Cologne’s Municipal Library “I love the fun of making things myself”

The library as an experimental workshop – Jan working on the 3-D printer.
The library as an experimental workshop – Jan working on the 3-D printer. | Photo (detail): © Michael Kohler

Jan F. is a pupil and has been using Cologne’s Central Library since his childhood. In the last few years, he has been mostly hopping between the 3-D printer and the shelves with the computer science literature.

I am interested in computer science and like to take part in events such as Chaos macht Schule (Chaos is Catching On) organised by the Chaos Computer Club or Jugend hackt (Young People’s Guide to Hacking). At these events you are encouraged to develop your own products, and for that you also need the appropriate hardware. Then I read in a brochure that Cologne Central Library had a makerspace with 3-D printers – the perfect thing for my projects.

Trying things out in the makerspace at Cologne’s Municipal Library. Trying things out in the makerspace at Cologne’s Municipal Library. | Photo (detail): © Michael Kohler With the help of 3-D software I animate mechanical components for devices, which I can then bring to life with the aid of a small micro-controller and electronics. In the library, I first printed the parts for an automated gripper arm; in this case I was able to download the required file from a database. The design for a human finger I programmed myself and installed it there on the spot.

Jan programmed this finger himself. Jan programmed this finger himself. | Photo (detail): © Jan F. I love the fun of making things myself and then seeing them actually work. I have little time, but when I have some, I'm usually to be found in the library. I mostly go there on Saturdays or during the holidays. I have been using the 3-D printer for two years, and I also enjoy playing on their electric piano.

Jan can well imagine studying computer science when he has left school. Jan can well imagine studying computer science when he has left school. | Photo (detail): © Michael Kohler There are also 3-D goggles that can be used to experience virtual reality or try out VR games. In virtual reality, the image is adapted to one's own head movements, one is, so to speak, in another world. With 3-D games in particular, this is a great experience, it all seems very real. The only problem is – after a while I start to feel sick.

This user is trying out the VR goggles – not really Jan’s thing. This user is trying out the VR goggles – not really Jan’s thing. | Photo (detail): © Stadtbibliothek Köln The devices in the makerspace can be used by everyone. There are introductory courses, but basically you do not need much prior knowledge to use the 3-D printer: start the computer, log in as a makerspace user, install or download files – and off you go. With the software of the 3-D printer you can place your objects in a virtual 3-D environment and change the size if necessary. The software then calculates how long the printing will take.

Using special software, Jan designs three-dimensional objects. Using special software, Jan designs three-dimensional objects. | Photo (detail): © Michael Kohler The printer itself works more or less like a hot glue gun – a plastic strip is inserted into the top and molten plastic layers come out at the bottom. These layers are then placed on top of each other to form the eventual shape of the object. At the moment it is still a hobby for me, but I can well imagine me studying computer science when I have left school. My current project is an undercarriage for a large robot arm which can be moved in all directions. For this purpose, special shaped wheels are required and these are very expensive since they are usually used only in technical fields.

Sometimes it takes hours for the print to be finished. Sometimes it takes hours for the print to be finished. | Photo (detail): © Michael Kohler The printing itself can sometimes take several hours, that is when I start moving back and forth between the makerspace on the fourth floor and the computer science department on the first floor. You have to always keep an eye on things, to make sure everything is working properly. Unfortunately the device cannot print in colour, so you have to have a few tricks up your sleeve, for example, you can stop the process and introduce a new plastic strip of a different colour. This is only a theoretical possibility and is not recommended. Nevertheless, I think the quality produced by the 3-D printer is really good. Of course, it would be nice if there were more 3-D printers available. When it first started, you could print as long as you wanted. Now you have to register about two weeks beforehand, if you want to use the printer for a maximum of two days.

End of the line – the automated gripper robot arm End of the line – the automated gripper robot arm | Photo (detail): © Jan F.

Jan F. (born 2000) goes to school in his home town of Cologne and has built electronically animated fingers and gripper arms with the aid of a 3-D printer. Computer science and robotics might well be the fields he will be working in later.
In addition to tens of thousands of media units and various literary archives, the  Central Library of the City of Cologne also houses a makerspace for “doing-it-yourself” with 3-D printers, virtual reality goggles, an electric piano and a premium sewing machine. Using them is free of charge and there are regular introductory workshops for the individual devices. In 2015, the library in Cologne was voted the German Library of the Year.
 

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