Freelancers make up a third of the United States workforce, according to the Freelancers Union, and if you frequent your neighborhood coffee shops, odds are you’ve seen us, laptops in tow, crowded around the few working outlets. But with limits on laptop usage, spotty wifi and $4 lattes, the creative class could benefit from a venue more functional than your typical coffice.
I recently took a test drive at the Shelby White and Leon Levy Information Commons at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch at Grand Army Plaza, which opened this January thanks to a private, $3.5 million grant. Free to the public, the open space is outfitted for 70 users with long, communal tables and an outlet at each seat so you can sit down, plug in and put in a day’s work. In the morning hours, when coffee shops tend to bustle, the Information Commons was a pleasantly quiet reprieve from the din of clanking ceramic mugs and the hum of an espresso machine. Students will also find a lot to love here, especially anyone with a need for expensive software. Twenty-five desktop computers flank the room, including both Mac and Hewlett-Packard creative stations equipped with advanced software, such as the Adobe Creative and Production Premium Suite and Final Cut Pro (a complete list of software offered on these computers can be found on the library’s website).
If you’re not flying solo, seven meeting rooms are available by reservation for library members, with flatscreen monitors in each room for multimedia presentations, webinars and video conferences. The largest meeting room is equipped with a SMART board. Audiophiles can even reserve a recording studio, complete with a computer editing station, green screen and DSLR camera, for up to three hours.
I recommend laptop users arrive before 10am to grab a spot–by midday there’s hardly an empty seat. While chatting on cell phones is discouraged in the Commons, I’m distracted by even the least invasive noise, and the Commons’ central location on the first floor means noise travels from the lobby and nearby café , so headphones helped keep me focused. But even with the weekday buzz, there’s little to distract at the Commons. The aesthetic is a bit clinical: the floors, walls and furniture are stark white with wooden accents, but I actually found that the lack of embellishments kept my eyes on my computer screen and not on my surroundings.
Eating is on the list of do-nots at the Commons, but Open Book Café by Mambo is located in the lobby of the library, and serves pastries and breakfast sandwiches in the morning and salads and hot or cold sandwiches in the afternoon; otherwise, you’ll need to walk a bit to find some grub. I recommend Lincoln Station in nearby Crown Heights, which is about a half-mile from the library and just a few blocks from the Brooklyn Museum and Botanic Gardens (convenient for a lunchtime stroll). It serves a selection of gourmet sandwiches and salads that go beyond your basic turkey and cheese–I loved the braised kale sandwich with fava bean puree. For a more economical approach, pack a lunch and grab a seat on the library’s patio for some people-watching. Either way, don’t be surprised to find you’ve lost your spot once you return to work.
If your weekday grind finds you in a midtown high rise and not the local café, you can still take advantage of the free classes offered in the Information Commons on anything from resume editing to podcasting, magazine writing and even financial counseling.
The Information Commons is open during general library hours: Monday through Thursday, 9am to 9pm, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 6pm and Sunday from 1pm to 5pm.