The Cleveland Public Library’s TechCentral concept grew out of an “innovation team” that was charged with redesigning library services. Originally the library had 60 public computers in 2 buildings with 9 locations and 2 signup stations, which was chaotic for users and a huge inconvenience. There was a need to consolidate, but also a strong desire to inspire and make TechCentral the most flexible space in the library. A process approach to the redesign of the space was taken to respond to community needs. Raised flooring was installed in the space for maximum flexibility because the staff knew that it would change, and they wanted change!
TechCentral now occupies 7,000 square feet in the main library. Anastasia Diamond-Ortiz, CJ Lynce, and Olivia Hoge (see the previous post on myCloud for their photo) discussed some of the considerations in the design of the space and its current features.
TechCentral is divided into 5 zones as shown above, according to usage:
1. Learning space where people can get help. Learners and teachers are on equal footing next to each other at a table.
2. Play. An exhibit of devices for users to play with. This area lets people experience an iPad, Kindle, etc. Staff are stationed there to help.
3. Connect. A place for people to get help with their new devices.
4. Create. An area where people can set up new devices, etc.
5. Get things done. Space and computer for people to work.
Over 1/3 of visitors coming to the library go directly to TechCentral It started with 1 professional and 3 part time assistants. TechCentral is more than just a computer lab; it provides new technology that patrons may not have access to, offers technology classes for staff and public, and provides a maker lab. TechCentral staff must be creative, curious, resourceful, and have good thinking skills and a fundamental understanding of technology. TechCentral is now staffed by a manager and 10 assistants.
A TechToyBox lending device program began by allowing patrons to have access to new technology. Patrons could check out devices so they could learn how to set them up, try them out on their own, and experience what it would be like to own them. They were only permitted to be checked out at the main desk, and identification and a phone number was required. The loan period was 1 week, and there was a $3/day overdue charge. After the device was a week overdue, it was considered lost and patron was billed. The devices were not reservable, which led to the staff receiving many phone calls to see if an item was in. Some people even came into the library and waited for them to get returned. But eventually all the devices went missing! Even requiring patrons to sign contracts agreeing to return the devices failed to prevent losses, so the ToyBox service has been put on hold. However, this effort showed that there is a widespread need for people to be able to try out devices before purchasing them.
The same program, called TechToolBox, was instituted for staff. In that case, the library bought devices for staff to check out.
The library’s myCloud service was developed by TechCentral (click here to read a posting about it).
Other services offered by TechCentral incude:
- 3-D printing to produce models. This photo shows the printer and some models.
This service is priced on amount of plastic used, most models cost $1-3 to print. It is not an easy process to design models for printing; ThingIVerse software to create models works well. Here is a photo of a model produced using it
- Maker kits allow people to be creative. Connect Kits use hubs and spokes to create structures. Users can snap electronic circuits components together and learn how they work
- Maker labs offer a tutorial how to to a process. Custom 3D cutters were created using CookieCaster. Staff often demonstrates how to do something then guides patrons in doing it on their own. One staff member can help 20 people because everyone helps the others. Labs on other subjects, such as panoramic images, video slide shows, digital kaleidoscope abstarct art, and font making are also offered. Anyone can participate; no special skills needed.
- A digital “graffiti wall” was installed with a laptop, projector, web camera, and laser pointer. This wall allows users to create graffiti with digital “spray paint”.
TechCentral is an ongoing idea that is always changing. Future plans and hopes include:
- An improved version of the TechToyBox program with at-home checkouts.
- An electronics soldering lab will be offered this summer in conjunction with a program using Raspberry Pi to learn how to create a mini-computer.
- Dedicated space for all create programs.
- A/V recording with musical instruments provided by TechCentral.
- Expansion of myCloud to all branches
- Adding mini-TechCentral space in some branches to include 3-D printing etc.
TechCentral is a mantra and an example to libraries for developing and offering innovative spaces and services for patrons.