The days of going to the library and using the old card catalogs and microfiche machines are behind us. Libraries still have books, of course, but they offer so much more as well.
Starting February 4th, The Toronto Reference Library will feature a digital innovation hub, complete with two MakerBot Replicator 2s for anyone with a library card to use. It's part of an initiative to introduce library members to a whole range of cutting edge technologies.
"It's actually a combination of digital media lab-slash-makerspace, so it has some of these other things like Arduinos and Raspberry Pi in it too," Paul Trumphour, the reference library's access and information manager, said. "We'll have things like a green screen and lighting kit so people can make films in the library."
While the Toronto Public Library may be the largest in North America, and possibly busiest in the world, it's not the first to offer these types of services. The Chicago Public Library and the District of Columbia Public Library (in Washington, D.C.) already offer similar digital innovation hubs.
The Toronto Public Library District will also offer another digital innovation hub in its Fort York branch near Toronto's downtown area in the near future.
"We do see it as consistent with our mission to help people learn about the world they live in, and as the world becomes increasingly digital, we want to be able to offer them that," Trumphour said.
The district will also offer open house sessions on how to use the various technologies in the digital innovation hubs. Library patrons will be required to attend a separate 45-minute certification class before gaining access to the 3D printers. After that, the only limitation will be that printed items cannot take longer than two hours to make.
"We would hope people make practical things on (the 3D printers), like an iPhone cover," Trumphour said.
The fee to use the printers is a $1 base fee plus 5 cents per minute. If something takes an hour to print, the cost would be $4. The rate is set to cover the cost of PLA filament.
The digital innovation hubs will always be manned by trained staff, in order to ensure files are printable and neither obscene nor dangerous.
And what if someone comes in and prints an iPhone cover for $5, then turns around and sells it out on the street for $20?
"We do not have a problem with that," Trumphour said. "I don't see someone being able to run a business from here with our (time) limitations, but they could potentially be exposed to the idea. They can see if they have a marketable product. We do see our space as an animator and incubator for startups and entrepreneurs."