Scotland’s libraries transformed for small businesses after Edinburgh pilot project

THEY were once a place of hushed voices, where any noise was punished with an authoritarian shushing.

Monday, 13th May 2019, 7:43 pm
Central Library library have been renting out desks to businesses in innovate scheme.

THEY were once a place of hushed voices, where any noise was punished with an authoritarian shushing.

But now, an increasing number of Scotland’s public libraries are being transformed into hubs for small businesses as part of an innovative new pilot.

The Scottish Coworking Network (SCN) launched its Capital pilot of the project - which hands over the use of 30 shared workspaces to entrepreneurs and start-ups - in March, but the uptake proved so popular that most of the desks sold out within weeks.

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Denise Muir.

It is now hoped the scheme can be rolled out to create a network of coworking spaces across the country.

Pamela Tulloch, chief executive of the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC), said: “Public libraries in Scotland are thriving with more than 43 million visits in the last year alone.”

“Projects like the coworking network help keep libraries local and relevant to the community and the people using the spaces are finding the added benefit of being able to build a local network.”

She added: “People are bringing different skills, different ideas to each location so it creates a place where innovation can be explored even in the smallest startups and businesses.”

Helen Bleck

The scheme allows small business owners and sole traders to rent coworking space at a knock down price, with complete freedom to use the desk as often as they choose.

Similar projects have already been established in London, while libraries in Dunfermline, Dundee, Inverness and Troon are to be piloted over the coming weeks.

The project was made possible thanks to a grant from the digital directorate at the Scottish Government.

Lindsey Henderson, head of programme at SLIC, added: “Historically, libraries and librarians are places and people where those just starting out would come to get information and we are seeing that evolution now to this where they are doing exactly the same thing, but just in a different way.”

Pilar Garcia de Leaniz.

The Central Library space is currently occupied with sole traders.

Seb Dadbin, SCN project manager, said: “When you start a new business, one of the key things is those small interactions and everyone to be able to support each other.”

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LITERARY TRANSLATOR Denise Muir said using the coworking space had already created a “community” of creative minds.

Thorranze Junyu Zhang

She added the space had given her time to work on developing a new business model sourcing children’s books for international publishers to be translated into a number of different languages.

Denise, who also runs the commercial translation business ‘Magicamente Translations,’ said: “I’m sure everyone will say ‘it gets you out the house,’ but for a translator, it is all based on communication and if you are not talking to anyone all day, it does start to get a bit ‘voices in your head’.”

“I think for my kind of work, you need to have a community round about you to absorb that, so it is good to be around other creative minds.”

She added: “My trade is books, so what better place to set up than in a library. I can go into the children’s library to pick up a book, it helps me to source materials that I can then pass on to publishers.”

EDITOR and PROOFREADER Helen Bleck only uses the space two days a week after signing up to the scheme and said she loved the opportunity to be flexible over when she is based in the building.

She said: “I have been looking for something like this for quite a while and tried out places like The Melting Pot on Rose Street, but that didn’t work for me at all.”

“For someone who doesn’t use the space every day, it is really affordable and the atmosphere is industrious without being completely silent. Everyone is here to get on with their work, but there is constant communication with so many of us working in similar industries.”

Helen added: “Being amongst other people who are also working for themselves, who are trying to build their own business and sustain it so that you can share ideas and creating that different work area really appealed to me.”

“It is definitely a space I would like to use more often, that is something I want to do in the future.”

FREELANCE ILLUSTRATOR and graphic designer Pilar Garcia de Leaniz said the space offered her the chance to escape isolation while helping inspire her to work on designs.

Pilar, 40, who is originally from Seville, said: “Illustrators and creative minds, especially if they are freelance are often quite isolated while they are working, plus English is my second language, it is a good way to practice my English, I have colleagues around who are able to help with those skills.”

She added: “You have amazing access to a lot of resources and that helps me find my creative spark as an illustrator. I can walk around and look at the books, at the way they are designed and that can help with my own creative process.”

“Everyone is very respectful of the atmosphere of the library, but there is still communication with the other people using the space. You make connections with people that you would not meet otherwise.”

THORRANZE ZHANG is the founder and director of Red Unit, which helps small and medium businesses localise their brand and broaden their appeal to the Chinese market.

Thorranze, who is originally from Guangzhou, said the value offered by the coworking space compared to other buildings around the city made it stand out from the competition, adding: “Despite this being a relatively new idea, we have only been here for a few weeks, I already find it easy to chat to people around, it is what a coworking space is supposed to be.”

“It is a really positive space for those just starting up their business, especially with the location in the city centre. It is where everything is, where everything happens, it just makes everything so much easier when it comes to building connections and a bigger network for my business.”

He added: “At the moment the space is really basic, but I really hope we can help to build that up over time.”