Here's one to stretch and reinvigorate the public concept of libraries. Today, BoingBoing featured this article from BusinessWeek: Where the Coffee Shop Meets the Cubicle: Co-working facilities blend the appeal of an independent environment with many of the advantages of the traditional office.
Essentially, co-working facilities are fully-equipped small business spaces rentable by the day or month. You get a desk, power, 'net access and an array of small business machines at your disposal, but also a space to interact with and network with other entrepreneurs just like you. The newest facilities have cafes, lounges, hammocks and conference rooms, all open to any renter.
I thought of this concept myself a few months ago while busily tapping on my laptop at my favorite coffeeshop, but now I'm seeing it through the lens of the librarian. Why can't a library building that has a good focus on business materials not also offically offer their space to small business owners for meetings, conferences and daily work areas? We couldn't ask for a direct fee (non-profit public status and all), but perhaps encourage a business-level membership in the Friends group?
Some libraries have a specific injunction against businesses using their space for for-profit activities, but how do we define those activities now? What about the patrons who are buying and selling over eBay during their one hour of computer time? Why can't I offer the person who comes in and asks me to help them extensively with business research -- effectively using me as a corporate librarian -- a space to meet with a client, or comfy places to do work via laptop. We've got the huge pipe to the 'net and the photocopier; why can't we take it one step further?
In the report from the Urban Libraries Council, (big PDF file) there's an entire chapter on "Small Business Support Through Public Libraries." The concluding paragraphs directly address the need for space and informational support:
Public libraries should identify and support the specific business information needs of area micro-enterprises, as well as developing partnerships with local technical assistance providers.
I don't have answers to these questions, but I'd love to hear thoughts on the matter.