The Cleveland Public Library is working to make its main branch a destination for residents living, working, and visiting downtown, and TechCentral is a big first step. The $1 million technology center that opened on June 14 featuring 90 desktop workstations, loanable iPads, Kindles, and other devices, cloud-computing services, a 70-inch “interactive tech wall,” and more.
Praising the center’s sleek, state-of-the-art appearance, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last week that the remodeled 7,000 square-foot area in CPL’s Louis Stokes Wing looks “more like a colorful Apple store” than a traditional library room.
“We’ve decided to try and make the library more of a destination place for people who come downtown,” explained Cathy Poilpré CPL’s assistant marketing and communications administrator. “We’ve got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here, we’ve got a new casino, we’ve got the new Medical Mart [healthcare industry convention center], and we’re in the middle of that geographically. We really would like to make the library a much more vibrant and usable place for people.”
TechCentral completes the first phase of CPL’s broader $12 to $13 million Downtown Destination Campaign. The new area was partly intended to help fight a community deficit, Poilpré said.
It is “an area where citizens of Cleveland who don’t have access to computers could come in and not only learn, but try different things out,” she explained. Even within the desktop workstation area, users can explore different platforms. The majority of the computers are PCs, but Linux and Mac workstations are available as well. Kindles, Nooks, tablets, and iPads are also available in the center’s “TechToyBox.” Patrons can use them within the library, or check them out for up to a week.
TechToyBox is a fun name that sums up the appeal of new gadgets for many patrons. But, TechCentral manager C.J. Lynce noted that the goal goes beyond entertainment. Offering these items on loan helps patrons really learn how to use them. As a result, they are familiar with the latest technology tools.
With that purpose in mind, CPL staff currently walk the TechCentral area outfitted in lab coats, ready to answer any questions patrons have. The library also offers a service called “check out a trainer,” which allows patrons to schedule a one-on-one meeting with library staff to learn how to use unfamiliar software or hardware.
“We can actually take the time to go over those devices, in addition to the passive instruction that we do when we’re checking these items out or talking about them in the TechToyBox area,” Lynce explained.
TechCentral may also serve as an introduction to cloud computing for many visitors. Patrons can check out thin client laptops—usable only in the library—that link to CPL’s cloud server and allow them to set up their own, personalized desktop experience and save files for later use.
“Before, people could come into the library and do their resume, for example,” Poilpré said. “But, unless they had a flash drive to save it on, it was gone. And they’d have to come back and start over. …Now, they’ll be able to have their own desktop, and whatever they put on there—software, files, preferences—will be there when they come back to the library and sign in the next day. It really gives people their own space.”
Patrons can also download e-media to their space on the CPL cloud server, including audiobooks, ebooks, and three free songs per week from MyTunes, a service developed in conjunction with Freegal and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Although the area has just launched, new attractions are already in the works. In July, TechCentral will unveil a 3D printer.
“In addition to basically being the question and answer [providers] for people coming in and using computers, we also want to encourage and inspire people to create new things,” Lynce said. “The 3D printer is the first step to inspire people to create something in a new medium that they have never experienced before.”