The Lawrence Public Library always has had a new releases section. Soon it hopes to have a new businesses section too.
Construction work has started on a new business center and computer lab in the library’s basement level. The new center is scheduled to open in early November.
“We feel like we’re going to receive a lot of interest from people looking to start up their own businesses,” said Bruce Flanders, director of the library. “There is a whole group of people who have that dream. We want to be a place to help people get started down the right path.”
The new area will include 12 computers connected to broadband Internet services, a meeting room equipped with a projector and video conference equipment, and several specialized business databases that normally require a company to pay a subscription fee to use.
Flanders said the new area is meant to complement existing resource centers, such as the Kansas University Small Business Development Center and the Lawrence Workforce Center. Both organizations provide classes and counseling for people wanting to start a business or people seeking work.
Flanders said the library’s role will be to make business information — everything from statistics needed to put together a business plan to specialized directories — easily available. The computer center portion of the area also will be used to teach classes on various computer programs and applications.
The meeting room space will be available for businesses or groups to reserve. For a fee, businesses also will be able to conduct video teleconferences from the space.
The idea of using the library, 707 Vt., as a business resource center has been discussed off and on by city commissioners for several months.
“We have to work on economic development on all different levels,” said Mayor Rob Chestnut. “This lets us hit it on the grass-roots level with businesses that are just getting off the ground. We have known for a while that a lot of our job growth is going to come from growing entrepreneurs locally.”
The new area will occupy space previously used to house the library’s local collection, which included old phone books, directories and other resources often used in genealogy. Those items are being kept, but will be housed in another part of the basement level of the library.
The business and computer center has about an $80,000 price tag. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Friends of the Lawrence Public Library are providing about $45,000 to help with the project. Sunflower Broadband, which is owned by the parent company of the Journal-World, also is providing financial support for the center. The computer portion of the project is scheduled to be named the Sunflower Broadband Community Computer Lab.
A ribbon cutting for the new center is tentatively planned for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 12.