Dearborn's libraries innovate through coworking and maker spaces

Libraries have always been a kind of community space—a place residents can utilize to meet up and grow their skill-sets. 

This is accomplished, according to Patty Podzikowski, adult services supervisor at Henry Ford Centennial Library, by providing "a welcoming space and encouraging people of all ages to use the space for their needs."

Now, Dearborn is expanding the kinds of services traditionally offered by a library, and the ways they can gather and learn. With new assets that cater to the community at large, Dearborn's libraries have created more coworking and maker spaces for current or aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners.

For example, a resource called ReferenceUSA has been available at local libraries since February 2018. Mainly for entrepreneurs, business owners, and students, the database simplifies the process of creating a business plan, conducting competitive analysis, and searching for career opportunities. Also, it allows for a quick and easy way to find news articles, research papers, and even addresses and phone numbers. 

"This is a powerful online reference and research tool that provides cardholders instant, real-time access to information," Podzikowski says.

Patty Podzikowski

Moe Khalil, a 20-year-old business student, says that the database has helped him significantly. 

"I've been using this database for research and just general knowledge, and it has honestly helped me feel more informed about my major," he says. "I plan on opening my own business after I graduate in a few years, and I know this will guide me."

In addition to the database, the Dearborn Public Library is a Michigan Small Business Development Center, offering free assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs. The library has a business resource collection, has free copies of SBDC’S Guide to Starting and Operating Small Business, and even offers business classes as well as one-on-one business mentoring sessions.

"We provide information about how to start and grow your business, a place to meet, computers and printers, business books, and access to business databases and information about the various state and federal programs that offer assistance to business people," Podzikowski says. 

Khalil likes the idea of learning about businesses outside the usual class setting where he can determine his own pace of learning. 

"You're not tested and graded, but given advice about your own ideas," he says. "I still haven't scheduled a session at the library, but I do want to try it out before my last semester in college. I think it would be better for someone to mentor me through my business plan before I jump in right away."

Open computers in the library

Mark Hancock, library systems manager, similarly believes the library has become a community space for people to work and learn together productively, for library patrons of all types. 

"Libraries provide a dynamic, diverse, safe and friendly location for social networking, business networking, and personal growth," he says.

The library also offers a number tech-related resources. There's a weekly "Tech Time" drop-in workshop, which covers a range of introductory computing classes. 

After learning that other libraries in the state that offer a similar service, Hancock says that the library set up a digitization lab to meet the needs of patrons who wanted to share their family history through photos, videos, slides, and more. 

"We had been getting patrons asking for assistance with digitizing photos and videos, and saw a need to establish that service," he says. 

Mark Hancock prepping the 3D printer

Since the lab opened, says Hancock, it has attracted new library users, especially older patrons who use the service because they generally have older media but lack the expertise or equipment necessary to digitize independently. 

There's also editing and production software that more advanced users can use, including a 3D printer. To date, the 3D printer has been primarily used for youth programming, but they plan on developing a system for use by the general public. 

In the foreseeable future, libraries will remain places that offer invaluable, free resources to its residents. But as Dearborn is demonstrating, those resources don't have to follow a traditional mold.

Photos by Nick Hagen