In 2001, when the Board of Trustees was searching for a new director for Orange County Library System after the retirement of the previous director, board President Corbin Sarchet described to the Orlando Sentinel what the library needed. Orange County was growing in size and diversity, and the board sought a director who had experience in urban libraries and communities where not everyone spoke English. They also wanted someone who had a vision for what a modern library could be. “Someone who is on the cutting edge,” he said. “Someone who won’t play catch-up, but be an innovator in the field of the electronic library.” The board selected Mary Anne Hodel, who was the director of the Ann Arbor District Public Library, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She had led that district from being under the control of the school district to becoming an independent entity. She also introduced free internet, computer classes and expanded programming, ultimately leading to Ann Arbor being named Library of the Year by Library Journal in 1997.

When Hodel came to Orlando in 2002, OCLS had only recently begun to move into the digital age. The outgoing director had introduced free internet, a digitized catalog and greater access to public computers, but computer classes were limited to basic offerings, such as introduction to using a keyboard and mouse. Although some of those basic classes remain available, Hodel introduced major enhancements in training and technology available to library cardholders. Today, OCLS offers hundreds of tech classes covering things like HTML, Adobe Creative Suite, simulation, gaming, coding, electronics-programming, and more.

Early in her tenure, both local and statewide news outlets covered the changes she was making and the way she was transforming library services.In 2014, the Sun Sentinel covered the announcement that the Orlando Public Library would soon be home to the Melrose Center, a state-of-the-art learning and high-tech job-training center made possible by a generous donation from the Melrose Family Foundation. The newspaper wrote that Hodel hoped the center would “serve as a model for other libraries, noting that she’s fielding inquiries about it from around the country.”Since its opening in February 2014, the Melrose Center has drawn visitors from all around the nation and the world, interested in learning how the center operates. The Melrose Center currently has more than 14,000 active members who use its audio, video and photo studios, simulators, editing bays and creative workstations. The Melrose Center makes it possible for people to not just take advantage of the technology, but also to learn to use it from qualified instructors who teach classes and lead programs to help people develop skills that could help them find employment in the tech economy, or in broadcast or creative fields.

In addition to enhancing technology available at the library, Hodel has also challenged libraries to take a closer look at how they serve their communities. In 2010, for example, OCLS used funding from the Library Services and Technology Act to produce Right Service at the Right Time, a website that acts as a one-stop shop or information about social services and government assistance. In 2011, OCLS partnered with libraries in six Florida counties to include information for their regions, and by 2013, the site was updated to include social and government services for every county in the state. The site has grown from receiving approximately 1,000 views per month in October 2010, to more than 19,000 views per month in July 2020. The growth can be at least partially attributed to the fact that OCLS staff have been encouraged to raise awareness about the service by attending conferences, such as the National Association of Social Workers Florida Chapter and Florida League of Cities conferences.

In 2016, Orlando experienced a horrific loss when 49 people were killed in a mass shooting at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub. While the community grappled with the unspeakable tragedy, Hodel saw that the library had a role in helping the community heal; all locations hung banners showing support for the community, resources to help with grieving were shared widely, and an art show comprising more than 100 pieces created in response to the Pulse shooting were put on display at the Orlando Public Library. These efforts earned OCLS a special mention in Library Journal’s 2017 Library of the Year issue.

The culmination of many of Hodel’s efforts was in 2018, when the Institute for Museum and Library Services awarded OCLS with a National Medal. IMLS noted that the library’s investment in technology and responsiveness to community needs were of particular merit. “We try to stay in tune with the community and understand how we as a library can be part of the solution,” Hodel was quoted by the IMLS in its announcement. “We are here to both serve and inspire.”Service and inspiration are areas in which OCLS has excelled under Hodel’s direction.

Even during the pandemic, she ensured that library services remained available. While library buildings were closed due to state and county shutdowns, staff remained active, transforming all programming to virtual formats and fulfilling home-delivery requests.While other library systems remained closed for months, OCLS reopened in May to offer customers access to limited in-person services. Projects moved ahead, including a partnership with the Florida Humanities Council to expand OCLS’s groundbreaking ESOL curriculum, English for Families, to make it available to libraries across the state.Ever a public servant, Hodel even put her own plans to retire in January 2021 on hold to ensure that this library system has experienced leadership to steer it through what has arguably been one of its most challenging moments.

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