Central Library opens Cloud901 Space for Memphis Teens 

New space offers a video production lab, art studio, gaming zone, and more.

Doors will open this week on Cloud901, a new space at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, designed for teens to develop creative, "21st century skills" and to push Memphis toward the "future of libraries."

Cloud901 sits on two floors of the library, taking over roughly 9,000 square feet of stack space where the library's collection of audiobooks, DVDs, and music were formerly located (those have found new homes in the library).

Cloud901 has a video production lab, complete with cameras, editing software, and even a green screen. It has a lounge that can be converted into a performance space. Cloud901's sound-mixing lab is "the closest thing we could get to a recording studio inside the public library," said Janae Pitts-Murdock, the library system's coordinator of teen services.

Up a set of stairs, teens can learn traditional (read: non-digital) art forms with paper, watercolors, pastels, charcoal, and more. Downstairs, they can show off their work in a gallery facing the high-traffic first floor of the library, which sees nearly 850,000 visitors a year.

Back upstairs close to the art studio, teens can learn graphic design in a space that features the latest computers, software, and tablets. Close by, there's a performance stage that will host music, poetry, and the like. But it's also a place for career and college fairs, business pitches, and where teens can simply present their ideas to their peers.

Beyond that is a gaming zone. Yes, teens can (and are encouraged to) play video games in the library, replete with special furniture to help gamers get comfortable. But the space also has equipment and software for teens to create their own video games. It's certainly not the library's first foray into gaming; games have been the focus of its Teen Tech Camp for the past 11 years.

Cloud901 also has a space for makers, do-it-yourself crafters, and tinkerers. That space has 3D printers, laser cutters, wood cutters, and vinyl cutters. While most of Cloud901 is for teens only, officials said they plan to open the maker space to the general public.

The creativity from all of these different areas of Cloud901 can come together in a collaboration area. It has a coffee-house feel with several small tables, but a big white board on one wall can transform it quickly into a conference room. This, library staff said, is the place where ideas from across the creative and administrative spectrum and teens from all areas of Memphis can come together, turn those ideas into projects, and maybe turn those projects into products.

click to enlarge Keenon McCloy and Janae Pitts-Murdock - TOBY SELLS
  • Toby Sells
  • Keenon McCloy and Janae Pitts-Murdock

"All of this is about developing 21st century skills — creativity, innovation, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving," Pitts-Murdock said. "We want to stimulate that kind of creative energy in youth. We want to give them an opportunity to have a place that they can call their own; where their fingerprint is part of the culture."

Cloud901 has been in the works for about three years, said Keenon McCloy, director of the Memphis Library and Information Center. Other spaces like it have popped up in Nashville, San Francisco, and New York City.

The idea that formed these spaces comes from a study funded by the MacArthur Foundation that said teens learn differently than children and adults. They learn best when they are hanging out, messing around, and geeking out — sometimes referred to by the acronym HOMAGO in tech circles.

"The belief behind learning labs is that youth are best engaged when they are at the center of their learning — following their passions, collaborating with peers, going beyond the role of consumers to become active creators and producers," the study said.

McCloy said people should get used to seeing these labs.

"You're going to see this happen [across the country]," McCloy said. "This is the future of libraries."

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