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D.C. creates free incubator space, but there's just one catch

Library looking for people who, in exchange for access to Dream Lab co-working spaces, will share their expertise for one hour a month

July 25, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON - In the downtown of the nation's capital, there is a magnificent building of steel and glass that is now home to what may be a remarkable tech experiment.

The D.C. Public Library took an 11,000-square-foot space and installed 80 computers, including 16 Macs. A 3D printer was added as well as a machine that can print and bind a book from a file in just minutes. There are tablets of all types -- Android, Windows, Apple -- and e-reading devices, available to try out. It opened last week.

There are also glass-enclosed meeting rooms, and areas for large classes and meetings. There are large Web-enabled, interactive systems for displaying material to an audience. It's modern, professional and free to use.

The entire space was designed to conform with the historical requirements of this Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed building, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, an approximately 400,000-square-foot structure.

This tech center space, called the Digital Commons, was renovated. The HVAC system was upgraded to handle the heat from the systems. Electrical outlets are abundant. There are also numerous work station areas where people can plug in their own systems.

And silence? Not in this space. Do you need to make a phone call to participate in a conference call or interview someone while you type away? No problem. Within the Commons, are incubator spacesthat are free to use, in a space called the Dream Lab. But its users must be willing to share a little of their expertise with the broader community, that's the only catch and it's a seemingly modest one.

"This is a different way of doing what we have always been doing," said Ginnie Cooper, the district's chief librarian.

Many of the people using the terminals may not have access to computers at home. But that's just part of the mix of people from all walks.

Libraries, with their resources, have always been helping people improve themselves, find a job and start a business. What's changed are the tools and methods, said Cooper.

People interested in becoming part of the Dream Lab's co-working, collaboration space fill out an application and provide an explanation about their start-up idea, as well as a link to a Web page or LinkedIn profile.

The bar for admission to the Dream Lab "is set very low," said Cooper. "But we want to make sure that people understand the requirement of being part of the giving, as well as part of the taking and using."

Digital Commons at the D.C. Public Library
Nicholas Kerelchuk is manager of the Digital Commons at the D.C. Public Library. (Photo: Patrick Thibodeau/Computerworld)

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