Idea Lab 'phenomenal asset' for teens, businesses at Naperville library

Once a quiet study lab, the second floor of the 95th Street Library in Naperville has become a hub of technology and digital media.

It's called the Idea Lab.

It offers 12 Mac computers with 27-inch screens loaded with software to design logos, print business cards, create cartoons, compose songs and edit videos. It includes: Conversion software and hardware to turn vinyl albums, cassette tapes, VHS tapes or printed photos into digital music or image formats; video recording technology and a green screen; a 3-D scanner and a 3-D printer.

And the lab is free to Naperville Public Library card holders and students in Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Library Manager Karen Dunford said.

“We are taking technology that is very useful and bringing it to the forefront and making it accessible for our community,” Dunford said.

The lab opened March 19 and hosted a tour for Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce members Thursday morning. The 3-D printer caught the most attention of business people, who called it “fascinating” and “so cool” as they marveled at the technology many had heard of but never seen before.

Jonathan Charles, a help desk assistant at the library, said the printer is like a mini hot glue gun — it dispenses layer upon layer of heated plastic until it builds a plastic object of the desired shape. Library patrons can get help from staff members on using 3-D imaging technology to design the shape of object they need the printer to create, or they can use the 3-D scanner to capture the dimensions of an object that already exists in order to print another one.

So far, Dunford said, a man has used the 3-D printer to re-create a broken washing machine part that otherwise would have cost him $250 (a finished item will cost you 20 cents per gram, an online library form says), and teenagers from nearby Neuqua Valley High School have enjoyed experimenting with the new machine, called a MakerBot Replicator 2.

“To put this technology in the hands of teens is just a phenomenal asset for them,” Dunford said. “They're engineers in the making, entrepreneurs in the making.”

Library patrons can sign up when they arrive at the library or by calling ahead of time for a two-hour window in which to receive help from staff members on any technology in the Idea Lab. Executive Director Julie Rothenfluh said business people can use the lab for visual and online tasks such as creating a website, recording a marketing video, designing a new logo or printing new business cards.

“We think it has a lot of implications for the business community,” Rothenfluh said about the idea lab, which the library developed for about $25,000. “Many things you can't afford to buy on your own for your business, we have them here and they're free.”

Also popular in the lab's opening weeks has been conversion software and hardware to turn old vinyl records, CDs, VHS tapes or hard-copy pictures into digital files.

“It's a way to take those old things we love and make them new in the latest technological format,” Dunford said.

As technology changes, the library will adjust the software and hardware available at the lab to fit community needs, said Frances Tong, information technology manager.

“Anything they think about is possible,” Tong said, “and we're here to support it.”

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  Keith Giaquinto, a chiropractor who toured the 95th Street Library's new Idea Lab on Thursday morning in Naperville with other members of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, examines figurines created by a MakerBot 3-D printer the library bought for about $1,600. Daniel White/
  The new Idea Lab at the 95th Street Library in Naperville offers residents the ability to digitize old vinyl records. Help desk employees like Jeff Smallwood facilitate the process. Daniel White/
  Naperville Public Library help desk employee Jeff Smallwood is one of many staff members who can help card holders use a 3-D printer the library has installed in its new Idea Lab at the 95th Street Library. Daniel White/
  Karen Dunford, left, 95th Street Library manager, and Julie Rothenfluh, Naperville Public Library executive director, introduce members of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce to the 95th Street Library's new Idea Lab on Thursday morning. The library spent about $25,000 on technology for the lab, which includes music and photo digitization software, video recording equipment, a green screen, a 3-D scanner and a 3-D printer. Marie Wilson/
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