EagleHerald Staff Writer
MENOMINEE—Building with blocks might not be the first activity people think of when they think “library.”
But it’s a way to engage young children and introduce to them concepts that can carry them into computer coding, which increasingly is part of society. Even libraries have incorporated more digital books, information and resources.
At a Dec. 16 story time at Spies Public Library, children heard a book about computer coding, then played with blocks and watched a three-dimensional evergreen tree emerge before their very eyes from a new 3D printer the library purchased with funds from the Friends of the Library.
The Prusa Mark III 3D printer will allow the library to create props and decorations for events Library Director Blair Nelson hopes will bring more—and a wider variety—of people to Spies Library.
“It’s opened up a whole new world for me,” he said. “It’s just another way to bring in new people to be innovative and creative. It opens up a lot more opportunity for what we can do,” he said.
Myra Behrendt’s 2-year-old daughter watched the plastic mold taking shape at the 3D printer set up on a round table. But she also enjoyed a snack and the chance to play with the wooden blocks. The point was to help children develop the skills necessary for understanding the basics of computing.
They heard a librarian read the children’s book, “How to code a sandcastle,” then had the opportunity to use the blocks or try one of several STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) kits the library has purchased.
“We don’t just have books anymore, we have STEM kits and coding,” said children’s librarian Abbey Hoijer.
The activities selected for the morning session were designed to introduce children to how to build and encourage them to understand, “If this doesn’t work, try something else,” Hoijer said.
“As technology evolves, more people just have to understand these sorts of things,” said Ozzie Nykanen who attended the storytime session on coding. “Coding is certainly an important part of everyday life. It’s important to understand how this set of things works.” Nykanen said she has used the new computer stations at the library, which are loaded with educational computer games and other applications.
Nelson said he worked with Scott McClean, a college student studying electrical mechanical design and automation, to purchase the printer and get it going. McClean said he was introduced to Blair through his mother, who has worked with youth at HeadStart.
“As long as you have a 3D model, you can pretty much make anything,” said McClean of Menominee. “Let’s say I need a cup holder for my car. I can take a ruler and measure out the size it needs to be and design in CAD (computer-aided design) a larger cup holder. It takes about six hours, and now I have a larger cup holder for my car.”
“I think for one, it’s just really, really, really cool,” McClean said. “At the very least, it’s a cool tool to have for the library.” For a Harry Potter night, McClean said he’s printing a Golden Snitch replica.
Designs for 3D models can be downloaded from sites like Thingiverse.com https://www.thingiverse.com/, Nelson said. It takes about 23 minutes for the printer to produce a small form, like a 2- or 3-inch evergreen tree model.
At $750, the printer can stretch the library’s capabilities cost effectively. The 3D printer takes plastic filament that looks like a roll of wire, heats it and pushes it through an extruder programmed with specific dimensions to produce an exact 3D model. “It prints it one layer at a time,” McClean said. The result is a hard plastic model most people wouldn’t guess came from a printer.
The printer allows people to create in ways they couldn’t before. McClean said he’d like to see a community maker space where the 3D printer might sit side by side with a sewing machine or other tools that allow people to create. “It’s just wild where the technology is going and what you can do with it,” he said. “I do think in the future, everyone will have a 3D printer or at least most people will,” he said.