Maker Lab at the Chicago Public Library pre-viewing for the American Library Association with Inventables

Today 22,000 librarians came to Chicago for the ALA (American Library Association) annual conference.  One of the hot topics at this years ALA is 3D printing and maker spaces.  Inventables has been working with the folks at the Harold Washington branch of the Chicago Public Library since January 2013 on their new Maker Lab and today we did a preview event for librarians.  This will be the first truly free lab that is open to the public.  Starting July 8th the hours will be:

Monday through Thursday: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Sunday: 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

This lab is intended to be a showcase to the world on what the future of libraries could be.  Yesterday I met Tim Carrigan of the Institute of Museums and Library Services or as they say in the industry IMLS.  Tim told me their vision is for libraries to be a place of learning not just a place to store books.  It's a fundamental shift compared to what most people think of the library system.  Things are changing and the need for big buildings to house expensive books is no longer as important as it was when the modern library system started in the 17th and 18th centuries.

This project was a HUGE achievement for Chicago but it didn't happen overnight.

Part of the team doing tours in the lab

The lab was funded by a grant from the IMLS.  The mission of IMLS is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. They provide leadership through research, policy development, and grant making.

This particular grant was spearheaded by Yolande Wilburn from CPL.  I first met Yolande at the Evanston Mini Maker Faire put on by Steve Finkelman known for his laser diode systems. Here's a quick video of Yolande talking about innovation at the library.

I'll admit that when I first talked to Yolande about her idea of putting a MakerLab in the library I was skeptical.  When I was growing up I was always told to be quiet in the library.  Digital Manufacturing equipment gets loud whether it's the movement from the 3D printers, the spindle on a CNC mill, or the air filter on a laser.  Also these tools require materials, space to spread out, and lots of conversation and show and tell.  I didn't think that the library was going to be a good home.  I imagined all the librarians rushing around to the machines telling people to be quiet.

Yolande had a different vision.

At the Evanston Maker Faire she started connecting into the community.  She saw the Shapeoko CNC Mill, the Epilog Laser Cutters, was introduced to Tim Saylor of a local hacker space called Pumping Station: One  Dan Meyer and the crew over at the Museum of Science and Industry Fab Lab.

As Yolande started putting together the plan for the Maker Lab one of the conditions of the grant was that no machine could cost more than $5000.  This constraint made the machines available at Inventables a good fit for their needs.  At ORD Camp 2013 Andrea Saenz First Deputy commissioner of the Library participated in a discussion with leaders from the Chicago Children's Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, local Hackerspaces, Educators, technologists, and parents.  The discussion was framed by the question, "How can we make the library a desirable destination?"  Folks piped in with comments like:
    1. The library should be a community animator, not gatekeepers.
    2. Having lighting that doesn't feel like a hospital or sterile institutional building might draw people in.
   3. What if there was whiteboard paint on the walls
   4. Who in the community is already doing this?  Can we draw them in?
   5. The library is a starting point you go to launch, it's about the creation of knowledge

That discussion brought lots of energy and ideas to the project and they found a room on the 3rd floor to launch the MakerLab.  The Library ended up ordering 6 machines from Inventables and a huge stack of material.  If you walk in on July 8th when it opens here's the equipment you'll find:

A Shapeoko CNC milling machine.  The $599 Shapeoko is an open source machine making upgrades possible.  The machine in the Maker Lab was upgraded to include the dual drive upgrade, an acrylic cover, hold down table that can hold a 12"x12"piece of material, and a built in dust collector.  This made the machine surprisingly quiet.  We will be doing a more detailed post on this particular build.

Laser Cutter
They have 2 Full Spectrum Laser desktop laser cutters that have a 20"x12" cuttable area and cost $3899.  Each of these machines are plugged into an air filter that costs $2592.04 to prevent toxic fumes from circulating in the lab.  The bed on these machines can hold a 12x24 piece of material making our entire acrylic selection available for use.

In between the laser and the Shapeoko they have 3 Makerbot Replicator 2's. These retail for $2199 a piece.

They also got two Cameo vinyl cutters.  These are only $225 at Amazon.

Inventables installed a material library that includes samples from our acrylic, wood, cork, metal, and 3D printer filament categories.  This makes it easy for people in the lab to touch and feel what different materials are like during the brainstorming and exploration phase of a project.  There is some information that you can't get from our website like what "matte" feels like or how the white acrylic looks next to the bamboo plywood.  We hope this kind of accessibility gives folks a better understanding of which materials will work for their project.

So far this lab has been a tremendous success.  The Chicago Public Library has been a great partner to work with.  We hope that it will draw in many different groups from within the city of Chicago including but not limited to people involved in the Industrial Design Society of America, Pumping Station: One, South Side Hackers, 1871, TechStars Chicago, Impact Engine, Built In Chicago, ORD Camp, Citizen Schools, SEE, FIRST Robotics, IIT Idea Shop, SAIC, Polsky Center, JARCCMRC and more.

This Maker Lab is a game changer for Chicago.  It's incredible to see how much the community has developed over the last 10 years and how it is the center of gravity for hardware startups, makers, and the manufacturing industry.

The lab is going to be covered on Channel 7 ABC news at 11am on July 1st.  In addition we're excited to see how the Chicago Tribune, Crain's Chicago Business and the Sun Times view this important part of the city's transformation into a digital hub.


Router Mill said…
Wow! this is one of the good machines in a budget. I am looking for laser cnc machines and equipments, can you help me in it?

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