Functional Lego pieces are among the many items being constructed on a 3D printer on loan this month at the Bluffton Public Library. (Provided photo)


Staff Writer

BLUFFTON — The Bluffton Public Library is emphasizing technology both old and new this month.

The library has a 3D printer on loan from the Northwest Regional Library System, also known as NORWELD. Meanwhile, a “graveyard” consisting of technology of past eras has been assembled, with a sign reading “Rest in Peace.”

The Bluffton library has offered the 3D printer before, and recently displayed a collection of 3D prints created by the community.

A plastic filament runs through the machine, which heats it to 220 degrees and uses a computer program to build something according to a pattern, layer by layer.

Patrons have been asked what they might like to create, with children’s responses including “shoes for dogs” and “ponies!” Rings and custom pins were also among the suggestions.

“It’s really fun to hear people’s creativity,” said Lauren Canaday, the library’s public services coordinator.

“We had a little girl create a cat,” she said.

Bluffton Public Library’s public services coordinator Lauren Canaday is shown with the 3D printer available to library patrons through the end of the month. While some pieces can take hours to make, a pair of earrings, for instance, was printed in about 15 minutes. (Photo by Sara Arthurs)

Adults are finding some more practical uses for the machine. One couple, for example, used it to manufacture a board game piece to replace one they’d lost.

The machine came with some patterns already on it, and NORWELD contributed more on a flash drive. But patrons can also go to and find “so many things” to make, Canaday said. Patters can be downloaded and saved on a flash drive, and Canaday will format them for the machine.

Erica Pax, emerging technology educator for NORWELD, said some of the libraries that have borrowed the 3D printer use it for demonstration purposes only. Others, like Bluffton, allow patrons to put the printer to work. One woman at another library printed 20 tiny robots, complete with movable arms and legs, to hand out to her Sunday school class.

Canaday said some pieces take seven hours to make. A pair of small earrings, however, took just 15 minutes.

Suggested donations are 50 cents per hour.

Canaday has even seen reference to 3D printing being utilized for home foundations, and there are medical uses like prosthetics.

Bluffton Public Library patrons also made a pig and a working clock. (Provided photo)

Plastic is the most common material, but it’s not the only one — there have been numerous reports of companies exploring 3D printing of chocolate.

In conjunction with the printer, the library has a technology “graveyard” on display. Canaday got the idea after seeing a boy having trouble using the landline phone at the library. He asked, “Where do I press in order to send it?”

In a nod to Halloween, Canaday began collecting old technology, including a typewriter and a “really old e-reader.” The “cemetery” display encourages people to pay their respects during what is also National History Month. Other “graveyard” items include an old camera, as well as an electronic handheld Yahtzee game and a VHS tape.

When asked, children told Canaday that, yes, they knew what the typewriter was — but not the cassettes.

Canaday said technology education is a focus at the library. It’s important “to plant that seed for thinking about technology in a creative way” with the young — and to ensure that it’s accessible to all, regardless of their background, she said.

NORWELD, based in Bowling Green, is one of four regional libraries in Ohio, serving 25 counties in the northwestern part of the state, under the umbrella of the State Library of Ohio. There are 75 public libraries in NORWELD’s region, of which 48 are full paid members. (Along with Bluffton, they include the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library as well as those in Ada, Carey, Forest, Fostoria, McComb, North Baltimore, Tiffin and Upper Sandusky.)

NORWELD offers continuing education to all the libraries in the region, and full members can borrow equipment. Along with 3D printers, this includes GoPro cameras and a digital converter for slides. Book discussion kits and early literacy kits are also available for libraries to use in conjuction with story times. Smaller libraries can also borrow large-print books from NORWELD, along with DVDs, audiobooks and video games.

Toni Whitney, executive director, said NORWELD has received a grant to develop new STEM and STEAM kits, some related to coding and robotics. Whitney said staff at her office needs to know how to operate the robots, so they built a Lego robot cat that can sing and “play a little harmonica.”

They also recently purchased fairy tale puppets and portable stages, which haven’t gone out to libraries yet. Children can learn to do puppet shows, or write their own scripts. Each fairy tale comes with a STEAM activity set. When telling the story of the three Billy Goats Gruff, the children are asked to construct a bridge, and with the Three Little Pigs, they’re tasked with constructing a house that can’t be blown down.

“The librarians and local staff are phenomenal,” Whitney said. “They just are phenomenal.”

So, to be able to “just provide them a little extra” in terms of materials and books and resources means they can build upon what they’re already doing, she said.

Along with member libraries’ dues, NORWELD is funded through the State Library, which in turn receives library service and technology grants through the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. Other regional libraries cover northeast, southwest and southeast Ohio.

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