PLCMC 1 – Study Tour 2007

Will blog some post conference thoughts on Computers in Libraries 2007 soon. In the meantime, here’s my notes from my first day at the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC). PLCMC is a regional service, with 24 branches, the main library being in downtown Charlotte.

Helen welcomed me to their main library and Branch Manager Susan Herzog took me on the tour. Lots of photos, so check them out on my Flickr account. I loved their columns out front, where each of the four sides has a book or library related quote – check out their list of quotes. I will only describe the buidling briefly here, the pictures tell a better story, so check them at Flickr. The building is over 4 levels, the ground floor level is circulation, the popular library, gallery and music and movies. The second level is reference and non-fiction, the third is the admin area and Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room which is their local history collection. In the basement area is the Virtual Village, their funky tech area. The library was first built in 1903, demolished the rebuilt on site in the 1950’s, then extended in 1989. They are now looking at their options for the future development of the library.

Helen then took me to ImaginOn which is 2 blocks away. (check the Flickr account). Lois Kilkka the manager, took me on a fascinating tour of this amazing facility. It is a purpose built shared building which houses the children’s and teens area of the library as well as their partner the Charlotte Children’s Theater. It is a green building, which uses a lot of recycled materials, including feature walls built of recycled headstones and the toilet walls made of recycled detergent bottles – fascinating! There are 2 theatres in the building – one seating 270+, the other 560+, which are used for children’s programs as well as the theatre performances.
They have experienced a lot of challenges with their shared facility, including the need for shared staff in the theatre spaces.

Their story lab, which contains the Story jar is a place to inspire creativity and collaboration. Using the items hanging from the jar, they encourage children to create stories. They also have individual computers to do the same and group collaboration is possible on their “create a scene” with each child contributing costumes, music, characters and more to a production which they then perform. After they complete their story or scene, the children can scan their library card and their creation is published to the web.

They also have dedicated literacy PCs in the children’s area, but also had to install the same software in their tech area upstairs, as the demand for group visits far exceeded their expectations and needed to be accommodated. Lois explained that they needed to adapt their thinking about the facility and look at it a bit more like a children’s museum than a traditional children’s library – it is a real destination for groups of children of all ages.

They had to create a parents space and added activities for preschoolers to better accommodate families. The parents space has magazines, a paperback exchange and the whole facility has wireless internet access throughout.

The teen tech area upstairs includes 4 rooms which are used for theatre camp, school activities and are occasionally hired out. This space has 30PCs and 5 Macs for use. They have a 15 PC training lab and have run programs like MySpace for parents here.

The Loft is the teen library, with the teen library collection as well as drop in activities such as crafts/games and affinity group programming (ie. Anime group etc). The only rules here are respect yourself, respect others and respect the facility. They have Blockbuster events quarterly where they open up to the public after hours. The PCs in this area have Photoshop and productivity software for film post production. They also have 11 laptops for use in this area and there is plenty of seating available.

The jewel in this crown is iStudio, where teens can create animation, music and more. They have 2, 2-dimensional animation stations, a 3-dimensional animation and a live action station as well as music creation equipment which has been wildly popular. They have library staff and high school interns to assist students with their works, with some of them available on YouTube. Check out Troy Story which was created at ImaginOn and won a national award.

ImaginOn also holds the offices for the Children’s Theater, including costumes, set design and 2 large rehearsal rooms. The facility has a vibe as a result, because there is always creation going on somewhere in the building.

Kelly then took me on a tour of Teen Second Life which PLCMC manages in partnership with the Alliance Library System and is only accessible to teens and background checked adults. We went to the robotics labs, were a teacher meets with teens to create robotic examples, at present they have a machine making cookies! There is a Teen Art Gallery where they display works created in real life. A radio station plays resident created content (a Linden Labs initiative) so you can stream music into Second Life. It has a park which has a memorial for Virginia Tech, which was created by a teen and has the facility for leaving messages. The area is still under development and includes teaching space, performance space, meeting space and a coffee shop!

The animation studio is used by girl scout and boy scout groups as well as teens in general, who come in to learn about the processes involved, as well as creating content. They have recently added a Mac with Garage Band (music creation software), with a midi keyboard coming. Another Mac is coming with more editing software.

Will blog more about my day later. I will finish with a summary – WOW! This facility is amazing and really reaches to teens and kids – it is all about creation and collaboration and I would love to have something like this in my city.