(photo caption: A few of the items that Editor-in-Chief Shannon Vaughn has had printed include an iPhone case, a grocery bag holder, and chopsticks.)

“Hey, you’re already paying for it, so why would you go pay hundreds of dollars?” George asked me. In the past couple of years, 3D printing has taken off as costs of home printers have dropped. What used to be a $2,000 machine can now be had in home for $300. But why would you spend even $300 when you can pay mere dollars for prints built by professionals and to your specifications? Over the past year I have taken to testing out the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s Digital Commons.

When George Williams, the press secretary for the library system, met me in the MLK library entrance, I didn’t have any clue as to the size of the Digital Commons program. All I knew is I could send in a digital file online and come in a couple weeks later and pick up my objects, all for just a couple bucks.

With approximately 15 classes and 55 to 60 students per month, Digital Commons is teaching our friends and neighbors great new things. Aside from the classes are six 3D printers, one Z-18 big printer (2’x4’ and prints up to 17.9″ high with a 12″ by 12″ length and width), a 3D scanner, and 15 Raspberry Pi Model Bs, with a laser cutter, a four-axis CNC machine, 20 Arduino Unos, and an additional 20 RaspberryPi model B+s coming soon – and that’s just inside the library.

The library also works in our schools. The library system now has a full-time employee whose job is school outreach to bring Digital Commons (and other programs) into local elementary and middle schools. (Hint for Amidon-Bowen, Jefferson, and Van Ness: schools can also reach out directly to the program and ask to schedule free classes.)

As I learned about all of the great things that Digital Commons does, George and the Digital Commons team told me of even more exciting changes ahead. Our tax dollars have paid for a “mobile tech unit,” which will include all kinds of new and advanced technologies that will be brought to local libraries for three-day weekends to teach neighborhood children. This “Digital Commons Roadshow” will start this March. And for the parents, in the summer there will be a Maker Camp for Kids running for six weeks from June to July sponsored by Maker Magazine and Google.

The home base will also see a new addition in the form of a new 900ft2 Maker Space on the second floor of the MLK library. Currently in the design phase, most of the current equipment will move upstairs to the repurposed old staff break area. In the new space, classes will be hands-on to the point where, after taking the required safety class, patrons will be able to come in without a reservation, design their own 3D objects, and then print them themselves.

So what’s the cost of all this greatness, you ask? Out of the eight objects I have had printed, the most expensive object was $4.65. For comparison, the most expensive thing the library has ever printed was $26, which at a printing shop would have cost over $150.

As George said, “Come in and use the Digital Commons, which you didn’t know existed and that you are already paying for!”

By: Shannon Vaughn

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