The Central Library in the San Antonio Public Library system.
Looking for a coworking space? Try the library.
Libraries are the original coworking space. With meeting rooms, internet access, programming, and community members in one place, your friendly local librarian wants you to start thinking of libraries as the entrepreneurial spaces they’ve always been.
Ryan Salts of Launch San Antonio, which operates out of the Central branch of the San Antonio Public Library, said he thinks the most underappreciated resource a library has to offer might be its inherent coworking space.
"There’s paid coworking spaces across the nation, but the one that’s always been free is the library," he said.
Launch SA’s position in the San Antonio downtown library comes from rethinking what libraries can offer – not just books and access to knowledge, but a community of entrepreneurial support that everyone can access. This is also why 1 Million Cups (1MC), a Kauffman Foundation entrepreneurial learning program of which Salts is a volunteer community organizer, is held there every Wednesday morning. Salts said they use the 1MC program to catapult people into the resources that the larger community has to offer. Meanwhile, Launch SA provides an infrastructure for people in the ideation phase of starting their own business through mentorship, direction, education, and programs.
The accessibility the library offers to resources and programs like 1MC and Launch SA, in turn boosts accessibility to entrepreneurship, especially at the start of the entrepreneur’s journey. Salts said that’s the shakiest time for any entrepreneur, when vulnerability and lack of resources to capitalize on are at their highest.
"Having entrepreneurship resources in a public setting like the library creates an opportunity to shield and educate entrepreneurs that traditionally don’t have access to resources or communities that might provide those resources otherwise," Salts said.
An entrepreneur might come to a point where they need access to costly resources or databases, which the library can provide for entrepreneurs who can’t afford it or wouldn’t even know of its existence. For underserved entrepreneurs, Salts said these resources could be crucial at the beginning of starting a business.
"When you provide things that are accessible and free and community-oriented, which is inherently what a library exists to do – that's why it's such a good space because everybody's welcome, your ideas are accepted," Salts said. "In tandem with 1 Million Cups, there’s the idea that you can build a community here, your ideas will be welcome, you'll get the feedback you seek, and there will be people around you to support that goal."
Morgan Perry is that person for the Mid-Continent Public Library (MCPL) system in Kansas City, Missouri. As the outreach business specialist for the library, her role is to develop a system standard to establish libraries as a free resource and support center for people seeking business development assistance.
It’s not just about pointing people with business questions to the "how to start a business" stacks at the MCPL. Perry said the library’s emphasis on business takes it beyond a free place to work and check out resources. People seeking help with their business can sit down for one-on-one sessions with a business information librarian and trained business specialists to take a tour of the databases, programs, and resources that are available – anything from starting a Facebook business account to identifying what skills they might need to build.
Perry said her team is willing to meet people outside of the library as well – at their small business, the neighborhood coffee shop, or at the kitchen table of a home-based business – to meet people where they’re at and to increase the effectiveness of support. "Those things could all be done by yourself, but what we know about online learning is that the impactfulness you have when a human being is connected with it just goes through the roof," she said.
Salts said it’s about the continuous building of a community within a resource center. Public libraries, especially those that house entrepreneurship programs and ingrain system-wide business support, provide not just a place to work, but a community to work within.