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Technology Center Focuses on Innovation and Creativity

by Mary Anne Hodel on March 6, 2014

When former Orlando resident Kendrick Melrose telephoned out of the blue in August 2011 and asked what the library would do with a substantial donation, about a half a million or more, I caught my breath, ignored the half million and told him we had some really good ideas for services that we would like to offer, and would offer, if we had a million dollars. The donor wanted a space named in memory of his mother, Dorothy Lumley Melrose.

What we proposed to Mr. Melrose was a daring and different plan, where no other public library has gone before with such a concerted multi-pronged effort. While a few other libraries have created digital video labs or makerspaces, no other public library has created a space with the  many creative functions assembled in the Melrose Center. This project exemplifies Orange County (Fla.) Library System’s (OCLS) willingness to embrace unique new roles for a public library and its ability to live with risk-taking and be on the edge of completely new library services.  By fostering and creating community content and not just serving up content from other vendors, OCLS has done something very dramatic  and game changing, which other public libraries might perhaps follow. What was presented to the donor was a technology innovation and creativity space of 26,000 square feet that opened to the public in early February 2014, comprising the following areas:

  • Dorothy’s story and introduction to the Melrose Center. In the story area space, users are introduced to the functions and services available in the center, but more importantly, they are introduced to who Mrs. Melrose was, what she stood for, and how her influence has shaped the services offered. A large-scale avatar of Mrs. Melrose greets visitors to the center and tells how she is thrilled by this new OCLS space. She speaks about her life, and her commitment to education and technology. Visitors can hear the narrative from Mrs. Melrose and listen as she introduces them to library personnel, who talk about the services available in the facility and explain how easy it is to use the reservation system and the special terms of use for the facility and equipment. Visitors can also see one of her artifacts, a clock that Mr. Melrose provided, which is enclosed in a small shadowbox in the story area.
  • Video Production Studio. The place is equipped for HDTV multi-camera production, live streaming of shows, narrative and documentaries, and YouTube-style content. It features a three camera set up, with two controlled remotely and one on tripod; an  industry standard studio lighting and grip package; and a green screen that can be live chromo keyed or digitally composited in the  many editing stations equipped with Adobe CS6. It’s a learning center for camera operation, lighting, audio recording, and editing, designed to allow patrons to learn by doing and to start and finish a professional-grade production. Two editing bays are also available.
  • Audio Production Studio with a control room, vocal booth, and big space tracking room, with a ProTools HD system that has 16X16 IO and a C/24 control surface for Pro Tools HD recording, editing and mixing. Various dynamic and condenser microphones. It also has a separate editing/cueing room, separate viewing room, with space for a twenty five person choir and the editing software necessary to produce professional sound records with professional sound abatement utilized throughout the studio. There are also two individual soundproof vocal recording booths suitable for voice over and narration function.
  • Simulation Lab features a driving simulator that can teach one how to drive a vehicle, with driving exercises in 200+ driving scenarios and exercises. This includes crash avoidance, night driving, and driving under the influence scenarios, with expressway, mountains, test track and driving track, crash avoidance, and adverse weather conditions. Simulator displays vehicle dynamics modeling, including compact car, midsize sedan, small SUV, large SUV, minivan, and large delivery truck. There is another simulator that can teach one how to fly a fixed wing aircraft, using full cockpit displays, panoramic views, and surround sound to give a realistic audio experience. It has approach training for most every airfield on the planet, with the airfields geographically and topographically correct. Users can follow a flight plan and are able to train for visual flight rules, instrument flight rules, and GPS flight plans, as well as fly instrument landing system approaches. A third simulator features a construction excavator that scoops up materials and moves it to another site in a simulated environment. A fourth simulator demonstrates how to use a forklift.
  • The Learning Classroom next to the Simulation Lab is equipped to teach the aspects of simulation creation with particular emphasis on learning and using underlying math concepts of geometry, algebra, kinetics, and physics to create simulation scenarios.
  • Fab Lab where participants can learn how to program on a raspberry pi, configure arduinos, make jewelry, create their own 3D printed objects, learn electronic circuitry, make snapbots, and learn the software needed to create the digital files to create these objects. Classes are currently offered in Introduction to Radio Electronics using Snap Circuits; Introduction to Electronic Prototyping Using Arduinos; Adobe Photoshop; Introduction to Computer Programming; Introduction to Mobile Web App Development; 123 Design; InDesign, teaching layouts and formats in digital publishing; Adobe Illustrator; Adobe Premier; and Adobe Audition.
  • Photography Studio where users can photograph their favorite models, or objects to sell on eBay, or create the photographs to accompany their graphic designs or video commercials shot in the Video Production Studio, along with the graphical design digital software. It is outfitted with a light box, Canon T51 Digital SLR Camera with tripod, monolight strobe softbox, flash boom lighting, muslin background, and portable green/blue screen.
  • Tech Central where residents can attend live presentations about digital designs, creative projects, and entrepreneurship efforts launched and perfected in the Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation & Creativity.
  • Conference Room (equipped with teleconferencing capability featuring two 80-inch display screens, sound system, and Internet connection) that is also available for renting out to local groups.
  • Interactive Media Wall featuring digital screens where users of the center can display project designs on a thirteen-foot surface, as well as share and collaborate on their projects created in the center.

