Chicago's first free and publicly accessible "maker lab" is already off and 3-D printing following its Monday opening at the Harold Washington Library.
The innovation lab includes 3-D printers, laser cutters and a milling machine. With the printer, for example, makers can print off small objects of their own design or use pre-loaded templates (but no weapons or anything "offensive," librarians say). While it's free to use the space, makers must pay for the plastics and other materials they use for their creations.
The space has been open for just a day, but according to technology site Ars Technica, teachers, instructors and even business owners have reportedly been "e-mailing nonstop" asking the library how to get involved with the space.
"When school gets back in, we have a few high school teachers and principals who want to use that space as a hands-on lab for a class," Chicago Public Library's first deputy commissioner Andrea Sáenz told Ars.
During a demo with the Tribune Monday, librarian John Christensen told the paper machines like 3-D printers may be in the future what PCs were in decades past.
"To me this is akin to the way we viewed personal computers," Christensen said. "If you remember, at first it was a hobbyist thing, which (3-D printing) definitely is right now. Then eventually there was desktop publishing, which is now so familiar no one even calls it that anymore. But it has to start somewhere."
As business and technology site Gigaon notes, Chicago's maker-space in the Harold Washington is unique.
"Most maker spaces carry a membership fee of $50-200 a month or are located in an institution like a university, where you are required to be a student or staff member to access equipment," according to Gigaon.
In a recent post explaining why other public libraries should follow Chicago's lead, Gigaon writes:
"Libraries should, and have in many instances, extend that same treatment to new technology that is promising. Few will be as disruptive as the internet, but resources like Chicago’s maker lab will bring in people who might have never had the chance to build something otherwise. Dozens of people build prototypes and products or even run their businesses out of TechShop, where they also meet other makers full of new ideas. Imagine if libraries offered similar opportunities."
The space will stick around for six months and may relocate to neighborhood branches around the city after that.