On a national level, there are 17.9 million “solopreneurs,” individuals who operate their business completely on their own; this number is expected to swell to 40 million by 2019. In the community where I am a Business Liaison Librarian, nearly 80% of businesses only have 1-4 employees. These statistics make it necessary for public libraries to reach out to the entrepreneurs and solopreneurs in their communities.
A few months ago, Arlington Heights Memorial Library’s Shannon Distel, Business Services Supervisor; Julie Kittredge, Business Services Advisor; and I ventured out to Chicago to visit five different coworking spaces. Our goal was to better understand the needs and values of entrepreneurs. If you aren’t familiar with coworking spaces, they are shared workspaces where entrepreneurs can have a place to work, meet, create, and collaborate. Chicago boasts more than 100 coworking spaces. Some are geared toward start-ups while others cater to long-time entrepreneurs; you’ll find kitchens and showers in some and gyms in others. Additionally coworking spaces can act as tech-friendly incubators or artsy blank canvases.
Regardless of the space, the trend and message is clear: entrepreneurs want to work where it is quiet but also allows for collaboration; where they can get creative but have business meetings with clients. It is so important for libraries and librarians to recognize this fundamental need of so many entrepreneurs. The good news is that meeting entrepreneur needs simply means ascribing to the coworking concept. Here are some steps that Shannon, Julie, and I have taken:
- Host networking sessions. Shannon and Julie are starting networking sessions that are open to all small businesses, solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, and business enthusiasts. At these sessions, either Shannon or Julie will be in the library’s Business Center to provide information on business services and resources like the business book collections, business magazines and newspapers, investment newsletters, and library databases. Additionally, they will encourage these professionals to network and share business information. Something else that you can do before a business program or workshop is to encourage the participants to introduce themselves and share a little bit about their business and expertise. The important thing is that you are encouraging people to make connections. See more information on networking sessions at http://www.ahml.info/business.
- Rethink programming. This winter, I will have fashion students from a local community college bring their designs and collections to the library. In a casual environment where people can mix and mingle, participants will have an opportunity to talk at greater length with these fashion entrepreneurs and form meaningful relationships. Additionally, Shannon and Julie host quarterly networking book discussions for professionals to exchange business cards and have a thoughtful conversation.
- Share stories. At the Barrington Area Library, I have an ongoing entrepreneur podcast series in which I interview local entrepreneurs about their business path. These recordings are posted on our website and social media. Additionally, in the ongoing Business: It’s Better in Barrington series, local business owners can share their story with the community in the form of videos. Again, this is shared on our website and social media.
Human connections are the main reason that entrepreneurs are drawn to coworking spaces. These professionals do not want to work from home or at an anonymous coffee shop; they want to develop meaningful relationships, share their opinions, and receive feedback from peers. The library has an opportunity to be one of those places where entrepreneurs can succeed and thrive.
 “The Difference Between a Solopreneur and a Side-Gigger (Infographic).” Entrepreneur. Web. 14 Dec. 2014. <http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/239522>.
 “Has Co-working Jumped the Shark in Chicago?” Crain’s Chicago Business. Web. 14 Dec. 2014. <http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20141108/ISSUE02/311089997/has-co-working-jumped-the-shark-in-chicago>.