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Your Library Is the Perfect Coworking Space


Is working from a coffee shop not working anymore?

Not ready to commit to paying for a coworking space?

Live in a suburb and can’t find a coworking space nearby?

The solution may surprise you.

More than one-third of U.S. libraries offer space for mobile workers and dedicated coworking spaces. Those coworking at a library often have access to large work tables, wireless printing, meeting rooms for collaboration, and access to business and research resources most individuals can’t afford including demographics and other market research and statistics, legal databases and professional journals. Not to mention, those highly trained and helpful research assistants also known as librarians.

Popping up all over

Libraries offering coworking space are scattered across the country in communities large and small. The Miami-Dade Public Library System was recently awarded a $35,000 prototype grant as part of the Knight News Challenge on Libraries for its “Coworking at the Library” project.

The grant funds were used to research and test whether coworking spaces at the library would be viable. “We ran a simulation of a coworking space using the results of tests and surveys from patrons,” explained Leila Khalil, Public Affairs Officer for the Miami-Dade Public Library System.  “We learned about what people want in a coworking space, what they don’t want, and when the space most likely would be used. We received positive feedback from our testers,” Khalil said.

A YOUmake Miami space is currently under construction at the West Kendall Regional Library.  It will include a separate coworking space that has been designed by applying what they learned from their simulation.  It’s expected to be completed by the end of March.

One of the newest coworking spaces to open at a library is LevelUp, located at the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library in Washington.

The main area serves as a coworking space for individuals and groups to work independently or in groups for collaboration. The space features custom-made community tables with power and USB plugs along with a long laptop bar, iMac computers loaded with design software and access to a high-quality color printer. LevelUp also includes a classroom with an interactive whiteboard and state-of-the-art video conferencing equipment, and a collaboration room equipped with a flat screen monitor for users to connect their computers and devices while sharing their screens with a small group.

Proving popular

Usage has doubled in the first two months the space has been open. “There are times when it is hard to find a seat,” says Mark Pond, business research librarian at Spokane Public Library. “Local support staff working for a global IT company have discovered LevelUp’s blazing wireless connection. Their team of three had previously worked out of their homes and/or coffee shops but are now regular users of the LevelUp space. As one of the team members said, ‘It’s nice and way more productive to be able to do my work in an environment that works for working.’”

Lizard brain challenges

Not only is the price right, but a public library just might be the perfect spot if you’re just starting out as a remote worker.

“In the early stages, a free space without distractions is incredibly valuable. For the ideation phase, an entrepreneur needs a quiet place to think and do research. Libraries don’t occur to people as cowork places but they naturally lend themselves to a quiet environment free of visual distractions,” explains Kate Stewart, PhD., Executive Director of JAXCoE in Jacksonville, Fl. “Our brains are hardwired from the days when we were back on the Savannah to tune into every movement that might require our attention. That’s a great argument for working from home, but we also need the benefit of being around others because humans are social animals. Sitting at home, our effectiveness can wane. We want to be around other humans. It’s true even for introverts,” she said. “You don’t have to interact, you just have to sense that there are people around you.”

“However, you don’t want all the distractions that will cause your brain to focus on things other than what you’re trying to do.” So, that barista calling out an order or the guy on his cell phone next to you can be incredibly distracting. Dr. Stewart says we also feel safe in libraries, and that makes a big difference to our ability to concentrate. “When we feel safe, our lizard brain relaxes a bit – we don’t have to focus on fight or flight.  More of our body’s resources like blood flow can go to our prefrontal cortex. We can let down our guard and focus better.”

A great fit

Coworking spaces at public libraries was a hot topic at the 2015 SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas. Larra Clark, deputy director with the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy, was a panelist.  I asked her why libraries make good coworking venues.

“Our nation’s libraries have always attracted freelance and independent workers for a number of reasons – diverse information resources, knowledgeable staff, community and social connections (or alternately a quiet place) and an increasingly robust technology infrastructure from WiFi to 3D printers. In the wake of the recession, many libraries have greatly expanded the range of support they offer for workforce and small business development – including formal coworking spaces, networking events, and programs to assist with the development of business plans or market research.  As the needs of our communities change, so do the services and resources available through our libraries.”

Places to go

Check out just a few of the public libraries offering coworking spaces. In most cases you don’t have to show your library card to use the coworking space. If you’re traveling and want to use member-only resources and services, many public libraries offer visitor cards for free or a nominal fee.

Columbia, SC: http://www.richlandlibrary.com/coworking

Washington, D.C.: http://www.dclibrary.org/labs/dreamlab

Mesa, AZ: http://mesathinkspot.tumblr.com/about

Goodyear, AZ: http://develop.goodyearaz.com/business-assistance/the-innovationhub-goodyearaz

Scottsdale, AZ: http://www.scottsdalelibrary.org/eurekaloft

Phoenix, AZ: http://www.phoenixpubliclibrary.org/hive

Akron, OH: http://www.akronlibrary.org/about/organization

About the Author

Written by Kathy Schwartz Lussier, APR

Kathy is a remote worker who loves libraries. She lives and works in Cedar Park, Texas, just outside Austin.



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