Libraries are no longer just a place to borrow books, and haven’t been for some time. You may not think of a library as being on the forefront of technology, but the Huntsville Public Library is becoming a hub for community members who want access to some of the latest tech.
In the summer, Huntsville Public Library became the proud new owner of a 3D printer – the MakerBot Replicator – a device that does exactly what its name implies: it makes objects rather than just printing words or images on a piece of paper. You could think of it as the opposite of sculpting, said Cortney Lee-Comeau, HPL’s Coordinator: Outreach, Programs & Partnerships. “With sculpting you are removing material until you’re left with an object, but 3D printing is additive – you add materials layer by layer until you have a finished object.”
The printer isn’t available for public use yet, but it will be in the new year – the library is currently updating its technology policies after which their goal is to have it available all the time.
“It’s fun to just print objects, but the best part is designing your own,” said Lee-Comeau. Designs for printing are available via the online community Thingiverse, but to make one all your own you need software. The library has installed Google SketchUp – 3D modelling software – and the staff are busy learning this new technology so that they can offer programs to the community in the future.
This video shows a timelapse of a 3D-printed object on a similar machine:
Library users can download Google SketchUp at home for free to create designs at their leisure and bring them to the library to be printed – jobs can take hours to print depending on their complexity.
The software is also available for use in the library’s Creativity and Exploration Hub, a quiet room where users can try accessible software like Dragon, a voice-recognition program, and BrowseAloud, screen-reading software for vision-impaired users. There are also a Mac and a PC loaded with Adobe Creative Cloud where users can mix and make movies, and use tools like PhotoShop.
“Tech literacy is up and coming,” said Lee-Comeau. “Kids who are in school today could be working in future jobs with technology that hasn’t been created yet. The best place to learn some of the skills that might be needed is at the library.”
In 2014, the library fulfilled its IT Capital Plan by updating all the computers and equipment, said Deborah Duce, CEO and Chief Librarian.
“One of our most popular services it the Tech Help Desk where users of all ages can stop by and receive one-on-one help from our knowledgeable staff,” said Duce. “We have also hired two Teen Techs this year. Our youth have a comfort and knowledge base of technology that supports children, adults, seniors and their peers. One Teen Tech is offering Minecraft Mondays which helps youth develop their technical skills and also their creative skills.
“We are planning for 2016 now and are looking for programs that show just what’s out there and how it can be used to increase technical competencies while connecting, collaborating and creating.”