It’s a Tuesday evening and the Watertown (MA) Free Public Library’s (WFPL) maker space, Hatch, is humming. Volunteer Steve Small is demonstrating a 3-D printer and directing a steady stream of people toward the 3-D design class across the hall. A group of children dash in and head toward the bins of craft materials. In the back room, two men and a woman set up their laptops at a work table between the soldering station and the sewing machine.
Located near the Dunkin’ Donuts in the town’s Arsenal Project Mall, Hatch, which had a soft launch in October 2014 and a grand opening in January 2015, supplies tools and materials to help users create a variety of projects from handmade to high tech. Reels of colorful filament for the 3-D printer hang on the wall, and fabric,
paint, and other raw materials are arrayed in bins on shelves. An elaborate K’nex construction sits on a table, and an array of littleBits, electronic components that can be put together like LEGOs, takes up most of a wall.
“Libraries create maker spaces to increase access to both tools and a workspace. Not everyone has room in their apartment to have a workshop where they can make and do and create and experiment,” says Caitlin Browne, assistant director at WFPL. “So the same way that libraries are about access and breaking down barriers for people, we wanted to provide this to the community.”
Hatch user Cassandra Phillips-Sears calls the space “a free place where I can get together with new friends to work on projects, learn from each other, and build new skills.” Another Hatch regular, Chris Ernenwein, says that he wouldn’t be able to afford the tools on his own and doesn’t have the space to work on projects where he lives.
“Hatch gives me all that, for free,” he says. “I can try so many new things.”
Browne estimates that $44,000 has been spent on Hatch so far, mostly for tools and materials. The staff, aside from herself, are volunteers plus instructors who are paid to teach classes. None of the funding comes from the regular library budget. The Arsenal Project is allowing Hatch to use a previously vacant space for free, donated $5,000 in seed money, and pays for the utilities. The Watertown Community Foundation pitched in a total of $8,000, and the rest has come from state grants and the library’s fundraising group, the Watertown Free Library Building Committee.
The origin of Hatch was very much in the spirit of the maker movement. “We as a library decided we were going to do this, we were going to get some 3-D printers, we were going to get some equipment,” Browne says. “And then we started getting volunteers, and then it kind of grew out of that, and we have gone in the direction of the people who are using it.”
Roberta Miller, a longtime advocate for the arts and a founding member of the Arsenal Center for the Arts, who works for the developers of the Arsenal Project, heard about the library’s initiative and offered them a vacant space in the Arsenal Project mall, which is being redeveloped.
The library spread the word about Hatch through its newsletter, social media, and a Meetup.com group, which Browne said was particularly effective, since it reached people who were already interested in making things.
“I like the community and the resources it provides, and it’s a great way to keep libraries current,” says Jordan Pelovitz, who teaches 3-D modeling and design classes at Hatch. “The idea of sharing knowledge is really awesome, and Hatch is a great place to both learn and teach.”
Hatch has two 3-D printers, one of which came as a kit and was assembled by volunteers. Most people use the printers to experiment and make little toys, but others are more ambitious. “One of our first volunteers has his own startup company,” said Browne. “He is making medical devices, and he has been using the space to do prototypes, which is totally cool. That’s the kind of stuff we want.”
Hatch is open to the public and most activities are free, although there is sometimes a small materials charge. Users must complete a safety training, which requires a library card, in order to use some of the equipment. Other than that, it is open to everyone, with or without a card. (Watertown offers library cards to anyone with a Massachusetts
address.) Browne estimates about 100 people use the space each week, and Hatch offers classes in 3-D printing, soldering, working with e-textiles, and other skills.
Browne is constantly looking for ways to collaborate with other groups and reach out to the community. Hatch has partnered with the local Boys and Girls Club, whose members made their own Plinko game there last summer, and school groups come in from time to time. Watertown High School is setting up its own maker space, and since the coordinator for that initiative volunteers at Hatch, Browne is hoping to collaborate with the school. Hatch also hosted a
professional development day for Watertown teachers.
At times, the space has become a place to build community spirit as well as physical objects. For the Boston Fab Fest, Hatch users created a machine that allowed the user’s movements to control lights, music, and bubbles. “I liked it so much because of the way that people came together,” says Browne. “It started with two of our core volunteers, and then a couple of users that wanted to be a part of it came in, and then, in the process of them working, more people came in, and it turned into this organic thing. I was so happy to see that happen. That’s really what this is all about.”
Browne’s advice for anyone thinking of starting a maker space is to approach it like any other maker project. “After you get through the part where you have found the money and stuff to do it, I’d say plan a little bit but don’t wait too long,” she says. “It’s something that grows.You are never going to have the perfect time to open up. You have to come to a point where you just jump in and let it grow from the people who come to it. And that’s been the best part— watching it form based on the advice and the ideas of all the people who want to be part of it.”