The Gift

After Mr. Melrose reviewed suggestions for a possible space named for his mother and the concept of how the space would be used, he chose the west side of the second floor of the Main Library. The close proximity of the hands-on technology classrooms and the public computer space clinched the selection for him, due to the steady stream of visitors to that area. Once Mr. Melrose accepted the space, he signed a letter of intent to donate the money to the library in March 2012. Preparations were made to present the ideas to the board. In April 2012, a formal check ceremony was held after hours, with many of Mr. Melrose’s former high school mates in attendance. A legal agreement was drawn up and signed by both the library board and Mr. Melrose in May 2012, spelling out the commitment the library was making to him and for how long a time the space would remain named for Mrs. Melrose. In turn, Mr. Melrose agreed to the two-part gift spanning two fiscal years. The first $500,000 check was received in June 2012 from the Kendrick B. Melrose Family Foundation and the second in October 2012. A First Nail Ceremony was held on June 12, 2013. Periodic updates and presentations on the progress of the center were made to the board.

Planning and Implementation

Focus groups from the public were invited from the various creative segments of the community to give the library input. The facilitated sessions with invitees brought forth ideas, potential concerns, perceived conflicts, and suggestions. A blog was set up for the public to provide ideas and to share progress on the center.

Addressing employees at each quarterly branch meeting and at Main Library staff meetings, the director explained how the gift came to be given and elicited suggestions about the services to be offered, as well as how to improve on the focus-group concepts. Many staff members indicated, even at this early stage, that they were quite interested in being a part of this and learning the new technology and definitely wanted to help provide these new services.

A request for proposal (RFP) was advertised to find local creative firms to help the library flesh out the ideas and bring forth a concept that could be used to advertise for architectural and construction bids. The local team of FX Group/Design Island was awarded the bid as digital media consultants in May 2012 and worked with library administration to create the concept paper that would form the basis of the delineation of services. This white paper became part of the RFP to seek architectural services to redesign the current space of 26,000 square feet and create an edgy feel in the space.

The design team of HKS Architects and TLC Engineering submitted the winning bid and were awarded the architectural services contract in December 2012. The Library Board awarded the construction manager contract to Skanska in February 2013. The design and specification work began in January 2013. The board approved the guaranteed maximum price of $1,311,820 with Skanska in June 2013. Construction of the space by Skanska started in summer 2013 and was completed in January 2014.

The initial cost of the project was estimated in 2012 to be $2,000,000, to be split between two library fiscal years. With a delay in the permitting, the majority of the construction costs fell into the FY2013 budget. Total budget approved by the board for the project was $2,500,000, with the interactive screen addition added later to the project at an additional cost of $215,000. It was decided to purchase the products on the Florida State contract, when possible, to enable our money to go further.


Project management and implementation of the Melrose Center was given to Debbie Moss, OCLS assistant director and head of the Technical Support Division. The center was aligned administratively with the Technical Education Center (TEC) due to the similarity of staff roles and the technical classes already being offered to the public by the TEC staff. TEC Manager Ormilla Vengersammy was named manager of the Melrose Center. Ann Collins became the assistant manager under Vengersammy. The team immediately looked into the various software options commercially available for the different labs, using the guidance of TLC Engineering’s recommendations. The team chose to go with open-source software, where available, with the Adobe Creative Suite 6 Master Collection as the standard package that staff would teach. Copies were ordered and staff began learning the software in preparation for teaching in a few months.

Vengersammy and Collins immediately started reaching out to the community, briefing the project to Full Sail University, Valencia Community College, University of Central Florida, DeVry, ITT Technical Institute, the Downtown Development Board, the Downtown Orlando Partnership, and Orange County Public Schools (OCPS); meetings were also held with OCPS administrative staff, school board, and local organizations such as Girl Scouts, YMCA, and homeschoolers’ groups. The managers and staff have continued to reach out to community groups throughout the construction process to recruit volunteers for the space and to spread the word about the coming Melrose Center.

New Software and Equipment Classes

Training classes were already a big part of OCLS’s public services, accounting for more than 13,600 classes in the 2013 fiscal year. The system currently averages 1,200 classes a month, the vast majority of them hands-on, and many given in Spanish and some in Haitian Creole, as well as English. There are such “untypical for a library” offerings as Advanced Image Editing using GIMP, Understanding Computer Networking Concepts, Cloud Computing, HTML5, Microsoft Visio Fundamentals, and Preparing to Become A Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS), among others.

In planning for the rollout of the Melrose Center, more classes for the public were developed that would feed into the services the Melrose Center was already offering. The additional classes featured Basic Electricity Using Snap Circuits and Basic Engineering Using K’nex to stimulate STEM learning in children. These products were introduced to all branch staff at hands-on meetings and toolkits were subsequently purchased for branches to facilitate hands-on programs for children and their families. These STEM-oriented classes have been given on a periodic basis by branch personnel at all of our facilities across the 1,000 square miles of our library district.

