WESTPORT, Conn. (AP) — The hottest attraction at the Westport Library is not a book or collection of DVDs, but rather two manufacturing units.
At the heart of the spacious library, an area called MakerSpace has been carved out to encourage creativity and the spirit of invention. Inside the space are two MakerBot Replicator machines — 3D printers, as they are more commonly known.
The stuff they can do is amazing.
The machines are open boxes, with a small platform in the center. At the bottom a computer mother board sits unseen and on the top a small machine, called an extruder, slides left to right on two rails as it applies hot plastic to the surface of the platform to make the desired object. In the back of the machine, a spool of plastic wire feeds material to the extruder as it lays a 2-millimeter layer over and over again, hundreds of times, to create an object.
The inside of MakerSpace resembles an inventor's shop, with a large architect's desk for drawing and drawers of materials underneath. On one wall hang drawings and pictures of a 1930s-era racing airplane. A half-size replica of the airplane is being produced on the 3D printer by Joseph Schott, an engineer and the library's maker in residence.
Schott, an architect, designed and built the MakerSpace enclosure using materials donated by businesses in the community.
The space has openings on the walls of the enclosure, to allow people visiting the library to peak in, or stop by and watch.
It was after a hugely successful Maker Faire last April that librarians started thinking about getting the 3D printer and creating a space just for makers, hence MakerSpace.
Reference librarian Margie Freilich-Den said the library helps its patrons with job searches, and the Maker Faire was just one step to encourage residents to "get back to our manufacturing roots" and encourage people with ideas to try them out. Maker Faire is sponsored by Maker magazine and is its own brand promoting innovation, invention and doing things yourself.
"It's another way to use the library," said Marcia Logan, the library's communications coordinator.
Since the first 3D printer started operating in July, dozens of visitors have come in to see it, use it and learn.
One man brought in his patented design for a device that plugs into a car cell phone charger and locks the phone so it cannot be used to text or talk while driving. Another man brought his own patented design for a medical device, a type of catheter.
But most either try to see what it can do by choosing an item from a computer program of 3D designs called Thingiverse, or print something they need, like cases for I-phones, staff members said.
The first 3D printer was so popular that the library purchased a second one. The library paid $2,200 for each 3D printer, said Logan.
Daniel Ruskin, a high school freshman and volunteer, and Jun Pritsker, a junior at Weston High School and part-time employee, are familiar faces at MakerSpace. They recently made a cover for a palm-size computer called a Raspberry Pi.
Both experiment with the printers to see what they can do, and both are fascinated with complicated designs.
On a hook by the door hangs a white chain-link loop, an item of some fascination for Pritsker.
"This is how it printed," Pritsker said, as he held the clump of links in his hand, slowly lifting it up to show it off link by link.
Items produced on the MakerBot Replicator are on display along the opening on one wall. They include simple designs like raised letters, a snowflake or a more intricate Batman bust, a favorite of Ruskin.
On a recent snowy day, a mother and her two children stopped by, all three awed as they watched the 3D printer work on raised numbers 2013 in neon yellow plastic.
James Smith, an architect from Weston, also stopped by to check the printer, which he had only heard about from a relative.
"It's fascinating," Smith said.
Smith is not at all surprised to see such a machine in the library. Things are changing, he said, including for libraries.
"They've got to stay relevant," Smith said.
Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com