by Bil Kanawati
Libraries have never been just about books. They’ve always been a valuable community resource, hosting a variety of events and workshops for all ages, from Reading Buddies to graphic design workshops, and in today’s digital age, libraries are more important than ever. For a long time and for many people, they were the only place to get reliable, free access to the latest technologies like computers, productivity applications, and the internet.
For many Mississauga residents, it's hard to imagine a time when internet access wasn't as pervasive or affordable as it is today, but for those of us who remember dial-up speeds, being billed by the hour, and losing your connection when someone picked up the phone (seriously mom, EVERY TIME), libraries represented a kind of exploratory freedom that you just couldn't get at home. Emerging technologies like robotics and 3D printing might one day be as widespread as computers and mobile phones, but for now we're in the same situation as we were with internet in the 90s; limited in availability, prohibitively expensive, and with variable quality and reliability. The Mississauga Library System wants to make these innovations as accessible to the community as possible, and with the expansion of their 3D printing program beyond the Central Library, they're doing just that.
You might ask, "Just what the heck is this whole 3D printing stuff, anyway?" Without going into too many technical details about extruders and filaments and CAD models, think of a 3D printer as being kind of like an easy-bake oven. You get a recipe, the ingredients go in, and stuff comes out - but with a 3D printer, you get an iPhone case instead of dangerously undercooked brownies.
"But I don't need an iPhone case," you say. Well, 3D printers can make lots of other things too! Like this sweet 3D-printed garlic press.
Now that you've had all that garlic, you're probably going to want to take care of that breath situation with some minty fresh toothpaste. You pull out the tube and see that someone's almost used it all up, and it's going to take a lot of work to squeeze out the last few bits. Don't you wish you had something to help you with that? Well, 3D printing has you covered there, too.
And here's a video of someone printing the paste pusher in question.
You're pretty impressed so far, but now you're wondering, "where can I find other designs for cool things to 3D print?"
Thingiverse is the best place to get started, and they have a super helpful community of makers that love to collaborate and improve on the designs available.
"This sounds too good to be true," you mutter suspiciously. "What's the catch?"
Seeing the YouTube videos of one of these printers in action makes it look like these magical objects pop out within minutes, but it actually takes hours to print anything substantial. That being said, the library's print rates are $1 per project plus $0.05 (five cents) per minute, so it's still ridiculously affordable, and they let you book up to 4 hours for your project (they'll evaluate longer projects on a case-by-case basis, subject to availability).
"Okay, I'm sold," you exclaim gleefully. "I'm heading to a library now to PRINT ALL THE THINGS!"
Hold on there, cowboy. The 5th Generation MakerBot Replicators at the library are thousands of dollars worth of advanced machinery. You can't just roll up and start printing. You need to take a 30-minute 3D printer certification course. Lucky for you, Erin Meadows Library is holding a 3D printer certification session tomorrow night from 7:00pm to 7:30pm. Certification is free, and is a requirement if you want to print your own designs. For more information and to register, call Erin Meadows Library 905-615-4750 ext. 2086.
If you can't make that one, they've got another one on Friday, January 29, from 3:00pm to 3:30pm.
If you just want more information on 3d printing or other emerging technologies, or would like a schedule of certification courses at other libraries, you can contact Maker Mississauga at firstname.lastname@example.org. They're your source for all maker-related things in the Mississauga Library System.