Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Co-Working in Libraries: An Introduction

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Photo: Amanda Mills
As our economy continues to change, it's becoming more and more important for libraries to offer resources to help people who are looking for new opportunities. As companies continue to shed jobs, replacing them with automation, it is becoming increasingly necessary for workers to rely on their own efforts. Providing co-working spaces is one way libraries can support people who are taking on roles as contractors, freelancers, and entrepreneurs.

So what is co-working? According to David Lee King and Michael Porter in “Create a Library ‘Tech Shop’,” (American Libraries Magazine, March/April 2012, p. 57) co-working “...brings together independent workers, freelancers, small business owners, and others who need workspace. These folks regularly gather to brainstorm ideas, team up on projects, and work in a more social setting.” It can also be described as “...a recent movement of independent ‘workspaces’ that are created for remote workers, location neutral workers, and independent professionals.” (Welch, Jasper, “The Power of Collaboration,” Economic Development Journal, Fall 2012, Volume 11, No. 4, p. 36-41.)

There is a need for co-working spaces, because in 2011 “...approximately 80 percent of net new jobs created in the U.S. come from companies with 20 or fewer employees (Welch, 36.)" As these companies tend to form quickly, and be limited in resources, office costs may be too much to bear as they get their starts. Additionally, for those who are working alone as freelancers or individual contractors, there may be a tension between the desire to work alone and to collaborate. Co-working spaces help companies to save money on meeting/office space while offering some degree of interaction and collaboration.

In many co-working spaces, you will find meeting rooms equipped with white/SMART boards, flat screens, tables, projectors, and DVD players. You may also find computers and WiFi access, as well as printers, scanners, and popular business and creative software. Some spaces will include lockers for personal belongings. Libraries may also provide mentoring, workshops, and video training, while you can always find books, magazines, newspapers, and sometimes professional journals.

There are a few obstacles for libraries to deal with in trying to establish co-working spaces. These may include finding available space, finding mentoring resources, securing funding, and staffing such a location. This is in addition to providing the technology for patrons. Another issue is the question of exclusivity. Many libraries have application processes to secure free "memberships." Otherwise, the space may be taken over by anyone looking for a table or a quiet place to read. Another issue is whether the space would be staffed or be more of a self-service option for patrons. Community partnerships and grants may provide some of the support necessary for new co-working spaces.

So, how has this been working for libraries? Take a look at some of the articles and examples below.