As the needs of communities change, libraries around the world are innovating to meet those changing needs. For a growing number of libraries, that means supporting the workforce by providing coworking spaces, internet access, business incubators, and networking opportunities.
Coworking spaces and business incubators in libraries serve freelancers, students, entrepreneurs, remote workers, job seekers, independent professionals, and more. We connected with people who are helping bring coworking and business incubation programs to libraries to learn about their work and any challenges they face. Below are their stories, in their own words.
The Akron-Summit Microbusiness Center was created to provide accessible business training, coworking space, and maker equipment to the community. Photo courtesty of Akron-Summit Library
The Akron-Summit coworking space was funded through a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight foundation to promote economic development in Downtown Akron and surrounding neighborhoods. The grant also funded our attached maker space which provides branding and prototyping equipment including a 3D printer, laser engraver, vinyl printer, green screen recording studio, portable photo studio, and recording studio (among other items). The Microbusiness Center was inspired during a discussion of what to do with the physical space after our bookstore relocated closer to the parking deck.
The goal is to provide accessible business training, coworking space, and maker equipment to the community. Since we are located in the library, we want to be the first physical point of contact for area residents to learn about area business startup resources.
So far, the community has been very supportive. We have been open for nearly one year and have received over 150 coworking space applications — 42 of these did not have a library card. Over 400 residents have attended our classes, and numerous area agencies have held meetings in our space. Area agencies and resources are also utilizing the the maker equipment including, the University of Akron, the Akron Police Department, the Akron Urban League, the Small Business Development Center, the Economic and Community Development Institute, Downtown Akron Partnership, SCORE, the Women's Network, and Leadership Akron.
The biggest challenges are:
- Promoting the library as a place for business. Most people think of the library as a place for kids and retirees.
- Defining coworking and maker spaces to the masses.
- Dispelling the myth that libraries are irrelevant. I can't tell you how many times people tell me that the library is irrelevant because people don't read books anymore. The library provides hundreds of online resources including Lynda.com, Morningstar, business research databases, Hoopla, Hoovers, Non-Profit Research Databases, and Tutor.com.
—Linda S. Hale, microbusiness specialist, Akron-Summit County Public Library
The Information Commons has a digital media lab, classroom, coworking space and more. Photo by Gregg Richards/Brooklyn Public Library
To serve New Yorkers who need space to create and collaborate, Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) opened the Shelby White and Leon Levy Information Commons in January 2013. Situated right on the first floor of BPL's Central Library, the Info Commons is always a busy, vibrant space, with people doing everything from working on their own laptops to holding a study group in one of the meeting rooms to editing a video on one of our iMacs.
The Info Commons has multiple identities. It's a digital media lab, because we provide free access to sophisticated multimedia production software and a recording studio, and we host a number of classes and workshops on tech and design topics. And it's an unofficial coworking space, because— as in many public libraries — we have quiet areas, free wifi, and ample outlets so that you can plug in and get projects done. People can use their library card to book time for private meeting space, or work at the open tables.
We're always looking to let Brooklyn know that BPL has specialized digital media tools and skill-building resources. People don't always associate such things with libraries, and our challenge is to make sure as many people as possible are aware of and can access these Info Commons resources.
—Melissa Morrone, supervising librarian, Information Commons
Richland Library Coworking Center offers professionals an alternative to busy coffee shops. Photo courtesy of Richland Library.
Richland Library offers library visitors a coworking space in the main library, located in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.
The Coworking Center was designed in 2013 with the hopes of offering professionals a public work space that would be easy to access and be an alternative to noisy and crowded coffee shops. The library was already providing free wireless internet, parking, restrooms, and had printing facilities on site, so the creation of this new space was a good fit.
When the Coworking Center opened, it was equipped with a Mac computer with Adobe Creative Suite and scanner. We also offered technology-free workspaces for those who bring their own laptops, and for them our offering was free wireless Internet, electrical outlets, an urban setting and wonderful view, and a quiet work space. We provided lockers so that users of the space could step out for lunch without needing to carry everything along. We also included a Coworking Center desk reservation system via our website.
—Margaret, strategic plan team members for the coworking project
Richland Library’s Coworking Center offers:
- Key-accessed enclosed space
- Wireless Internet
- 6 desks with power outlets
- 1 Mac station with Adobe Creative Suite and a scanner
- Storage lockers
- Lounge seating
- Online reservation system
Customers who currently use the Coworking Center space include writers, students studying for exams (USC, Columbia College, Allen University and Benedict College are nearby), customers who need a quiet place to prepare for their next interview of the day, small business owners who are working on their business plan or other aspects of business start-up, and students needing access to a Mac or Adobe Creative Suite for a school project.
Challenges have been minimal. Customers can either reserve a desk before coming to the library through a link on the library's website, reserve a room, reserve a desk, or customers can be assisted by staff to make the reservation when they arrive at the library.
Customers may use a Richland Library card or their driver's license to reserve a desk. Once a desk reservation has been made, the customer picks up their card (for card reader access to the space) and key (for their locker), which is returned to the staff service point when they complete their session.
—Diane Luccy, Manager of Business and Careers, Richland Public Library
Seats2meet has coworking spaces throughout the Netherlands, including several in libraries. Photo courtesy of Seats2meet.com
In the Netherlands, we have four libraries in the ecosystem of Seats2meet.com. Their motivation is to become more open, give more community services besides lending books, and to connect and co-create their future with their local community.
Reception of our (potential) users/clients/members of this new concept is one of getting acquainted with a 'library' being more than a 'library,' hence coworking is used as an ice-breaker.
Joost Zijderveld of the Eemland Library states: "I am involved in a project called Workspace of the 21st Century in which we investigate the services we will offer to our community in the future. Collaborating within the Seats2meet.com ecosystem is one step towards that effort."
—Ronald van den Hoff, founder, Seats2meet.com
hive @ central is a small business incubator and resource center. Photo: hive @ central.
hive @ central is a small business incubator space and an entrepreneurial resource center that is able to take full advantage of the research and resource vetting expertise that comes with a public library.
hive @ central is not a coworking space. A coworking space is a "shared" business space in which small business owners can have an address, phone, resources, etc. that they may operate their actual business out of the physical space. What we offer are networking, education, expertise, etc.
Every service, program, seminar, resource we provide through hive @ central is free to those partaking. We are very excited to offer this service to greater Phoenix and wouldn't be able to reach as many or touch as many lives if not for the strong network of community and industry partners our professional staff maintains regular relationships with.
—Lee Franklin, community relations manager, Phoenix Public Library
Header image by Gregg Richards/Brooklyn Public Library. Follow @CatJohnson on Twitter