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Archived - Fair share: Yvonne van Lith lends out Ottawa Public Library's 3D printers to make protective equipment

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May 12, 2020
Feature Stories

Anyone with items checked out when Ottawa Public Library branches closed was told to hang onto them until branches reopen. But books aren’t the only items on long-term loan.

The pandemic has created supply-chain nightmares the world over as health care workers have struggled to find the protective equipment they need to stay safe on the job. As a result, governments, non-profits and private industry are partnering to find creative ways to get supplies to where they are needed most.

When Ottawa Public Library Program Manager Yvonne van Lith saw stories like this emerge in the news in March, her mind immediately went to the three 3D printers sitting dormant in the library’s Imagine Space. In short order, she got to work to lend the 3D printers to ComputerWise, a local non-profit that helps adults with multiple disabilities learn computer skills.

A woman wearing a blue Ottawa Public Library shirt and sunglasses snaps a photo of herself in front of a tree in her backyard.
Via video chat from her home, Yvonne van Lith shared the story of how the Ottawa Public Library deployed its 3D printers to make much-needed plastic face shields for support workers.

How did this partnership come about?

ComputerWise has been a regular user of our Imagine Space and we’ve worked with them on other projects, including making custom assistive devices for their clients.

During the pandemic, ComputerWise has been working to address medical equipment shortages. They knew from previous experience that the library’s 3D printers are perfectly suited to making the headbands that keep plastic face shields in place. When they approached us to see if they could borrow the 3D printers, my colleagues and I were thrilled to work with them, knowing they could put this technology to good use in the fight against COVID-19.

What were the logistics like to get these printers to their temporary home?

It all happened very quickly in mid-March, when the urgency around sourcing protective equipment was probably at its height. We managed to deliver the printers within about a week of our first conversation with ComputerWise, and they started printing visors quickly after that. We made sure the people operating them were fully trained and had access to the right filament. The filament is the "ink" in the printer, so to speak – the material used to make the visors.

A hand holding a visor made by the 3D printer shown in the background.
The MakerBot, pictured here, is one of the three 3D printers on loan to ComputerWise.

Who is using the face shields these 3D printers are helping to make?

ComputerWise has been providing face shields to agencies like Total Communication Environment and the Ottawa Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities. Staff from these non-profits work with adults with disabilities and special needs, including many who live in group residences. This is a high-risk segment of the population, so it’s important for caregivers to wear proper gear to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

A brown-haired man wearing a black T-shirt displays how a face shield is worn.
ComputerWise team member Alex Fuller models the faced shields they make. The Library’s 3D printers create the orange visor piece that keeps the shield in place. The non-profit uses laser cutters to produce the clear plastic shield.

What has it been like to work on this project?

Front-line staff are out there selflessly providing essential care to people with disabilities, and I am so happy to know I was able to play a role in helping them stay safe on the job.

In my personal time I volunteer with a Scouts Canada group. We teach our scouts to be resourceful. The Beaver-Scouts’ motto is “sharing, sharing, sharing!” Working on this project to lend out our printers has felt like a beautiful extension of both Ottawa Public Library values and scouting values.

I'm just glad we were able to get these printers into the hands of the people who could make the best use of them during this pandemic. A single visor takes two to three hours to print, so lending ComputerWise these printers helps them accelerate production of the face shields.

Front-line workers are on my mind a lot these days. Where would we be right now without our garbage collectors, our postal delivery workers or our Hydro crews? Where would we be without our doctors and nurses? We owe them the world. I wish there was more I could do, but I try to remember it’s about the choices I make day to day. I’m limiting my grocery shopping to once every two weeks. I’m washing my hands compulsively. These are strategies to reduce community spread of the virus, but they are so much more than that. They’re gestures of solidarity and support for those front-line workers who don’t have the option to stay home.

How have you been keeping active and social with these stay-at-home orders in place?

Work keeps me busy, and so do my Scouts! I’m the group commissioner for the 137th Ottawa Scout group, and we’ve been doing our best to keep our scouts engaged, even if we can’t gather. Scouting is about a lot more than weekly meetings. It’s about leadership skills, it’s about learning.

We’re trying to be resourceful and find opportunities to bring our scouts together virtually while we’re physically distanced. For the little ones, we’re finding new ways to play! We organized an online scavenger hunt. We created an escape-room scenario using google forms, which was a learning opportunity for me! My 21-year old son is a Beaver-Scout leader and, a few weeks ago, I helped him put on a live a puppet show online for his group. Our activities may look different than they used to, but it has still been really positive, and I think maintaining some degree of normalcy and connectivity during this time of upheaval means a lot for these kids and their families.

Note: For information about acquiring face shields, contact ComputerWise Program Supervisor Lindsay Gillis.

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