Libraries joining fight against COVID-19 virus with 3-D printers

Staffers at many suburban libraries are using their facilities' 3-D printers to produce personal protective equipment for health care workers and other professionals on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.

Instead of letting the equipment gather dust while libraries are closed because of the statewide stay-at-home order, the employees have taken them home to manufacture parts for face shields and other components.

Employees with the Grayslake Area Public Library, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, the Elmhurst Public Library and the Naperville Public Library are among those who have stepped up to help during the crisis.

Lincolnshire's Vernon Area Public Library is among the latest to join the effort. Information Technology and Instruction Librarian Donna MacCartney brought one of the library's 3-D printers home Friday and now is making visors for face shields, four at a time.

"Libraries are part of the community support system," MacCartney said. "We have the resources at Vernon Area Library to help out, and there is a need to be met."

It's not just employees who are using libraries' 3-D printers to pitch in. Fremont Public Library Trustee Lauren Jackson has borrowed two of the Mundelein facility's machines to make ear hooks for health care workers' masks.

Vince Radlicz, the 11-year-old son of Arlington Heights Memorial Public Library digital services adviser Donna Radlicz, is using one of that library's 3-D printers to make face shields for health care workers in the Chicago area and as far away as California.

And 15-year-old Jack Derbis of Downers Grove has added his local library's printer to his own to increase production of bands for face shields headed to area hospitals.

"It's really been a round-the-clock operation," Jack said. "I'm glad I could help."

Finding ways to help

According to a survey by the Public Library Association, most American libraries are modifying services during the crisis. Many are using 3-D printers to make personal protection equipment; others are hosting virtual programming, expanding catalogs of digital media and assisting governmental agencies with public services.

"Libraries continue to play essential roles in our communities even as we close our buildings and work remotely to best ensure health and safety," the association's president, Ramiro Salazar, said in a news release.

Naperville Public Library staffers are making visors for face shields and face masks on five library-owned printers they've borrowed. As of Monday they've made 175 shield parts and have delivered them to Edward Hospital in Naperville and other medical facilities.

"We have been getting more requests from other essential organizations and (are) currently evaluating how to move forward with these requests," Digital Services Manager Jonathan Charles said. "Our goal is to be a stopgap until commercial (equipment) providers can catch up with the demand."

Phil Schneider, a digital services librarian for the Elgin-based Gail Borden Public Library District, is filling a similar role. He's making adjustable straps for face masks on his printer and one borrowed from the library.

Schneider's products are going to nursing homes, hospitals, fire departments and police departments through a volunteer Facebook group called Superhero Masks.

"I wanted to be able to help," Schneider said. "And this is the best way I can think of without leaving my house."

Liability issues

Not all suburban libraries with 3-D printers have embraced the effort. Antioch Public Library District officials considered participating but balked after conferring with their attorney and insurance agent about the potential legal liability, Director Jennifer Drinka said.

"Our insurance policy does not have product liability for manufacture of safety equipment," she said. "I'm concerned that the attorney fees to create a regulatory standards disclaimer or an emergency equipment agreement would outweigh the amount of PPE we could realistically create."

That mindset seems to be in the minority, however.

Aurora Public Library staff and volunteers are making face-shield components on the library's five 3-D printers. To stave off any potential legal battles, they're working with local hospitals to ensure the products meet medical standards, Executive Director Michaela Haberkern said.

"I have to say though - the need is so great that we probably would have lent the printers anyway," Haberkern said.

Liability wasn't even part of the conversation at the Vernon Area Public Library.

"When the administrator of a hospital system says that they need your help saving lives, you don't pause to see whether someone is going to sue you if you do," library spokeswoman Catherine Savage said.

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Jonathan Charles, the digital services supervisor for the Naperville Public Library District, is using a library-owned 3-D printer to make parts for face shields in his basement. Courtesy of Jonathan Charles
Vernon Area Public Library employee Donna MacCartney loads one of the library's 3-D printer into her car Friday in Lincolnshire. She'll use it to make headbands for face shields during the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy of Vernon Area Public Library
The Aurora Public Library's 3-D printers are being used by staff and volunteers to create components for face shields for health care workers. Courtesy of the Aurora Public Library
Fremont Public Library Trustee Lauren Jackson and her husband are using the library's 3-D printers to produce components for masks for health care personnel. Courtesy of the Fremont Public Library
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