A whirring, mechanical sound fills the air inside a basement office of the Sacramento Public Library's main branch. It's the steely and determined sound of the MakerBot Replicator II -- a 3-D copier -- in the process of making a chain link bracelet.
In about 10 minutes, the machine, roughly the size of a large microwave oven, produced three chain links from a design that was uploaded from a digital file.
Lori Easterwood, programming coordinator with the library, added the links to a collection of items she had already made with the machine, including a tiny birdcage, a bolt and a 3-inch-high vase.
A host of libraries nationwide are jumping aboard what is called the makerspace movement. Its proponents in the library world believe libraries are places where people can go to make things as much as to read things.
''We're trying to re-imagine the library as not just a place for books," said Easterwood.
The library will soon own two of the 3-D copiers, which cost roughly $2,500.
''Libraries are increasingly trying to be the place where people can have all of their needs met, whether that's financial planning or story time for children," Easterwood said. "We're now moving into the design area and really trying to expand beyond the book."
The machine uses a stylus-like device to deposit heated biodegradable plastic as it travels along a track, moving back and forth, to execute designs that have been uploaded into the machine. It is often used to make replicas of objects, such as a comb.
Layer by layer, plastic is added -- down to the minutiae of 100 microns -- until the object is formed. Think of it as a latter-day dot matrix printer that produces objects, not words.
In the short term, the 3-D copiers will be more of a demonstration machine to inspire users, said Easterwood. The goal is to mimic programs used in other cities, such as Westport, Conn., where volunteers staff a MakerBot space and oversee demonstrations of the machine.
Eventually, the uploaded digital designs are shared and executed in file-sharing databases like MakerBot's Thingiverse. In turn, volunteers will get machine time to make their own designs.
The library will partner with the 15-month-old Sacramento nonprofit Hackerlab on the MakerBot project. Two Hackerlab members will help Easterwood show people how to use the machine and what it is capable of, said Charles Blas, co-founder of Hackerlab.
The nonprofit's goal is nurturing and helping technology startups, is working on the next generation of 3-D printers, Blas said. "If people express interest to further the art of 3-D printing, then Hackerlab is a great next stop to collaborate with our makers," Blas said.
Such cutting-edge endeavors are not usually what comes to mind when people think of libraries, but Easterwood said she believes that is changing.
''The library is where people will see this kind of technology for the first time," Easterwood said.
For some, the makerspace movement and the drive to make libraries spaces for content creation dilute a bedrock goal of the library: book reading.
''Libraries have been spending less and less on that core function for a long time now -- with some pretty severe consequences about the variety of titles we can purchase to put on our shelves," said Steve Coffman, an expert on the design of new library products and services.
''If we were doing a really good job in the book department then I could see expanding into other areas, but sadly, we're not doing a very good job ... and we haven't been for a long time."
Some see the makerspace movement as just another name for what libraries already do.
''Creating content, and not just consuming is something we've always promoted," said Sarah Houghton, director of the San Rafael, Calif., library and author of a popular tech-friendly librarians blog.
''We spend money on puppet shows and for people to come in and teach someone how to start a small business or to give tax advice," Houghton said. "Not all of our money is spent on books. We spend money on enriching the life in our communities."
(Contact Sacramento Bee reporter Edward Ortiz at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.)