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Giovale Library joins efforts to create 3-D printed masks amid shortage

The Giovale Library has joined efforts to use its 3-D printer to produce face masks for health care workers at the University of Utah, as they face a shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy Valerie Burnett)

The Giovale Library has joined efforts with the University of Utah Health Care to produce 3-D printed face shields for health care workers. The University of Utah kickstarted the project after a shortage of face masks to protect health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Valerie Burnett, a systems librarian at Giovale, is spearheading the project at Westminster College, creating shields from a design supplied by the university hospital. She started the project Thursday, saying she’s working as fast as she can to provide the masks needed.

“It’s a collaborative effort to make face masks,” she said. “[The design] needs 3-D printers to give it structure.”

Over the weekend, Burnett said she has managed to create six sets of materials that can be constructed into six masks. Each set takes three hours to make.

The school announced in a tweet it had joined the maker space community, a group working to prototype diagnostics for face shield production in the state. The group was created by a string of libraries and buildings on the University of Utah’s campus, working to create face shields “desperately needed in the health care community.”

“When the U’s Office of the Vice President for Research asked the campus community for donations of personal protective equipment (PPE), we looked to our 3-D printing team immediately,” said Catherine Soehner, associate dean and director of the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library, in a statement. “Fortunately, we were able to gather the necessary supplies quickly and our team was able to get right on it.”

The Utah Academic Library Consortium put out a call for volunteers to take part in the project — which caught the attention of Westminster.

Burnett said she’s working on the project on the side, adding it to her daily tasks included with her job as a systems librarian. However, she said her director, Emily Swanson, was supportive in allowing her to take on this volunteer effort.

Westminster is not charging the University of Utah for the work being done — Burnett said the library is donating its materials, 3-D printer and time to create the masks.

“The more [masks] we generate, the more healthcare workers we can protect and keep safe,” she said.

The materials being used for the masks are also reusable, according to Burnett, made from renewable sources.

“We are using up old filament, the same filament we’ve always used in the library,” she said. “The filament we use is a type of plastic called PLA. It is made from plant sources, mostly corn sugar, making it a renewable resource. Additionally, this kind of filament is recyclable, so all 3-D printing waste is turned into new filament by our recyclers.”

Burnett said she usually works with student workers, but since the campus closed the students moved back home. So, she said she’s been working alone on the project.

While she’s made the adjustment to work from home, Burnett said she will also come in to the library to create the masks needed.

Burnett said the project has “changed everything” for her — giving her something to do while the world has been closed down to prevent the spread of the virus. She said it’s been a revitalizing project.

“Working on this project has changed my mental health because it gives me something to do,” she said. “The pandemic is scary, and when you’re home you feel helpless. […] It really changed everything for me.”

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Cami Mondeaux
Cami Mondeaux is a senior communication major with a minor in sociology. Passionate about journalism, Cami has worked in the field for three years – completing internships at KSL NewsRadio, KUER 90.1 NPR Utah and The Washington Diplomat in Washington, D.C. She now covers breaking news for KSL NewsRadio with a focus on the 2020 election. Cami is excited to bring her skills to The Forum for her second year as editor-in-chief.

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