How Library Maker Spaces Can #FlattentheCurve

As library buildings close, library workers are finding ways to help communities mitigate the COVID-19 crisis—including utilizing maker space tools and tech to create much-needed personal protective equipment.

As library buildings close, library workers are finding ways to help communities to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis. Librarians have maker skills as well as access to maker technologies. Maker skills include designing prototypes, products, and services using emerging technologies, such as 3D printers. During the COVID crisis we are experiencing a disrupted supply chain. This disruption, when combined with an increase in local needs, result in a problem that library workers can solve.


Will your help really help?

Makers, library workers, and creators are posting their models online, and library workers and libraries can serve the community through production of these models in their maker facilities. Face shields and cloth masks are popular, and there are hundreds of examples. With so many options to choose from, start with the needs of your local hospital and health care workers, and revise what you make based on their needs. The first step, Ruth Metz, Principal Library Consultant at Ruth Metz Associates, says, is to find out if your local hospitals would like the models you are thinking about mass printing.

David Ecker, Director of iCreate at Stony Brook University, has been doing exactly this. Ecker is used to coming up with prototypes quickly, and teaching students to do the same in the creative spaces he oversees. He came up with his first face shield prototype in three to four hours, then worked with hospital administrators to improve his design.

“One concern they had,” Ecker explains, “was the opening on top. They wanted foam to close the gap.” Hospital workers also requested foam padding for the shields to protect skin where the parts touch the head. Adding the comfortable foam will help his prototype more closely resemble the shields they would normally purchase. Ecker revised and created these models.

Individuals with access to library maker space equipment can select the best prototypes, and think about their network. Ecker says, “Reach out to anyone in the medical profession, nurses, doctors, technicians, anyone you already know and they will be happy to connect you to the administrators. Even the fire department or a nursing home could be the connection you need to get started.”


Some places to start

Gary Price of LJ’s InfoDocket writes about librarians using 3D printers to create personal protective equipment, including a University of Oklahoma librarian and the librarians from Columbia University who created a prototype and a clear, easy-to-use guide on how to 3D-print a face shield apparatus.

Materials for these designs are becoming scarce. Elastic is increasingly difficult to find, according to Ecker, and not even the local hospital administrators were able to locate the supplies they needed. He presented this problem to his students and he said, “They came up with some duct tape solutions where they made slits in the duct tape based on the average circumference of a human head.” This is an inexpensive and easy solution, and the costs for all of the shields are low.

It may seem like this effort could be costly, however Boise State University calculated it will cost about $3.50 per face shield to produce. Ecker found the same at Stony Brook University—the cost they had identified is between $2-3. The Director of Billings Public Library and Interim Chief Information Officer of Billings, MT, Gavin Woltjer, is also mass-manufacturing the face shields and started a statewide model of contribution. He found that the costs run about $1 per mask, and it takes about 3.5 hours to print each one.

When asked where he found the materials and funding, he said they ordered items through their regular vendor, including doubling their 3D printers, and finding local funding from a foundation. He has his staff working from home, “I have a librarian who took the printers home to continue this endeavor. We are able to produce about 10–12 masks per day that can be used multiple times.” When the printing is complete, they drop everything off at a central location.

If you are a member of a team that has a library maker space and you would like to contribute, asking library administration first is important. Ecker says, “Just do it. I was planning to do this, but then my administrator reached out to ask, ‘Can we?’” Woltjer found the decision for Billings Public Library to start manufacturing to be essential, “It was really easy to make the decision to be part of this larger endeavor. We all must do what we can to help fight this virus.”

When possible, library workers should participate in any statewide or regional collaborations. Travis Porter, a librarian at the Meridian Library District, ID, suggests a good way to start is, “by doing your research and reaching out to your local community. It's so inspiring to see how ready people are to help. Just ask.”

Woltjer, who just recently became the library director and CIO in Billings, has expertise in 3D printing from his previous positions. Their initiative in Billings began with the Billings Clinic Foundation. Woltjer collaborated with area libraries to help and turned it statewide, “I took the initiative to start a larger campaign of trying to get all the libraries with 3D printers in the state of Montana to participate. I am unsure of the total number of participants, but I believe it to be about 20 libraries, thus far.” He recommends that libraries can continue to serve their role in their communities as information centers, while also using their maker expertise. His disaster planning had already included support for local hospitals, childcare centers, and support for first responders, and he expects they will continue to do more as this continues.

Right now information about library maker space COVID response is scattered, though some library websites include helpful information. Ecker’s website, New York Innovate, is a great starting place for resources as he includes all of their current iterations and he updates the site in real time. Twitter offers some of the most up-to-date posts and ideas on this topic. Woltjer says it is great to look at all of the ideas, but leave the evaluation of the prototypes to the hospital workers: “We produce; they vet.” Currently, Ecker is looking at some faster methods including laser cut acrylic masks to decrease production time.

Following some specific safety steps when manufacturing is critical. If you are coming into your library to run any equipment, sterilizing 3D printer equipment you touch using more than 70 percent isopropyl alcohol will reduce contact with the novel coronavirus. To avoid contagion, some libraries are allowing library staff to take 3D printers home to work on prototypes. Ideally, library buildings will be fogged and sterilized prior to anyone entering a closed building. Before that happens, staff must take every precaution: sterilizing every surface they touch and cleaning after leaving the building, including after creating the masks. Masks must be placed in bags using clean gloves.

Many individuals are working to sew cloth face masks and wonder if they are effective. Library maker spaces sometimes have sewing machines, and fabrics stores have shared instructions on how to create cloth masks to wear—but do they work?

While cloth facemasks worn by healthy people don’t show effectiveness in preventing them from catching the disease, when worn by sick people they do work to slow community spread, at least for the flu, according to a 2010 study by Allison E. Aiello et. al published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. Because so many asymptomatic people may carry COVID-19 without realizing it, members of the public wearing masks may reduce community spread—and free up scarce medical-grade PPE for frontline healthcare workers.


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