WALKER — The latest addition to the wide array of programs and activities offered by the Livingston Parish Library System, the Idea Lab, is drawing considerable attention from patrons of all ages, especially those interested in some of the latest high-tech machines and devices available.

The Idea Lab, located in the expansive addition opened to the rear of the Walker-Denham Springs Branch of the system in late summer, has attracted library visitors since its opening the second week of December, according to Jennifer Oglesby, digital services librarian for the system.

“The Idea Lab is here to make new, upcoming technology available to the public so that they can come here and bring their creative ideas to reality,” Oglesby said.

“We also want to be of assistance to those who need special technology to complete projects in which they are interested," she added. "By using our equipment, our citizens don’t have to acquire expensive equipment that is available right here.”

Oglesby said the Idea Lab established by the library system is probably one of a very few in Louisiana. “This type of a center is being made more available in libraries across the nation but is not yet available on a widespread basis. Small library systems just can’t afford the equipment and the trained staff to maintain a system such as the one we have established,” she explained.

The Idea Lab, Oglesby said, has been very well received since its recent opening.

“People have heard about the Idea Lab, and they are coming here prepared with projects that they just could not finish elsewhere," she said. "We have had some visitors who are just curious about this special equipment and they come to see what’s happening. We have attracted visitors of all ages.” 

Perhaps the most interesting machines in the Idea Lab are the 3-D printers. The Idea Lab has a large 3-D Printer Maker Bot Replicator 2 and a 3-D Printer: Lulz Bot THZ 5.

During a visit to the Idea lab on Dec. 19, Library Associate Cassidy Storey was monitoring construction of an elaborate castle about 6 inches tall at the large printer. She said the process of creating the castle had started 32 hours earlier. “It takes time, but these printers are really remarkable … they will make an exact duplicate of what we instruct it to do. Everyone really enjoys watching the process,” she said.

The plastic used in making the objects comes on spools very similar to that used in weed eaters. The plastic spools are fed into the printer where a high temperature “head” feeds the molten plastic exactly where it is directed.

Morgan Watson and his granddaughter, Jordan Calcote, visitors to the Idea Lab, both expressed their enthusiasm for what the printer can accomplish. “It’s just awesome … . This is something that is amazing. There’s no telling what scientists and engineers will come up with next or what the future will bring,” Watson said.

Calcote, an eighth-grader at North Corbin Junior High, who said she is interested in science, said of the process: “This is remarkable … . Doctors can use some of this technology to made people well again. I read where the U.S. Army is even studying how to made food using 3-D printers. This is really cool, and I’m glad the library has the Idea Lab.”

“This library is great … . You can go anywhere in the world right here in this library,” Morgan said.

Oglesby said the 3-D printers have to work with the Idea Lab’s 3-D Scanner: Maker Bot Digitizer. That piece of equipment is at the heart of creating the programs that drive the printer. The object to be duplicated is placed on a turntable on the scanner, where it is “read” by two lasers from every angle while slowly turning. A software program is generated of the object, and that software is then fed into the 3-D printer, which creates the object.

The Idea Lab also has pre-scanned programs that can be used directly on the 3-D printer, Storey said. For example, if one wanted to create a chess set, such a program already exists. Objects to be printed can be manipulated on the computer creating the software to fit exact specifications wanted in the 3-D creation.

Oglesby said a recent visitor came to the Idea Lab wanting to make a copy of a custom drawer knob that had been lost. The staff created the program and made the doorknob, which was an exact fit. Oglesby said the printed objects can be painted to match similar objects. Different plastic spools are available for different processes, she said.

Of perhaps equal interest at the Idea Lab is the virtual reality experience. The Idea Lab has an HTC VIVE virtual reality set, and it comes with multiple programs or “games.” The person experiencing virtual reality has a large helmetlike device strapped to his or her head. They are then provided with hand attachments that allow them to control the virtual reality experience. Lasers mounted on two poles to either side of the participant orient how they are “moving” in the three-dimensional world they are experiencing.

John Dale Marino Jr., visiting the Idea Lab with his father John Marino Sr., didn’t seem to tire of enjoying the virtual reality trip. He made his way through numerous encounters in strange new worlds while experiencing the virtual reality trip. The senior Marino said of the Idea Lab, “I think this is incredible … . You can come here and explore new things. My son is interested in this sort of thing, and it’s great to be able to take him here.”

For those interested in fabric crafts, the Idea Lab has a Cricut Explorair, a device that precisely cuts intricate patterns in card stock, vinyl, fabric and even thin balsa wood. The machine will cut any pattern using software created on a computer. A popular use of the Cricut is to create personal greeting cards. The machine will cut out any pattern sent to it. That cutout can then be placed on a colored background to create a unique piece of art.

Oglesby had just completed a personalized pattern with an LSU theme and the individual’s name attached, in vinyl, that would then be affixed to a souvenir cup.

The Cricut can also be used to make vinyl signs that can be placed on poster boards or walls.

Also available is a highly advanced Singer 7258 sewing machine that is capable of performing many tasks for a seamstress. “The sewing machine is easy to use for beginners, but it has many features for the advanced seamstress. It has 10 presser feet that guide the cloth through the machine, allowing for different stitches. This can be used for many applications such as quilting, fabric art and making clothing. It’s a highly advanced sewing machine," Oglesby said.

The Idea Lab has a “button maker” that can be utilized to create what’s commonly known as “campaign buttons,” frequently associated with political elections. Pin-on buttons can be quickly made using either preprinted designs — and many are available at the lab — or personalized buttons bearing whatever message the maker wants to create.

Oglesby, who earned as associate degree at Baton Rouge Community College, a bachelor’s degree in general studies and a master’s degree in library science from LSU, invites the public to visit the Idea Lab and make use of its unique equipment that allows for a great deal of creativity.

She said those wishing to make 3-D objects are welcome to bring what they want to replicate to the lab. Staff will help create the software and start the reproduction process.

“Depending on the size of the object to be duplicated, it can take quite some time," Oglesby said. "If it is going to take several hours, an object can be left off and the duplicate can be picked up later,” she said.  "However, if you want to watch the process, you can stay here and keep an eye on what you are creating.”

The Idea Lab is open from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Oglesby said appointments can be made to access the lab at other times if staff is available. She said that some of the equipment can be moved and if, for example, a school wanted to present a demonstration for a class, such arrangements could possibly be made.

“The Idea Lab is just one more way we are trying to bring more experiences to the public we serve. The library system is always ready to try new things that will bring people to the library and serve the public,” she said.