Erin Wincek: A Librarian’s 3D Printing Journey
Erin Wincek has one foot planted in the library’s tradition of community service, and the other in high-tech. What makes her especially interesting is how she blends the two and her resulting impact on her region.
My journey began when I was listening to NPR. I was in the car with my kids and a story came on about 3D printing. I had never heard of such a thing. Time literally stopped and I was transfixed by the possibilities. From then on, I read anything I could find about the subject and talked to anyone who would listen. I still had not seen one [a 3D Printer] face-to-face, though.
Our library serves the area in, and around, Saxonburg, PA. We’re a small town of about 7,000 people located about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. We are blessed to have a very supportive Friends of the Library group, some of the members help me every day.
It was during one of these visits that I shared my enthusiasm for 3D printing with one of our biggest supporters, Michelle. She and her husband Larry owned a company and they happened to know a bit about the technology. They had “the bug”, too. We both ended up following and commenting on a related Facebook discussion and that really cemented our interest.
I never thought that we would ever get a 3D printer for our library. As excited as the Board was about the technology and library programming possibilities, we had just committed $27,000 to building a Teen Center in our building and didn’t have any more funding.
Still, my enthusiasm caused me to continue telling everyone I knew about 3D printing and one day Michelle came to me and said, “Erin, my husband and I would like to buy a printer and donate it to the library.” That was the Best Day, Ever!
Larry & Michelle took the lead on doing the research and tasked herself to find the perfect fit. We both happened upon Make Magazine’s Ultimate Guide To 3D Printing, which helped immeasurably.
Since I’m responsible for just about everything in the library, I needed a 3D Printer that was reliable, easy to set up and use, and inexpensive to operate. That pretty much narrowed things down to the Afinia. Larry ordered the printer, took delivery and set it up for me. He also created an abbreviated users’ guide that is used by our patrons who use the printer, which, by the way, is booked solid for the next six weeks.
My first official print was an owl pendant; I just stared at it while it appeared before my eyes. I was amazed at the detail.
One of the things I find most gratifying is the interest that the Afinia has generated around the region. Shorty after we started using the printer I read an article in a Pittsburgh newspaper about 3D printing. I sent a note to the writer telling him about what we were doing at the library. The next day he came out to see us and wrote a really nice article.
The original purpose of libraries was to be, basically, a place for ideas. Back when books were rare, the library was the only place that Everyman could go to learn about fantastic and new ideas. Libraries granted everyone access to things that most people could not afford.
The same is true with our library and 3D printing. Recently, three generations of a family came from south of Pittsburgh to see the printer. The eldest member of the family was over 90 and took copious notes during our conversation. I printed her a ring which she immediately attached to her necklace as a keepsake.
We had the Afinia up-and-running for the grand opening of our Teen Center. An extraordinary thing happened: The teens were so focused on the 3D printer that there was no awkwardness. They got past their insecurities and began collaborating almost immediately. That was a beautiful moment.
The community’s demand for 3D printing programming has increased to the point where I teach several classes per week. They last a bit less than an hour and are required before a person can reserve printer time.
This has been an exciting journey and I am especially grateful to Michelle and Larry for their generous donation and the impact this printer has had on, not only our library, but on our community.