CLOUD901 is a digital learning lab that opened September 16, 2015 in the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis, Tennessee. At 8,300 square feet over two floors, it is one of the largest learning labs in the country—and it’s all for teens. To enter the lab, you must be a library card holder between the ages of 13-18 (or be an adult on a scheduled tour). The space is amazing—I never thought I’d willingly be in high school again… but CLOUD901 would make it worth it.

I interviewed Janae Pitts-Murdock, Teen Services Coordinator, to see how the lab was shaping up after being open for four months. I wanted to find out what spaces were most popular, what programs were being taken advantage of, and what problems were cropping up.

CLOUD901 images
Clockwise from left: CLOUD901 entrance, Video Production Lab, Audio Production Lab, Dream Catcher Space. Images from Memphis Public Library and Information Center

On any given afternoon, most teens can be found in the Gaming Zone, Collaboration Zone, or the Play Cafe.

  • The Gaming Zone is exactly what it sounds like—a video game area where teens can play a variety of games on different consoles. Instead of fighting over what game to play or whose turn it is, Pitts-Murdock says that teens are more likely to organize a tournament. Instead of being isolated in their video games, teens talk about their favorite games and other common interests.
  • The Collaboration Zone is a meeting space where teens can literally write on the walls. Pitts-Murdock says this is “where the activists gather”—teen organizations like BRIDGES USA and a local LGBTQ group host meetings there.
  • The Play Cafe is unique because it’s the only place in the library where food and drinks are allowed. Because of all the expensive equipment in CLOUD901, staff didn’t want teens sneaking snacks and getting crumbs in keyboards and spills on audio equipment. The Play Cafe has become a community gathering place within CLOUD901.

The music programs are the most popular, which is appropriate for a city known for its music culture. CLOUD901 staff and local musicians offer a series of workshops that lead teens through the process of writing, recording, producing, and mixing songs. Teens can use the equipment by themselves, but there’s often a lot of collaboration. Pitts-Murdock says teens almost seem to use the Audio Production Lab as “group counseling for each other—sharing lyrics about life experiences.”

In general there is so much to do in CLOUD901 that every patron finds their niche. Since Memphis is such a high poverty and high crime area, Pitts-Murdock initially worried that there would be more problems in the teen learning lab. Instead, patrons have a safe space because they’re given freedom and responsibility. “Teens rise to the level of responsibility that you give them,” Pitts-Murdock said proudly.

There is also a mobile CLOUD901 that goes to other branches to reach the teens who can’t make it to the Central Library. This isn’t like a technological bookmobile where teens come inside; it’s equipment that is taken into the library to construct a pop-up learning lab. It includes computer monitors, hip and comfortable furniture, a 3D printer, and equipment for music production, like a microphone, laptop, and headphones. CLOUD901 took a lot of fundraising and grant money, and while what’s offered in the mobile version wasn’t cheap, it might be a little easier for other libraries to assemble something similar: Taking makerspaces to a new level, developing 21st century skills that teens can use for creative expression as well as to get a leg up on college- and career-interests.

See more about what CLOUD901 has to offer on the Memphis Public Library and Information Center website. See cool behind-the-scenes photos and videos of CLOUD901 in action on Instagram (@knowledgedefenders) and Facebook.

About Allison Renner

Allison recently graduated with her MLS and is a new teen services librarian in Memphis, Tennessee.

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