Connecticut’s Westport Public Library (WPL) officially launched its new Maker Space with a press conference this week. Contained within a large, open metal structure modeled after early airplane hangars, the new section of the library’s great hall features cutting edge equipment such as a MakerBot 3D printer, and will host presentations and participatory workshops on topics ranging from robotics, to intellectual property rights for inventors, to arts and crafts.
“It’s a national trend that you’re going to see sweeping the country, and you’re seeing here in one of the very first places ever,” said WPL director Maxine Bleiweis.
The “maker” movement—led by groups of people who pool funds to purchase shared equipment for specialized do-it-yourself projects—does appear to be gaining mainstream momentum. Maker Spaces and Hackerspaces are popping up in communities throughout the country. For example, Bill Derry, WPL’s assistant director for innovation and user experience, explained that the emergent movement has already established a foothold in Connecticut, with a Hackerspace in Watertown, Make Haven in New Haven, and the New England Society of Information and Technology’s NESIT Hackerspace in Meriden.
When these inventors and hobbyists want to show off their latest creations, they often do so at a Maker Faire, and the steady growth of these events since the inaugural Maker Faire Bay Area in 2006 is another indication of the movement’s budding popularity. Dozens of new Maker Faire events are scheduled around the globe this year, and the flagship Bay Area show in San Mateo, CA drew more than 100,000 attendees in May.
WPL will be one of the first libraries to experiment with the movement, and Bleiweis said that while early adoption is a risk, she believes that the Westport community is usually ahead of the curve. The library’s own one-day Mini Maker Faire in April attracted 2,200 visitors, who came to see exhibits including a demonstration of a Body Sound Suit, how-to instructional sessions on topics such as using Google SketchUp to create a 3D model, and presentations including a talk by New York Times tech writer David Pogue.
“No longer is it normal to go to college, graduate, interview, and be taken on by a big company. We are instead looking to ourselves and saying, what can we think of? What can we create?” Bleiweis said, explaining that part of the goal of the new space will be to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship within the community.
“We want the library to be a space where you can invent. You can learn at every stage of your life.”
Paraphrasing a recent presentation by author John Seely Brown that helped inspire WPL to move in this new direction, Derry said “Libraries have always been about exchanging ideas…but tinkering and imagining is a new direction that libraries should get into.