by Jane Salisbury, MCL volunteer
Clarissa Littler had volunteered since 2016 for Multnomah County Library, teaching computer skills at neighborhood libraries, and teaching programming and other skills at the Rockwood Library Makerspace, but when the COVID-19 pandemic came to Oregon early in 2020, she embarked on an entirely new venture: using 3D printers to make face shields and other protective equipment to help frontline workers all over Multnomah County.
Clarissa’s path to this amazing project was long and full: she was a physicist and a computer science researcher who eventually began working in curriculum design, with an emphasis on programs for teens. She worked as the director of curriculum design for Pixel Arts Game Education, a non-profit whose mission is to create safe learning spaces for young people to play and design games together. When the schools closed for the year because of the pandemic, she had time on her hands.
All over the world, the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) was rising, and designers were developing plans that could be used on ordinary 3D printers. A Czech company called Prusa developed a 3D printer design for a face shield that could be used widely. Using the makerspace equipment at Rockwood Library, and working with Ben Sanford, the makerspace coordinator, Clarissa began working 10-hour days making face shields. These are being distributed through OHSU and Portland Public Schools to frontline workers. Clarissa said, “During the COVID-19 outbreak, I was so glad to be able to use the makerspace. I really wanted to do something to help. I learned so much in the actual doing of this project.”
Beyond her wonderful dedication to the library and her work as a curriculum designer, Clarissa pursues many interests: philosophy, art, and music, including a genre called algorithmic music, a subset of electronic music, which involves using coding to compose and perform music live. She reads widely. For example, at the moment, she is reading The Affect Theory Reader, a scholarly text, and a cozy mystery involving witches, which she describes as “silly fluff.”
Asked which book has influenced her most deeply, Clarissa cited The Phenomenology of Perception, by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. She spoke of its deep implications for consciousness and its exploration of how we perceive the world.
The library is deeply important in Clarissa’s life. She’s happy to have a good stack of books that she snagged before library buildings closed to the public. But more seriously, she said, “I see libraries as the last bastion of community space...it’s something I care about. I can get academic texts through interlibrary loan that I couldn’t possibly afford otherwise. I hope to continue working in the library.”
Before the closure, Clarissa often walked the two miles from her home to Woodstock Library to pick up her books and spend time there. And she often took the bus to different libraries, way up to St. Johns, for example, to read and code and write in the comfort and community of the library space, which she values so highly. Her remarkable dedication and love of the library is a bright light in these complex times.