When one logically looks at the progression of how we work, live, and play, it is not hard to see that co-working spaces are quickly headed for a fuzzy future. Many co-working spaces are already struggling as national statistics show that only 40% of co-working spaces are profitable. On the other hand, despite the many changes we have experienced in our day-to-day lives, public libraries are as relevant as ever.
So how did I leap from the struggling profitability of co-working spaces to the 21st-century public library? Well, libraries, intentionally or not, practically are the perfect co-working space. Before co-working was ever a word, the library has been a staple for small business owners. I cannot count the times my mother utilized the library for her business while my sisters and I stayed occupied in the children's area. In fact, the children's library is the knife in the heart of co-working spaces, however I digress.
In short, the library has always been the best option for entrepreneurs and business owners because it actually has everything they need for success. Computers, printers, copying machines, a librarian (the human Google when you can't find the answer you are looking for). Today, many libraries offer the same services and options that co-working and maker spaces do with one exception, they are FREE to use, and don't require you to travel downtown.
Libraries have historically made sure that their locations are neighborhood friendly so that no matter where you live, you have access to your local library branch whether you drive or ride public transportation. As an adult, I used the public library in Springfield, MO the same way my mother used our local public library. I would drop my kids off in the children's section, while I stayed in the adult section meeting other business owners, or working on my business. It was the perfect combination of homeschooling and working from home as other homeschooling groups were always there as well.
If the kids needed me they would simply text me to come back. The children's library not only accommodated elementary school children, but also teens. The library has incorporated a cafe, meeting and event space, small, lockable rooms with desk you can use for an hour or more if no one else is signed up, 21st-century technology and classes to learn how to use it, a children's and a teen library, outside event space/seating, entertainment such as musical events and poetry slams, accommodating groups using the meetup website, and so much more. How much of a stretch would it be for libraries to simply add on dedicated desks, hot seats, private offices, maker spaces, and more for a fraction of the cost you would pay to office elsewhere?
What if libraries were to add on to their spaces to accommodate mixed use real estate with lofts, shops, restaurants, and more? In Springfield, MO this is already happening as Panera Bread is one of the features of the library. What if the children's library morphed into youth programs with a paid staff to look after the children to give parents more time to complete their business for the day? These are all possibilities that libraries all over the nation could start implementing today. The last advantage that libraries have over co-working spaces is that everyone is welcome. No one ever walked away from a library feeling like it was only for elite people. Nor has anyone ever walked into a library wondering where all the people are.
The question is not if, but when will public libraries realize they are the sleeping giant that will put co-working spaces to rest. The library will always be the end-all solution with all the necessary resources available or easily obtained to be the all inclusive solution that entrepreneurs need. Co-working spaces would need to leap over tremendous hurdles to even come close to competing with libraries. They would do better to partner with one via a mixed-use real estate arrangement. Collaboration is key for the survival of co-working spaces.