In December of 2001, Orange County Library System was poised at the edge of the 21st century. The retiring director, Dorothy Field, had accomplished a remarkable amount to prepare the library system for the new millennium, including opening three new branches and ensuring public computers with internet access were available to all library users. But with Dorothy’s departure, a new era of opportunity was on the horizon.
Mary Anne Hodel already had an impressive resume when she arrived at OCLS in January 2002. Her previous work focused on innovative ways of adapting library services to the needs of their communities. Mary Anne started her library career in 1984 as an automation librarian, overseeing the Georgetown Law Library at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., which became the first law library in the nation with an automated catalog. In 1991, she became the Chief of the State Library Resource Center at Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library. After she accepted the role of Director of Ann Arbor Library District in 1995, the system received national recognition by being named Library Journal’s Library of the Year in 1997.
The January 2001 issue of Books & Beyond introduced the library’s new director, highlighting Mary Anne and emphasizing her notion that “the library should offer the opportunity for citizens to gain the necessary skills to explore the expanding horizons of the digital age.” It came as little surprise, then, that part of her vision for OCLS involved expanding its technology offerings. It would be under her leadership that the library system would grow into the technology powerhouse it is today.
Mary Anne wasted no time in implementing her plans. By the end of her first year as director, OCLS had seen the Friends of the Library Bookstore renovated, the addition of DVDs to the library’s catalog, the opening of South Creek Branch, and the creation of a new library logo, designed by Walt Disney Imagineering designer David Buckley. In 2003, the library’s motto also got a refresh, reflecting its new mission: “Information. Imagination. Innovation.” That same year, Orlando Public Library debuted a freshly renovated first floor with three new featured areas: Library Central, the main hub for new releases, DVDs and stage performances; Club Central, the library’s teens-only area for youth ages 11-18 to study and socialize; and the Friends-operated gift shop, Gifts & Greetings.
From baby steps like accepting card payments in the bookstore and gift shop and the introduction of virtual book clubs, to bigger projects, like catalog upgrades, the opening of Winter Garden Branch and Eatonville Branch, and the addition of classes in Haitian Creole, Mary Anne oversaw the creation of necessary and important changes throughout the library system. The inception of programs like Orlando Memory, Central Florida’s community-operated digital archive, in July of 2008, and the adoption of OverDrive as the library’s digital content distributor in November of that same year, highlighted the library’s dedication to meeting the needs of the community, past, present and future.
Even Books & Beyond saw serious innovation: its current format first appeared with the February 2007 issue. The 2000s editions placed a heavy focus on computer and technology classes, with page after page highlighting OCLS’s offerings from Microsoft to Apple, from computer basics and blogging to coding and networking.
In a 2022 interview, Mary Anne explained, “Keeping up with our customers, and where they are, what their needs are, and the technology they are using is very important.” That dedication to keeping the library current and vital to the community was a vibrant part of her tenure as director and a lasting component of her legacy at OCLS. It would be in the second decade of her leadership, however, that OCLS would receive perhaps its greatest opportunity to serve Orange County’s evolving technology needs. Be sure to pick up a copy of the November 2023 issue of Books & Beyond, where we will highlight the 2010s and the founding of The Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation and Creativity.