By November 2013, OCLS was already offering hands on courses in Autodesk 1-2-3-D to create designs for the 3D printer; Adobe Dreamweaver for creating professional looking websites for graphical user interface; Adobe InDesign to create layouts for prints and digital publishing; Adobe Illustrator to create vector images for publishing; Adobe Premiere to edit, split and trim video clips; and Adobe Audition to edit, arrange, and mix audio clips. Design and Print Your Own Custom Cookie Cutters Using the 3D Printer, Introduction to Radio Electronics Using Snap Circuits, Introduction to Electronics Prototyping Using the Arduino, and Adobe After Effects were offered to the public in December 2013.

Access Policies

Because the Melrose Center featured extremely expensive equipment, and because FEATURE | Technology Center Focuses on Innovation and Creativity of the complexity of the software needed to be learned in advance of using most of the equipment, the library decided to control access to this very special space to those who can establish competency or who already knew the software and how to use the equipment. Competency can be established through attendance at the specialized classes or instructional sessions in the use of the equipment or through successful passing of a quick assessment administered by staff. A special one-hour session on the unique rules governing the Melrose Center spaces and equipment would need to be attended and an electronic signature obtained that verified the user was agreeing to abide by all the rules of conduct for the center. The signed agreements and the competencies a customer established would be recorded in the integrated library system’s customer database, where all staff would have easy access to the competencies a customer had earned or  established.

Casual entrance to the center is not allowed, with the exception of open public events (such as periodic group visitor tours or speaker presentations in the presentation area). A staff desk is positioned just inside the entrance for this purpose. Violation of the rules of the center  are grounds for terminating privileges to the center for one year, or up to three, based on the severity of the offense. The center is available to use for anyone with a valid OCLS library card, under the competency requirements. For those not living in our district, a fee-based  structure was established for out-of-district residents. The same competency requirements for entrance to the Melrose Center still apply.  After-hours access to the center is a feature that the library staff thinks would be desired. We would like to offer this service, but it has not yet been fully costed out nor presented and approved by the Board of Trustees. Much thought has been given to these special access policies and they could be modified in time, as our circumstances and our experiences with customers and their interactions with the center evolve.

Before Opening

Construction was completed by January 2014 and the month-long “shake down period” began. During this month, staff from branch locations and other departments had opportunities to test out equipment, learn the appropriate software, and become familiar with the offerings and capabilities of the center. In this way, they will be able to help promote the center to their local customers. Pre-opening special tours for dignitaries, VIPs, and Friends of the Library Board members are planned.

Marketing of the Center

Finally, we needed to introduce the Center to the community. To that end, a logo was developed by a local graphic design studio, Lure. A marketing plan was created by OCLS Community Relations Administrator Tracy Zampaglione, with input from library trustee Herman Tagliani. The aim of the marketing plan is to introduce the Melrose Center brand, build awareness, create buzz, and attract new users to the library and the Center.

OCLS plans to use its own media, including our newsletter Books and Beyond, our website, announcements during OCLS classes and programs, outside banners, and posters at all locations to promote the Melrose Center. We also will be using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, email blasts, blogs, promoted posts, and other social media to share details about the center with the community and build excitement. We are also planning to use print media, online ads, and back-of-the-bus ads. In addition to all of this, we are creating t-shirts and flashing badges with the Melrose logo for all library staff to wear.

Gala and Grand Opening

The center opened in early February 2014. A fundraiser sponsored by the Friends of the Library was held on February 7. This ticketed event featured hands-on opportunities for invited guests. The gala was sponsored by the University of Central Florida. The center opened to the  public on February 8 with state and local dignitaries in attendance. There were demonstrations of the equipment and software for the  attendees.

Melrose-ing the Branches

OCLS’s challenge for the future remains how to keep the Melrose Center fresh and up-to-date with the current versions of the software and technology. Systemwide, OCLS needs to address how to incorporate the successes and extend the availability of the services provided in the Melrose Center to the smaller spaces of the fourteen branches of OCLS.

Giving Thanks

OCLS is extremely indebted to Mr. Melrose and the Kendrick B. Melrose Family Foundation for making the Melrose Center possible. Without his gift, none of the services would have been possible. The expert advice, questions, and ideas generated by members of the Board of Trustees added much to the success of the project. The library’s administrative team, managers, and staff all made significant contributions to the success of the Melrose Center and without their scrutiny, suggestions, and comments, it would be much less than it is today. The initial help from FX Group and Design Island got us started on the road to defining the concept of the center. The expert advice and guidance of HKS Architects, TLC Engineering, Skanska USA, and Empire Office kept us from losing focus and staying the course to completion. And the fantastic media wall and avatar made possible by the combined talents of EdgeFactory, LMG, and TLC brought Mrs. Melrose to life for all of us. Together, all of these groups have made possible a wonderful place for the greater Orlando community to learn new skills and technology, pursue new creative opportunities, and experience collective and individual innovation.

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