On April 16, 2012, Orange County Library System received the largest single private gift in its history when benefactor Kendrick B. Melrose donated $1 million in memory of his mother, Dorothy Lumley Melrose. The family lived in Orlando during Kendrick’s childhood, and he cited his mother’s strong support of libraries and keen interest in emerging technology as the inspiration for approaching OCLS. The gift was used to begin the construction of The Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation and Creativity.
The Melrose Center opened on February 9, 2014. Occupying 26,000 square feet on the second floor of Orlando Public Library, the Center’s mission was to expand the role of the library as a provider of informal learning and technology education. A staff of subject-matter experts was assembled to provide practical training relevant to the spaces, equipment and software in the Center, allowing community members to be both contributors to and consumers of emerging technologies. From the start, the Center offered an array of resources to inspire and support creativity and innovation, as well as substantial educational opportunities to make the most of those resources.
The Center’s Fab Lab hosted classes on basic electronics, 3D printing and robotics. A presentation area known as Tech Central hosted tech talks led by staff and guests. An interactive media wall was also available. The Simulator Lab consisted of a flight, driving, excavator and forklift simulator that customers could reserve after completing a training class. Two audio recording sound booths were also immediately available. Rounding out the Center’s state-of-the-art offerings were the Audio, Photo and Video studios, providing fully-equipped spaces accessible to customers who passed studio assessments.
The Melrose Center has remained committed to maintaining cutting-edge equipment and software in all its spaces, refining ways for users to access resources and exploring ways to grow. The addition of virtual reality stations and game design equipment helped transform the Simulator Lab into what is known today as the Game Development Lab. The three studios have seen multiple updates to remain current with industry trends. The Fab Lab introduced a laser cutter, more robust 3D printers and other tools, along with newly developed training that allowed customers access to maker stations during Open Lab days.
Community meetups and staff workshops have been an important part of the Melrose Center since its inception, but along the way, signature events emerged and garnered positive attention in the community. At the Center’s first anniversary celebration in February 2015, the Melrose Awards
debuted to honor the top projects made by Melrose Center users, and in 2018 the Melrose Film Festival made its debut, featuring short films from more than 20 countries. Melrose in the Mix started in 2017 as live recording sessions featuring local and touring musicians performing in front of an intimate studio audience and in 2020 began airing on PBS affiliate WUCF. In early 2020, the audio team introduced the Reel to Real podcast, featuring Grammy Award-winning engineer Bruce Hensal.
From March 2020 until April 2021, the Melrose Center was forced to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During that time, Melrose staff pivoted to offering hundreds of online classes, workshops and educational videos. Through the first few months of the pandemic, Fab Lab instructors used the Center’s 3D printers and laser cutter to create over 1,300 face shields, which were donated to local medical workers. By spring 2022, the Melrose Center was seeing in-person activity equal or surpass pre-pandemic levels.
The construction of a professionally equipped performance stage and lighting system was completed in time for the Library’s 100 Year kickoff celebration in January 2023. The stage is home to the popular Second Saturday Improv show, music events and other activities. It also serves as a teaching space for show production and performing arts classes.
February 2024 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Center, by which time more than 20,000 people will have become members. Melrose has never been busier. Over 90% of available studio sessions are booked. Approximately 3,000 people attend in-person classes annually, with hundreds more attending classes online. The popularity of the sound booths has warranted the addition of two new ones, including a large booth for group sessions. As always, updates to equipment and software are routinely carried out to meet user expectations. All the while, staff strive to provide practical and engaging learning opportunities, ensuring the Melrose Center continues to serve as a testament to Kendrick Melrose’s remarkable public-spirited generosity.