Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Library as CoWorking Space?

Note: I am trying to post more regularly, but still life happens. Ah well, at least my average is up!

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.


Imre said...

I spent the last 6 months working from the Copley and the Chelsea libraries, they are very nice for quiet work. I see Copley's meeting rooms in use quite a lot!

Haven't figured out how to live without phone conversations yet.

The Eclectic Librarian said...

Very true. [Fun side note: I've had a few folks try to convince me that talking on Skype was somehow different than talking on a cell phone and should be allowed. Heh.]

The tricky thing is, would you want to have a cell phone conversation right in the middle of one of those co-working locations, either? Both for noise issues and privacy reasons. Or, would you take the conversation somewhere away from the desk environment, which puts it more in line with what we already allow.

At our branch, we ask that cell phone conversations be taken to our foyer or to the gallery space out back. You could theoretically still have your laptop in front of you there, as the wireless goes that far.

Looking further into the future, this could be build into a space that accommodated micro-businesses, with "noisy" and "quiet" zones divided by sound barriers. This isn't even getting so customized as to reduce the usability of the building, as those quiet and noisy areas could be for adults & teens, or comfy vs. scholarly use of the library. It's very adaptable.