As the presence of 3-D printers grows in public libraries across the nation, patrons utilize them for custom orders and librarians continue to question and discover new ways for their usage to be incorporated into library programming and the overall mission of building community.
When I first set out to write on this topic, I had planned to interview many libraries on how they were using their 3-D printers, but in my research I discovered a very meaningful project at the Novi (MI) Public Library where they have teamed up with the local high school robotics team and a company called e-NABLE to create free 3-D printed hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device.
The program began in the summer of 2017 when Novi Public Library director, Julie Farkas, was approached by two high school students, Kirsten Anderson and Fenton Lawler, who were going into their senior year about the library becoming involved in a project to help them build hands. Anderson and Fenton were both members of Frog Force, the Novi High School robotics team. They were both already involved with e-NABLE, but wanted to join forces with the library to get more of a public perspective and get more community members involved.
While it remained a kid-led project, Novi Public Library invited community members to become participants by running an “Assembly Day” program twice a year, where people could come into the library and build a hand with provided assistance and instruction. The library also helped Frog Force connect with local fourth grade classrooms to teach kids how to assemble the 3-D printed hands. Together Frog Force, the library, and the kids in the classrooms were able to meet their goal of printing and assembling over 200 hands. The library also encouraged anyone who wished to make a donation to the project, all donations went toward materials and supplies for the project including replacing the library’s 3-D printer when needed.
According to Farkas, many of these 200 hands are currently being tested for quality control to make sure the hands work properly before being shipped out, but they are about to ship out their first order of 15 hands to a hospital in India. These hands will include instructions and care information in Hindi. Since the beginning of the project they have also connected with locals that need hands, including an order from an organization called Hand Camp who requested 16 hands and other individual orders for custom made hands. e-NABLE is even using some of these 200 hands that were built for themselves as examples in training.
When asked for advice on how libraries interested could also get involved with e-NABLE and creating 3-D printed hands for those who need them Farkas suggested contacting local robotics teams to see if it is a project they are interested in collaborating on. She also suggested it is helpful when working with the high school students to have a school and parent liaison as a contact point for both the library and the kids to assist in keeping everyone on task.
Even though Frog Force and the Novi Public Library have reached their first goal of assembling 200 hands, they have no intention of stopping anytime in the near future. Since being registered as an e-NABLE chapter they have received orders for custom made hands from all over and plan to continue being a part of the hands project.
“I never would have known 20 years ago in library school that I would be involved in a project like this one,” Farkas said in a way that made it clear she was proud to be part of a project that pulls the community together and makes such a big difference in the world.