Dana Hart: Libraries can be good co-working spaces

DANA HART, ILSLEY Public Library Director

With the library reopened, many people have been asking me for status updates. “How are things going over there?” they’ll say. And then, the inevitable observation, “It must be quiet these days.” Well, yes and no. Libraries often reflect, directly and in real time, societal shifts. So while it is true that we aren’t having as many large and raucous gatherings in our Community Meeting Room, other library uses are skyrocketing. Today, I’m writing about an often overlooked use of the library: as a co-working space.

Many people are familiar with the co-working trend. Co-working companies offer spaces and amenities, such as wireless and wired internet, meeting rooms, printers, etc., that allow for productive individual and collaborative work. If you’re a fan of the library, you’ll know that Ilsley also offers all of these amenities, plus tech support, outlets and charging stations, and a sound baffled room that allows for video conferencing, podcasting, and studio grade audio recording.

The truth is, libraries have been co-working spaces since Andrew Carnegie started building public libraries in the 1880s, and we do it for free. The ‘free’ element is significant, because libraries are often the only place in a community where someone can work for hours without spending any money—they don’t even have to buy a cup of coffee. If communities are serious about supporting entrepreneurship for everyone, the library is where that community value is translated into action.

The ‘free’ element is also important for fostering a truly diverse space. Co-working spaces benefit from a sense of connection and socialization: getting work done is one thing, but getting it done in an environment where you feel a part of a larger community is another. During the pandemic, many people pivoted to working and taking classes remotely, but working from a home office is either not possible or not ideal for everyone. Over the past several months, Ilsley has seen a tremendous uptick in patrons who come to the library and set up shop for the whole day, either for work or remote schooling.

They bring laptops or use our computers, make good use of our internet, and take advantage of our meeting rooms when they need to have a private conversation. They get to know the librarians, and we get to know them. They’ve given us great ideas about how to make the library friendlier to businesses and professionals. They’ve learned what librarians have long known: that libraries are lovely places to work, full of resources and friendly faces, and, perhaps best of all, you don’t need to pay for a membership to belong.

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