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Flying High

The Daily News
Andy Meek

Young visitors to the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library will soon find themselves on cloud nine.

Make that Cloud901.

That’s the new name for a state-of-the-art teen learning lab under development at the library, for which more than $1.6 million already has been raised. The lab will be packed with cutting-edge technology and space for creative potential to flourish once it’s complete.

Library officials held a groundbreaking event on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at the site of the lab, where they also unveiled the space’s official name.

Cloud901 was chosen after a contest that generated more than 700 submissions.

Given the kinds of high-tech things that will be available for teens – audio and video production, sound mixing, a gaming zone, 3D printing and more – the “cloud” part of the name is an appropriate nod to cloud computing.

The name also incorporates a bit of Memphis, via the 901, and it also works in a pun about “cloud nine” in the same breath.

Memphis Library Foundation executive director Diane Jalfon said the project’s contractor, Grinder, Taber & Grinder Inc, has told them work should be finished in August, so the library is shooting for a Sept. 1 opening.

“We’ve raised enough money to build the lab, but we’re also raising money for sustainability,” Jalfon said.

The fundraising target is nearly $300,000, which will cover the first five years of the lab’s operation and fund equipment replacement, upgrades and the like.

Among the features of the lab will be the ability to work with robotics.

The University of Memphis engineering school was on hand at this week’s event to showcase a demo with a robot. That technology will be complemented in the lab by other things like equipment and space for coding, game design, music recording, graphic design and maker workshops, Jalfon said.

Rebecca Courtney, a principal at Memphis architectural firm Looney, Ricks, Kiss, worked closely with Margaret Sullivan of Margaret Sullivan Studio – a leading designer of teen spaces in libraries around the country – to help plan for the teen lab space.

Meanwhile, the library hired a teen services coordinator and established a teen council to meet and work through plans for the lab, to give input and serve as teen leaders.

That council, for example, helped come up with the idea for a naming competition, something that could generate interest and enlist community support and ideas for naming it something other than “teen lab.”

Library director Keenon McCloy told The Daily News a few months ago that she’s been “obsessed” with the idea for a teen lab space for a few years now.

One motivating factor: the space will give young people a dedicated place within the library where they can feel like they belong. As the main library is laid out now, for example, it’s clear where the section for young children is housed or where an adult looking for a reference book on local history might venture.

And soon, teens will have a similar space of their own.