By Patrick Stewart

In the fourth-floor Innovation Lab at the San Diego Central Library @ Joan Λ Irwin Commons, a sparkling clean lab is working around the clock to crank out critically needed personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare and frontline workers. Using 16 3D printers, specially trained Library staff manufacture and assemble 300 face shields every week. They also print nifty gadgets to ease ear irritation from long-term use of masks called “ear savers,” and use Library sewing machines to make face masks.

Being a frontline 3D printing facility is not business as usual, but being flexible and adapting to community needs is nothing new to the Library. In fact, it is at the core of the Library’s evolving and ever relevant role. As CEO of the San Diego Public Library Foundation, the organization that strengthens communities by supporting excellence in the San Diego Public Library system, I’m honored we’ve been able to foster and fund this important work.

In late March, Library Foundation staff reached out to contacts at Scripps Health to see if the Library’s 3D printers could produce needed PPE for healthcare workers. Scripps put Library staff in contact with the science department chair at Francis Parker School who found the best face shield programming and developed a workable prototype for the shields.

Public Technology Service Librarian Catherine Hoang and her team consolidated the Library’s 3D printers from six IDEA Labs throughout the Library system to the Central Library and set up a sanitary working space. The Library Foundation bought supplies and three more high-capacity printers. And, by the first week of April, the Library team was producing equipment.

Since then, this partnership has supplied equipment to Scripps Health, Kaiser Permanente, and workers and clients at Operation Shelter to Home at the San Diego Convention Center. And, because the virus knows no borders, upon the direction of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Tijuana Mayor Arturo González Cruz, the Library will also supply 1,000 face shields to Tijuana healthcare workers.

This is just one example of the Library and Library Foundation’s nimble response to changing circumstances. Though currently physically closed, the Library and its amazing staff continue to supply essential and innovative resources. The Library Foundation and Friends of the Library made donations that allowed the Library to purchase additional eBook titles. Library staff have taken story times, science experiments, SAT test prep, legal advice on tenant rights, and small business patent and trademark applications all online, with the Library Foundation donating new high capacity laptops to help Library staff create this valuable educational content. San Diegans have been hungry for these resources with visits to the Library’s eResource page up 238% and registration for online Library courses up more than 366%.

I assure you this stays true today and will continue to be true tomorrow: As San Diego begins to recover and reopen, the Library and Library Foundation will play a key role in helping San Diegans succeed in education, employment, and entrepreneurship and keeping our communities engaged and empowered.

To learn more about Library resources visit sandiegolibrary.org and SupportMyLibrary.org to learn how you can get involved and help.

Patrick Stewart is the CEO of the San Diego Public Library Foundation.

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