« Back to Economic & Workforce Engagement
Library Business and Career Center
Skokie Public Library, ILGo to Website
Innovation SummaryWorking in partnership with the Skokie Chamber of Commerce and using space repurposed from former collections of bound periodicals and print reference works, Skokie Public Library built a combination meeting room, program facility, and coworking space to support small and home-based businesses, entrepreneurs and job seekers.
At one time, Skokie was home to five Fortune 500 companies, all now gone. When Pfizer announced ten years ago that it would consolidate its research operations and close a facility in Skokie that employed 1500 in well-paid positions, the Village decided to redevelop the research facility as a science and technology park for multiple smaller tenants. Coupled with the recent economic downturn, the membership of the Skokie Chamber of Commerce has changed significantly, with nearly half of member companies sole proprietors or companies with up to for employees. The Chamber has facilitated the development of multiple support groups for these budding companies, launching groups such as the Small and Home-Based Business Forum and the Women in Business group. These groups needed a place to hold their meetings and the Library could not always accommodate them because of an already full meeting calendar. Library staff also noted a marked increase in people booking study rooms for client meetings and conference calls. The Library saw this as an opportunity to create a space where business people can work, hold meetings, and learn from one another. Free wireless, computers, copiers, Fax, and free, private meeting space can be of critical importance to entrepreneurs with big ideas and limited budgets. A collection of business resources, an online business portal, and a reference librarian with an MBA further support the Center.
Working with the Chamber allowed the Library to identify several key needs from this population. Among them was a need for collaborative space. Taking a page from the concept of coworking spaces, the Library created a flesible space that can be employed in a number of ways. An existing study room was repurposed to allow for individual workspace or small meetings of up to four people. It allows a person with a home-based business a private, professional place to meet with a client. Adjacent to this room is a larger board room, which features an interactive smart board and teleconferencing equipment for 16. The balance of the suite is a program room for up to 45 people, with plug-and-play inputs for presenters to connect to the room's projection system. When programs are not in session, the large space functions as a business lounge. Space and budget constraints meant that the Business Center had to be developed within the existing layout of the building. Prefabricated walls allowed for easier and less-expensive construction, and will also allow the Library to modify the space as needs change. Staff were concerned about having yet another meeting space to be set up sometimes multiple times per day. Therefore all tables and chairs are light weight and have casters, making it easy for outside groups to set up the room as desired. A water cooler and Keurig coffee maker make it possible for visitors to make their own refreshments, and electronic key cards allow the Library to limit access to members of the business community.
Since the opening of the Business Center in November 2012, the space has hosted over 60 different programs from outside organizations and has also become the location for library-sponsored programs featuring authors of business books, programs on business start-up, or obtaining financing. It has spurred businesses to registrer for Library cards, with 169 new business cards created since launch. The space has become an incentive for area businesses to sign up for LIbrary cards and to join the Skokie Chamber of Commerce. Existing policies and procedures had to be adjusted to allow for-profit entities to use Library meeting rooms and to book the smaller rooms directly online. The Board was fully supportive of business persons interacting with existing clients and meeting with other business persons in the Business Center. Beyone providing dedicated space and resources to the business community, we seek to make the Library an incubator for new ideas and local business development. The Library is facilitating the formation of business connections among cmplementary solo operators such as a writer/editor, a graphic designer and a printer, for example. Staff are also introducing business persons to the Digital Media Lab for preparation of spots for their websites or for preparing an idea for Kickstarter. In doing so, the LIbrary is well-positioned to have a positive impact on business development in the community.