GTPulse: Traverse Area District Library Debuts the City’s First Public 3D Printer

Libraries are magical places. The resources available at public libraries go far beyond being able to check out books. Patrons have access to music, the internet, classes, newspapers, magazines and now, Traverse Area District Library has the city’s first 3D printer.

3D printers use coded instructions to create three-dimensional objects. The printers can produce a wide array of objects spanning from fun objects like toys, to more practical objects like machine parts. The technology is promising in the medical field too, with cardiac patches being successfully printed for potential use in heart repair and implants being printed to repair broken bones. TADL won’t be printing off human hearts, however, there are a ton of options for having an object of your own made.

Library Director, Michele Howard and Assistant Director for Technology, Scott Morey are excited to have the new service available at the library.

“So far the response has been tremendous,” Scott said.

The printer was bought just shy of two months ago, but Scott and his team had to assemble, install and learn how to run it before debuting the printer last Monday. 

“We talked in a meeting about things we wanted to do to add to the library experience. A lot of other libraries have 3D printers but some of the older ones don’t work that well, they didn’t produce great prints so we were apprehensive about getting into it. But, costs have gone down and quality has gone up so we figured it was worth a try,” Scott said.

When I talked to Michele and Scott there was a bookend being printed, and a list of other printing requests in line after it. Plans for over 1.6 million items can be bought on Guests who would like to have something printed can upload a file to All prints have a minimum cost of $1.00 and are made from recyclable, PLA plastic with a printed object costing 10 cents a gram.  There are 12 colors to choose from, and printed objects are surprisingly detailed.

“We’ll email you when it’s done so you can come pick it up,” Scott said.

Guests won’t be able to watch their item being printed. Because of having so many requests it’s not possible to give a time on when exactly something will be printed. There are size and time limitations. If a project is going to take longer than 12 hours or is larger than eight and a quarter by eight and a quarter by nine, it will not be accepted. If you happen to be at the library I suggest taking a look at whatever is being printed. Heated plastic moves through a nozzle into the shape designated by the print instructions. One layer of plastic is put down, dries, and then another layer of plastic is put over that until the size dimensions are achieved. It’s pretty cool to watch.

“So far we’ve had people print off things for dungeons and dragons. We’ve had people print off little action figures, mounts for GoPro’s. All kinds of cool stuff.”

Michele had printed a dragonfly for her window for $1.30 that’s wings and tail moves. 

“We’re learning. I had a purple dragonfly fail, and that happens. It went to the recycling bin. The patrons have been great and willing to learn with us,” Michele said.

Although the computer is used for fun, it can also be used for practical things. Scott said that the library recently saved some money by printing off their own small computer cases instead of buying them off of Amazon, and that a colleague used the printer for a broken car piece that held his heater vents open. Ultimately, though, the printer is for the community.

“The people of Traverse City have really cool ideas, and we provide the place to do it,” Michele said.

For those who feel intimidated by the 3D printing process, Scott has resources from books and websites that he is more than happy to provide for interested patrons. There will also be some classes open to the community in the summer that will teach people how to go through the printing process.

“I think one of the things we like to do here at the library is expose people to new things and ideas. It’s cool to see a kid walking through the library to grab a book and he’ll stop and say, ‘oh my gosh what is this?’ It’s those kinds of moments of wonder we like to inspire,” Scott said.


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