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Carroll libraries 3-D printing the future

Jen Bishop shows off the Eldersburg library's new 3-D printer Thursday, Sept. 17.  The printer will be unveiled for use Oct. 5 and will cost 25 cents per gram to print.

ELDERSBURG — Imagine designing an object on the computer with only mouse clicks and keystrokes and, within 30 minutes, being able to hold it in your hand. Thanks to the Carroll County Public Library's new 3-D printing program, this ability is coming to a branch near you.

On Saturday, the library's Eldersburg branch will host an introduction to 3-D printing where guests will learn about the digital sculpting process and create plastic trinkets of their own. And on Oct. 5, the county library will host 3-D Day at each of its locations throughout the county, commemorating the beginning of 3-D printing services at the Westminster branch.

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Each library has its own 3-D printer, the LulzBot Mini, with Westminster owning the larger, enclosed CubePro Duo. While patrons will be able to attend printing demonstrations at each of the branches, 3-D enthusiasts will be able to bring their own designs to the Westminster branch at any time to be printed and returned to them.

A 3-D printer takes a digital model, built out of modified basic shapes in a CAD program, and prints it out in layers of heated plastic. The Westminster printer will be able to create designs up to roughly 91/2 inches by 9 inches by 101/2 inches, in two colors and with two kinds of plastics. An object will cost 25 cents per gram, and the computer programs used to design the objects can estimate the weight in advance. The library is currently developing content restrictions on what can and cannot be printed, according to Jen Bishop, county public library associate.

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Bishop said the adoption of 3-D printers is a natural evolution of the library system.

"One of our big strategic goals is to provide access to emerging technology," Bishop said. "So with technology they may not have access to at home, work or school, they can come here and learn about it and build skills in technologies that are going to be used in future workplaces."

Lynn Wheeler, director with the county library, said the 3-D printers are just the latest in the library's embrace of new technologies.

"I've been around long enough to remember when we first got copy machines," Wheeler said. "Then we got printers, then fax machines. So, when 3-D printing became a thing, I knew it was something we wanted to give our patrons access to."

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The Eldersburg branch was the first to receive its 3-D printer and has been hosting demonstrations for the public. Bishop said families in particular have been interested in the programs, which teach the basics of the printer, and leave attendees with a small plastic trinket or name tag.

Though the library system has been dedicated to showing people the basics of 3-D printing, Bishop said there have been huge strides made in the possibilities of the technology. More advanced printers can create objects in nylon, wood and steel.

"Some people are using it to make jewelry, others in architecture are using it to create models," Bishop said. "It's getting to the point where you can make whatever your imagination can think of. Maybe here, you're making a plastic toy, but people are branching out. They could be 3-D printing in medicine, clothing, food. The implications are really broad."

Each branch has trained staff in the usage of the 3-D printer. For those who haven't attended a 3-D printing class or aren't interested in creating their own designs, ready-to-print, free designs are available at thingiverse.com.

Bishop said throughout the year, the library will hold different events, teaching people to create different objects, like cookie cutters and holiday decorations.

"One of the fascinating things about librarians is we like to learn new things," Bishop said. "I do have an interest in technology. There aren't too many places you can go learn for free and have access to a 3-D printer. We're offering all of that to the public."

410-857-7890

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If you go:

What: Intro to 3-D Printing

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Eldersburg Branch Library, 6400 W. Hemlock Drive, Sykesville

Cost: Free

For more information: Visit www.library.carr.org.

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