Since its grand opening in February 2014, the Orange County Library System’s (OCLS) Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation, and Creativity has offered patrons access to high-tech tools ranging from 3-D printers to flight simulators. In the past year and a half, the center, located in the library’s central branch in Orlando, FL, has become a locus of creativity within the community, helping patrons connect and collaborate with others who share their interests. Ormilla Vengersammy, Melrose Center manager and Technology and Education Department Head for OCLS, described the center’s growing video game design program as one such example.
“We’ve seen a big movement in game development,” she said. “When the center opened, there was a large local group of game designers [IndieNomicon] that was having 30 member Meetups in Orlando. Now, it’s about 120 members [at the Melrose Center]. They have grown because of the space at the center and its location downtown. And we have the technology available to them.”
IndieNomicon leader Kunal Patel also credited the Melrose Center for helping the group grow in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel in February.
“There was just no place like it before that and that was a problem,” he said. “As we are growing, it’s a place that has accommodated us and it’s made a lot of things easier.”
OCLS has long offered a comprehensive range of computer training courses, from “Computer Basics” to advanced, multi-part courses on topics such as video game programming or designing web pages with HTML 5. Attendance in the game development courses has doubled since the Melrose Center opened, Vengersammy said.
This growth has led to new partnerships with major software and hardware vendors, she added.
“We have a lot of independent entrepreneurs out there who aspire to create their own game companies,” Vengersammy said. “We worked with a couple of them and brought representatives from Microsoft, Intel, and Unity Technologies here to host workshops,” including a six-week “Innovator Lab” this summer, with representatives from Intel helping developers work with the company’s RealSense 3-D camera and gesture-based human-computer interaction technology. Following the workshop, Intel donated eight computers and 12 RealSense cameras to OCLS.
Behind the Scenes
“Orlando is a pretty creative area,” said Debbie Moss, assistant director and head of Technical Services for OCLS. Graduates from local art and design programs at institutions such as Full Sail University, the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) College of Arts and Humanities, and UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy help sustain Orlando’s massive tourism, entertainment, and technology industries, which include Walt Disney World Resort and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Universal Studios and Universal Orlando Resort, and more than 120 international, national, and local companies with offices at the Central Florida Research Park (CFRP).
“There’s a lot of [design and entertainment] jobs in the area,” Moss said. “We just saw an opportunity to tie in…. We’ve always provided instruction and self-directed learning, but to really provide the tools to make the experience practical rather than theoretical, it [has] really seemed to fit with the community really well.”
Announced in April 2012, following a $1 million donation by Kendrick Melrose in memory of his mother, the Melrose Center seized on the budding concept of Maker spaces in libraries, devoting 26,000 square feet of the library’s second floor to photography, audio, and video production studios; a fully equipped Fab Lab/Maker space; a conference room, interactive media wall, and state-of-the art presentation space; and even a simulation lab, where patrons could log training time in flight, driving, fork-lift, and excavator simulators.
Any cardholder can use the equipment and book time in the studios after completing a training class or series of classes, depending on the complexity of the equipment. For example, patrons are allowed to use the photo studios after a brief orientation, while permission to use the audio recording studio is contingent on completing a six-class course and passing an assessment. In rare cases, cardholders who have extensive prior experience using certain types of equipment can take an assessment test without completing the coursework.
To date, more than 3,500 unique cardholders have completed some level of training to use the Melrose Center’s studios and equipment. And from the time it opened in February 2014 through July, more than 16,700 people attended classes at the center.
The center has been popular with students at the local design schools, as well as “users who may not have the financial means to go to a school long term, [but] they want to improve their skills or learn a new skill. Money and time might be something they don’t have,” Vengersammy said.
The equipment is also used for practical purposes beyond education. For example, Moss noted that she had been surprised by the volume of photo studio bookings by local entrepreneurs.
“We’ve got people coming in doing product shots for selling online,” she said. “And you can tell there are a lot of standalone [freelance] photographers who don’t have their own studios, who are coming in here and using it to support their businesses. It’s a direct way that members of the community are benefiting from the center.”
In fact, the Melrose Center photo studio has been so well-used, and its equipment requires such a relatively small footprint—including a Canon T5i Digital SLR Camera, professional lighting and flash equipment, portable backdrops and green screens, and a lightbox—that OCLS is considering installing photo studios in other branches.
“They are super easy to set up, and they’ve been so popular,” Moss explained.
This year, in conjunction with the center’s first anniversary celebration on February 7, OCLS debuted the Melrose Awards, recognizing creative work produced at the center in the categories of video production; audio recording and production; game design and programming; photography and graphic design; and “Maker,” including projects in 3-D design, electronics, and engineering created in the center’s Fab Lab. A grand prize of $1,000, and first place prizes of $250 in each individual category, are sponsored by the Friends of Orange County Library System. OCLS is already preparing for the second annual awards, and will be accepting nominations and submissions from September 7 through October 31.
“It’s a way to make sure we highlight what’s possible in the center, and encourage people to come in and use the center to create,” Moss said.
There are early signs that the Melrose Center is beginning to foster collaboration among local artists.
“We’ve had a lot of people asking questions like ‘where do I find somebody to do the cover art for my CD after I record it?’ And we haven’t had a good handle on making those connections yet,” Moss said. The temporary solution has been a physical bulletin board that OCLS installed in July for users to advertise their needs or their availability to work on different types of projects. Eventually, the library may create an online space for users to connect and collaborate on projects as well, Moss said.
Although the recent growth of Maker spaces and other types of creative spaces in libraries has drawn criticism from some librarians who question the trend’s cost and staying power, the immediate success and popularity of the Melrose Center certainly seems to indicate that OCLS has responded to a need within the community. Moss said that a recent survey indicated that news about the center had led to an “incredible jump” in local opinions of the library, even among non-users. Of course, OCLS isn’t abandoning book or DVD lending. These creative spaces, she said, are simply a new avenue for growth, and an extension of the library’s mission.
“You’ve got to grow the new areas of a business, while keeping alive the core of your business. And I think that’s where we are,” she said. Creative spaces are “an important component of what we need to be doing—providing tools that the community needs and is interested in having access to. Whether it’s for personal enrichment or professional gain, it’s what we’ve always done.”