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Fayetteville's high tech Fab Lab

Ellen Abbott/WRVO
Fayetteville Library's Makerbot

Back in the 1950s, the height of technology in libraries was explained in this piece produced by the Brooklyn Public Library,  "Another eye opener was the central registration department. here they have the most modern equipment.  There are have swivel chairs gliding along tracks, sweeping clerks from one end of the files to another."

Things have changed since then, spinning ahead more than 50 years, to to a cutting edge library in Fayetteville that  embraces technology, and has created a space called a Fab Lab. It's technically a collection of machines that are linked by software in order to make things.  In Fayetteville's Fab Lab, it means using  something called a Makerbot, or 3-D printer that fits on a desktop.

"You pick a design and click a button to download," said Lauren Britton Smedley, a librarian at the Fayetteville Free Library who proposed the Fab Lab."You save it on your desktop or wherever you put the file.  And then you open Replicator which is the software that runs Makerbot, and from there you hit build.  The platform heats up, which is what we're hearing now and then it will print."

Britton Smedley uses a design from a website called thingaverse to make a plastic ring.

"What it does is now center itself and figuring out where on the platform where it is, and once it establishes that mark, it'll start building the design which is what it's doing now," she said.

As the Makerbot goes round and round, the ring forms and the music gets more manic.

"There's actually a hackerspace in L-A called crash space, and they choreographed an orchestra of sorts with three different Makerbots when they were printing things and it sounded like a symphony," she said.

Access to something like the Makerbot opens up a whole new world of technology for library goers, things that Tim Brower of the Syracuse University School of Design says is usually reserved for people with access to university computer labs or hacker sites, that require membership fees.

"It makes it more available," said Brower. "There isn't that $100 or $50 a month membership fee anymore.  You can do it for a short time, or you can become committed and spend the rest of your life there doing projects."

In a library which has plenty of resources, the sky is the limit with this 3-D printer.

"The same technology that they use on X-box Kinect that allows you to interact with the video game, can be used as a direct 3-D scanner to scan objects, that then you can take over to the fab lab and print out on the 3-d printer," he said.

This Makerbot ability to create in 3-D is more than the fun of making a plastic figure. For Syracuse University I-school professor Dave Lankes, there's an entrepreneurial edge to it, where people can create, design and produce a piece of art or a widget for commercial purposes.

"The digital technology,  what it's allowing us to do is own more of the process it's to control more of that process, it's to participate in more of that process to dreaming the dream, to making it happen," said Lankes.

So what's it doing in a small town library?  Britton Smedley, who conceived the fab lab, says it's more than just the technology.

"When I designed this proposal when I was a graduate student, the title of the proposal was 'Using 3-D Printing as a Catalyst for Community Involvement'.  The idea is to get people in and excited about this technology and get them in the door to start experiencing the library in a new way," she said.

This comes at a time when libraries are changing. Technology is making the days of stacks of books obsolete in some cases.

"It took libraries a while to figure out where their position is," said Lankes. "And what they are figuring out, is that position is going to change day by day, by day by day, and that part of being in this profession is not being static, and not building collections and not building things forever, but helping a community constantly change."

Library director Sue Considine is totally on board.  

"The technology, geeky part of it is really cool, and really interesting, but at the base of all of this is the idea of bringing people together," said Considine.

Considine says a portion of the library, which used to be a Stickley Furniture factory, is being transformed into this Fab Lab.  Now there is the Makerbot, but technologies could soon be available to library patrons.  For example, she see's a time when instead of reading a book, a child might be given a camera to take pictures.

"Bring those pictures into the library and lets put together your first 'I can read' book," she said. "Lets do that here.  That's it. That's the kind of thing that we're thinking about, when we're thinking how do we bring the community together here in the library, and make lives better, make things and create things."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.