Supporting Home Workers | Blatant Berry

Those who once claimed the Internet would eliminate the need for physical libraries had it exactly backward: the demand for public spaces has only become more acute as digital technology enables everyone to fill their needs individually and privately online.

New roles add value to our investment in libraries

John Berry photoThose who once claimed the Internet would eliminate the need for physical libraries had it exactly backward: the demand for public spaces has only become more acute as digital technology enables everyone to fill their needs individually and privately online.

Many of my friends now work from home. My former LJ colleague Josh Hadro, now managing director of the International Image Interoperability Framework consortium, says that working at home is a fast-growing option and one wave of the future. Since I retired, I still work some, and, of course, I do it from home, as the economic advantages are huge. First, I no longer commute. That saves me up to $500 a month in transportation costs to get from my suburban home to lower Manhattan and four to six hours a day. Even those working full-time jobs from home often partake of the freedom to adjust their schedules to a lesser extent. The combination of today’s digital tools and older ones such as the telephone have made working at home a no-brainer.

Adding the staff and resources of the public library to the mix makes home a more efficient workplace. The advent of digital technology has transformed every aspect of my working life in a relatively short time. Now I walk or drive the short distance to my local library and hugely increase the number of available resources for that work while I grow other aspects of my life: curiosity, human interaction, entertainment, and information.

My son Tom, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, works at his apartment, although he often brings his laptop just about anywhere, and goes out to business meetings and other collaborations. He’s not alone in wanting a third work place that is neither the house nor a traditional office. Sometimes it’s to escape the noise or distractions of home, but just as often it’s the opposite. One home worker put it this way: “I enjoy being among people who are busy and working like it used to be in the office.” Coffee shops are one popular option, but not the only one. Librarians tell me that public library use by home workers has increased dramatically, becoming a backup office with an atmosphere and resources that make it very practical.

People don’t have to pay rent to use the space by making purchases, and the library offers bonuses that Starbucks does not: systems and digital equipment, from traditional computers to green screens and audiovisual editing software; office spaces; and meeting rooms that offer privacy and a professional appearance for in-person gatherings with clients and potential clients. To be more pleasant and useful for these and other patrons, many libraries have added light food and drink and small cafés to their services. Others allow work and study groups or individuals to order food and drink from outside for delivery to their reading or meeting rooms.

Those libraries with Maker spaces can even support rapid prototyping. The price—free—is certainly better than rates at commercial coworking ventures such as WeWork, and many more telecommuters have access to a library than to such a location. And, of course, the library offers a unique benefit: an information expert at hand with deep digital and print resources to help when needed for business plans, pitches, competitive assessments, intellectual property pursuits, and many more activities.

I’m not sure we knew what we had created when we first built the public library. We knew it would serve as a vital educational resource for children and adults. We knew it would be of enormous value to new immigrants as they learn to navigate our society. We continue to realize that the library does much more than we expected. Public libraries have found new roles and expanded their missions to serve the people and support the current needs for information, education, and public spaces where people can study, work, and socialize with one another. These new roles for public libraries have clearly added to the return on investment of the taxes that support them.

Libraries are one of the few places where we can still find not only tools for education and knowledge but an enhanced workplace and the human interaction of which we might otherwise be deprived by all the new ways in which we work.

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John N. Berry III is Editor-at-Large, LJ.

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John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III ( is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.

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