carswell said. “Not a bad investment to protect a $30 charging cord.”
Library patrons can find a wide array of 3D designs on websites like Thingiverse. Patrons can also use design programs such as Tinkercad to create their own designs or edit items they found on other sites. Patrons can search and create at home or at the library.
“A lot of people bring designs with them on a thumb drive, so we copy the file. Then they fill out a request form, and we print the project for them,” said Carswell, who noted there is about a 48-hour turnaround time for projects to be printed.
The Library’s 3D printing classes have been well-attended; the smallest class was eight people, with the largest class including 17 patrons. A program held in late July had a music theme.
If Carswell’s face lights up just talking about 3D printing, then the librarian positively glows when she talks about two special patrons, Jurnee and Jomar.
Both children have sight impairments, and are regulars at the library. On this day in mid-July, Carswell wears a purple shirt with an owl design and the words ‘Healing for Jurnee’ on the front. Jurnee loves owls, Carswell said.
“I’ve known Jurnee since she was an infant. She was diagnosed with cancer and because of that lost the majority of her sight. When we learned that, we wanted to find ways we could help her navigate everyday life,” Carswell said.
Carswell and her staff worked with Jurnee to design and create white and purple owl zipper pulls for Jurnee to put on her coat, backpack, cane, tooth brush, and other personal items.
“She’s an active 11-year-old, so sometimes her zipper pulls get broken. We’re printing them now with a little more filament in them so they are stronger. They help her know by shape which cane is hers, or what backpack is hers,” Carswell said.
Jomar loves superheroes, so Carswell said they print Batman-shaped zipper pulls for him to attach to his personal items, including his sleeping bag because he loves to go camping.
Carswell is excited for a new program scheduled for this fall.
“We’ve purchased some glow in the dark filament, so we’re thinking it will help anyone, but especially those with sight impairments, create glow in the dark light switches or other items that will help them through their everyday life,” she said.
She will also present a seminar on 3D printing for people with disabilities at the North Dakota Library Association’s annual conference in October in Minot.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to share what we’re doing with other libraries around the state,” Carswell said. “I know others are doing 3D printing, but I’m not sure any other libraries in North Dakota are doing things specifically for visually impaired patrons. We’re pretty proud of that.”
Carswell said the interest in the Minot Library’s 3D printing programs has been growing, a trend she expects to continue as more everyday uses of the technology are explored.
“We want to continue to assist those with sight impairments with the zipper pulls and other items, and we are open to creating other ways to help anyone with a disability,” she said. “We also look forward to expanding our horizons wherever our kids want to lead us. I think the possibilities are endless.”