Libraries meanwhile may be associated today with an outmoded product in paper books. But they also happen to have just about everything a 21st century innovator could need: Internet access, work space, reference materials, professional guidance.”
Co-working spaces, mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph I quoted above, are places for freelance or telecommuting workers to gather and make use of shared Internet access, printers and printing supplies and other people upon which they can bounce their ideas, just like in a regular office. Libraries have all those things – plus direct access to both print and online resources (databases, etc.) and people who are professionally trained to find things for other people. For those who are just starting out and don’t have the resources for high-speed Internet or even a printer, using the library as an office could be enough to push them into profitability (and if they are profitable, they pay taxes, which go back to the library and allow someone else to use those resources until they become profitable, ad infinitum). Of course, libraries have to balance the needs of small businesses and just-starting-out entrepreneurs with the general public and their needs and come up with limits to their levels of service. Will circ staff become secretaries for the up-and-coming entrepreneurs using the space? Will the reference staff limit the amount of time they can spend on business research? What kinds of office supplies will libraries stock and how much will they charge? Will there be limits for the amount of time a particular person can spend at the library, working? If content creation station(s) are put into place at your library, will you have to police their use so that a couple of individuals don’t monopolize them? Will you enter into a partnership with a commercial printer or printers or will you be in competition with them?
Considering all the angles can be difficult, but being open to the possibilities of welcoming struggling start-ups and brand new entrepreneurs into your library so that they can build a business can be a great service you can provide to your community. It can open up possibilities for community partnerships (how much would the Chamber be willing to provide to help businesses via your library?) and can help funnel money into local print shops, supply shops and other local businesses – all of which pay the taxes that support your library. Finally, how will this “service” be marketed? Will you need to compete with established co-working spaces? Can you support a rush of individuals using your library as a workplace? If you build it, will they come?