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The public library as an alternative to coworking space

Jul 26, 2016

Finding a decent working place in a small town or in a country where coworking spaces aren't so popular can be challenging. In my experience, libraries are a great alternative if you're looking for a quiet place and working atmosphere. Here are some reasons why I feel that way.

Working in a library

I’m not a fan of the digital nomad hype or the prospect of working from a beach or cafe while traveling around the world. Usually, I work from our office, which is located in a coworking space with many other companies and startups. Yet, sometimes it happens that I’m away—like right now, when I'm in my hometown where part of my family lives—and I need a place to work. Working from home is definitely an option but with the usual interruptions, like kids running around, it can be difficult to focus.

I don’t feel comfortable sitting in a cafe for eight hours, ordering drinks that I don’t want just to be polite. So I've found that a library is most similar to the coworking space or office, and I enjoy working there.

Libraries have quiet study spaces with tables where you can work on your laptop. Often they have WIFI; although it’s not as good as you would expect in a coworking space, it’s still good enough to work with. If WIFI's not available, you can use your smartphone as a hotspot too.

Working among all those books and knowledge humbles me and reminds me how many things there still are to read about or learn. When you need a break you can walk through the shelves browsing the books or pick one out and start reading. It makes me feel much different than sitting in the cafe, listening to music and having an occasional conversation while trying to work.

Although it shouldn't be the biggest concern, it's worth mentioning that library fees are quite low or even free. Typically all over the U.S., anybody can sit and work or browse the shelves within the library for free. In other countries or if you're a foreigner who wants to borrow a book, a library subscription for an entire year is about what you'd pay for a single day in a coworking space. It is also similar to what you'd spend sitting in the cafe for eight hours, ordering a drink every hour or so.

The obvious downside is that you cannot speak there, so if you have a phone call or online meeting you have to go outside or find another way to deal with it. Another downside compared to coworking spaces could be the absence of people doing similar work to yours. In a library, there's not much chance of networking or sharing thoughts related to work. Things like a kitchen, foosball, or other nice-to-haves are just that, nice-to-haves, but I don’t find them essential for my work.

One thing that I still can't figure out is what others in a library think about this. Are they OK with it or not? Or maybe they really don't care what people are doing in the library as long as they are quiet and don’t make any trouble. The comment that I got from a librarian is that they're delighted to have people using their library as a resource, and appreciate it when they're considerate and take their phone calls outside.

If you have experience in working from a library or have any thoughts on this feel free to share it.