Libraries partner to produce face shields, comfort straps for frontline health workers

April 21, 2020

By Peggy Kelly

Santa Paula Times

What do “The Right Stuff” and its tale of astronauts to motorcycling around the world in “Jupiter’s Travels” have in common?

You can find them both at the library, and they feature main characters who wear face shields.

Now, Santa Paula’s Blanchard Community Library and the Ventura County Library have worked collaboratively to make face shields and shield comfort straps for those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.

While much of the library staff and patrons are sheltering at home, Ventura County Library deployed its small fleet of 3D printers into the fight against the spread of coronavirus by teaming up with staff from the Blanchard Community Library and other community partners to print and distribute the face shields for medical workers.

Justin Formanek, the Adult Services Librarian (shown) at Blanchard Community Library, initiated the project.

Utilizing existing library 3D printers, filament, and an open-source face-shield design, the libraries are helping STEMbassadors to make the personal protective equipment for hospital and medical workers.

STEMbassadors is a California-based nonprofit dedicated to improving the way Science Technology Engineering and Math learning is integrated into schools. STEMbassadors have initiated a project redirecting their resources to producing personal protective equipment for hospital workers.

“I have always believed that the primary goal of public libraries is to support and inform the communities we serve,” said Formanek. “Though our doors may be closed, we can still find a way to work together and use what resources we have to provide meaningful support.” The face shields, he added, “are just one example.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended that American healthcare workers wear face coverings for the mouth, nose and eyes to prevent the spread of the viral respiratory infection. COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks.

When Ventura County Library staff discovered that other libraries around the country were assisting healthcare providers by creating shields and other equipment, “we did not hesitate to offer assistance,” said Ventura County Library Director Nancy Schram. “While not typically considered emergency services, libraries often step up in unexpected and very impactful ways during emergencies to help the communities they serve. It’s only natural that we would want to be part of an effort to proactively assist those in need during these challenging times.”

Ned Brach, the executive director of Blanchard Community Library, agreed, noting, “When Ventura County Library contacted us about lending 3D printers to allow us to increase the volume of face shields we can produce, we jumped at the chance. It is another example of how we can do more together than we can individually.”

This is not the first time Ventura County Library has collaborated with Blanchard Community Library. In 2019, the Ventura County Library launched a grant-funded Mobile Library with regular stops in the Blanchard Library community, including the Santa Paula Boys & Girls Club and the Agriculture Museum in Santa Paula.

The library was notified last week that their work, at least for now, is done. Alex Wulff of the Ventura Unified School District sent the libraries and their partners a letter, noting he has mixed feelings about his message “that at this time we should probably deliver our last headbands and then put our operation on hold. Lens material has been exhausted for the coming weeks, and I’m proud to say that, together, we have accomplished our mission of helping our frontline hospital workers to stay safe in the onset of a pandemic.

“Together, we have been able to produce close to 3,000 shields in under a month, without costing our hospitals one penny. That’s not too bad for a hastily thrown together group of makers.

There was something delightful and measurable about stepping out every morning to a rainbow of Prusa headbands (used with the face shields) lovingly packaged and creatively made. Each day, I thought we would not be able to meet our goal of 50 shields per hospital,” Wulff said, “and yet we doubled or even tripled that goal because of this incredible maker community. We have now supplied Ventura County Medical Center and Community Memorial Hospital with all of the shields that they want, and will do our best to finish up Dignity Health. Hundreds more of our shields went to local pharmacists, first responders, other hospitals, and all over the country.”

Wulff said he would like to keep “this community going. We are a powerful problem-solving force, capable of responding almost instantaneously to any situation. When industry and government needed weeks and months to ramp up, we were prototyping and manufacturing within a day. That’s downright incredible. If we need to, we can do it again, and even faster now that we have this network. Please let me know if you would like to be removed from the group. Otherwise, I will keep you posted of new opportunities.”

The next project is already on the horizon for STEMbassadors, which is considering becoming involved in an injection-molded version of the Prusa face shield design: “Local businesses have volunteered their services,” said Wulff, “and in three weeks we should have enough PETG film to make 10,000 lenses” that could benefit medical users globally. Formanek said, “I did pause printing until another need is identified,” although he found some users that could the PPE. “The remaining two-dozen shields and comfort straps I made over the weekend were given to Gold Coast Transit for bus drivers. They are going to let me know if they can use more.”

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