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Thursday, December 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 32.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Madison Central Library's bold new Media Lab has free tools for budding artists, animators and videogame designers
Digital derring-do
The Media Lab empowers people to learn for themselves as they create their own content.
Credit:Madison Public Library

If you've visited the new Bubbler program's Media Lab, where you can make your own digital content for free, whenever you want. Whether you want to record a podcast about raising show bunnies or build a videogame to play on your cell phone, chances are good that the lab has the tools and teachers you need.

"Libraries have always been about helping people tell their stories," says Media Lab coordinator Nate Clark. It's just that until recently, those stories were mostly delivered via print, in books, newspapers and magazines. But 2014 technology enables people to use different kinds of media to tell stories. People are making movies, creating digital art and recording music at a pace never seen before.

What, then, is the role of libraries in creating and distributing user-created content? Is it the library's job to facilitate this? Madison Public Library's answer is a resounding "yes." The Media Lab is the embodiment of the MPL tagline "Your place to learn, share and create."

Clark is the Media Lab's only paid staff member. A huge part of his job initially was just procuring the best equipment at the best possible price. He proudly shows off the recording booth that was provided at cost by the manufacturer, whose daughter was a UW student.

"All our equipment is professional level," he says, pointing out custom-built Dell game-design computers, a sound booth with a digital audio workstation, iPad stop-motion animation stations, a JVC high-def camcorder, two Canon DSLR cameras and the famous green screen. Software includes Maya 2014 for game design, Pro Tools and GarageBand for audio, Stop Motion Studio for animation and Adobe Premier Pro for video editing.

Once Clark stocked the Media Lab, his next job was to find people who could mentor new users. For that he turned to fellow graduates of Madison Media Institute. Nine volunteers with different areas of expertise staff the lab throughout the week.

The Media Lab empowers people to learn for themselves as they create their own content. Madison-based rapper Rob Dz recently recorded and mixed the majority of his new album, The Good Guy Memoirs, at the Media Lab. He also designed his album cover and logo and filmed a music video there. Middle school girls from Girl Neighborhood Power are using the lab's tools to film a PSA video about bullying. There are even 3D world-building classes, which help participants create the kinds of interactive digital environments where videogame plots unfold. For many learners, it's a whole new way to tell a story, and a new place to bring their ideas to life.

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