Once home to several Fortune 500 companies, such as Searle, Brunswick, and Anixter, Skokie today shows nearly half the membership of the Chamber of Commerce as companies with four or fewer employees, including more than 100 members who are sole proprietorships. Many such start-ups leverage personal expertise and a computer to launch a home-based business. These local entrepreneurs need a public place to meet with a client or another business person and they began booking study rooms at the Skokie Public Library. The Library is a logical place for such meetings as it has wi-fi, photocopiers, fax, print and online resources, and professional expertise in its reference staff to support small business. Due to a shift from print to digital format for back-files of periodicals and reference resources, the Library also had newly open and unused space. Library staff met with staff and members of the Skokie Chamber to plan for a Business and Career Center at the Library. Because Library meeting space had been made available only to not-for-profit groups in the community, anticipated use by business persons also required policy change at the Library Board level.
Using prefabricated walls, the Library built a suite of three rooms, comprising 754 sq. ft., at a cost of about $150,000. There is a small conference room, a larger committee or board room, and a room that can seat up to 50 people for larger meetings and presentations. The large room can be flexibly set up, with tables and chairs on wheels for easy re-arrangement. The rooms include a smart whiteboard, voice and video conference capability, and an installed projector and screen, operable from a smart lectern. Access to the suite is controlled via a key card. Use is open to anyone with a Skokie Public Library business card. Business persons may directly book the smaller rooms online. When not booked for a meeting, the large room is available for use as a business lounge with copies of Crain’s, the Wall Street Journal, and Barron’s.
The Library kicked off the opening of the Business and Career Center in November 2012, with a presentation by MacArthur Fellow Sara Horowitz, author of The Freelancer’s Bible, who also autographed copies of her book. The Library has offered programs in partnership with Illinois Worknet, SCORE, and the JVS Duman Entrepreneurship Center. Programs have been on topics such as Building Credit, Building a Business; Ten Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know; Starting a Small Business in Illinois; How to Write a Business Plan; and Streetwise Guide to Interviewing.
The Chamber of Commerce helped spread the word about the Business Center and has used the space for a number of its meetings. The Business Center has hosted meetings of the Chamber Board as well as other Chamber groups including Small Office/Home Office, Women in Business, and Career Builders. The Independent Merchants of Downtown Skokie, Dempster Street Merchants, and Jewish B2B have also held meetings in the Business and Career Center. In addition to 41 meetings in the large meeting room, within the first six months there were 242 bookings of the two smaller rooms in the Business Center. Individuals checking out key cards for use of the Business Lounge increased from seven in November to 24 in April, 2013.
Staff has fielded questions such as an inquiry about a woman-owned business in Illinois and where it ranks in the top 50 in the category for the Chicagoland area. Other research is conducted on the Library-run Skokie Business Portal http://business.skokielibrary.info which has shown a 27% increase in use in the first quarter of 2013 over the same period in 2012. Timothy Reid of New York Life Insurance, a member of the Young Professionals, called the library’s Business Center “a no-brainer” as a meeting place. He said that, “It’s just a great place to hold events. It can accommodate people in a comfortable setting and it has all the resources that would be needed.”