3D printing comes to the library

Posted: June 22nd, 2018 | Books, Columns, Featured | No Comments

By  Heather Pisani-Kristl | La Mesa Reads

What’s a 3D printer doing in the library? Aren’t libraries for lending books? Yes, we have a very long history of book lending – centuries, in fact – and we’ll continue to do that for hundreds of years into the future. But libraries have another tradition that doesn’t immediately come to mind: we make technology available to customers, often long before that technology is feasible for home use.

If you are my age or older, you’ll remember microfilm and microfiche machines at the library, as well as tabletop magnifiers for people with low vision, and even turntables and collections of LPs. Your childhood library might have had a film projector or VCR to show movies during the summer, before most families had a similar machine at home. And of course, libraries have had computers for public use before the World Wide Web entered common parlance — although customer interest in computers has mushroomed since Facebook, Candy Crush and Gmail became available. So information and entertainment have always been services the public library offers, and now we are making interactive learning a larger part of those programs.

The La Mesa Library now offers use of a new 3D printer. (Courtesy MakerBot)

La Mesa Library’s new 3D printer, a MakerBot Replicator+, uses spools of corn-based plastic called PLA to print three-dimensional objects. Library customers can use free design websites such as Thingiverse or Tinkercad to design toys, statues, keychains, or other small items and print them at the library. Once the file is ready, the MakerBot extrudes heated plastic in the shape of the design. It’s an amazing process to watch!

At the library, I spoke to a retired machinist who had decades of professional experience in San Diego’s aerospace industry. Many of his colleagues dismissed computer-aided design (CAD) when it came on the market, but he taught himself CAD and continues to use it. The day he came in, he printed a small replacement part for his car’s dashboard, which cost him $1.35 (the library charges $0.15 per gram of plastic).

While we don’t all have the skills and training to reproduce car parts, it is easy to search and adapt online files shared by other CAD users. Perhaps you would like a cat-shaped phone stand, a decorative flowerpot, or a tiny model of the Millennium Falcon — these are all creations shared by Tinkercad users and available for you to customize and print. Printing time varies by size, with some objects taking an hour or more; library staff will hold your completed item until you’re able to pick it up.

Classes in how to use the library’s 3D printer and the Tinkercad website take place every Sunday at 3 p.m.; no reservations are needed. We hope to see your creations printing soon!

Summer Reading Challenge: Reading takes you everywhere

Our annual challenge – can you read 10 books or 10 hours? – is back, with great prizes for all ages. When you complete the challenge, you can choose from a library tote bag, pencil case with accessories, mini Lego kit, or squirt fish toy, while supplies last. You’ll also be entered in our grand prize drawings; for adults, a Kindle Fire is in the offing, while teens are competing for a Bose Bluetooth speaker. The last day to pick up prizes is Aug. 31.

We also host special events throughout the summer. July’s events include Kids’ Science Day on July 18 at 10:30 a.m., with the Salk Institute and SDSU. Teens will be making and taking a small succulent planter of their own creation on July 12 at 4 p.m., and adults will be hearing about literary tourism from a local travel agent on June 30 at 1 p.m. See the full list of events in our online calendar at or pick up a brochure and a reading challenge log at the library.

Summer reading events and grand prizes are funded by the Friends of La Mesa Library. Members of the Friends receive 50 percent off Friends bookstore purchases every day, and membership is no more than the price of a fancy coffee drink. Stop by the bookstore any day between 1 and 4 p.m. to join and browse their great summer reads.

—Heather Pisani-Kristl is managing librarian of the La Mesa branch of the San Diego County Library. Call the library at 619-469-2151, visit in person at 8074 Allison Ave., or get information online at

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