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Experts Discuss How to Innovate the New Haven Free Public Library

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It has been 25 years since the New Haven Free Public Library made major renovations to the Elm Street building.

This is a surprising realization, as the imposing facility appears by all accounts to excel in its work to connect the New Haven community through comprehensive services and resources.

But they could do more, said architect Margaret Sullivan—as the library’s governing board is looking to add an innovation zone to the facility that congregates 350,000 visitors a year.

That’s why the library Thursday night began preliminary workshops with the state’s leading experts on libraries, innovation, and economic development for a discussion in the building’s basement to discuss possible ideas that would elevate communal productivity.  

This project to create an innovation culture or mindset represents a prototype of what this new thinking about what this library could mean to New Haven,” Sullivan said. “When it comes to actually implementing a physical place, what are those conditions that create that culture of innovation and possibility of invention.”

This unremitting willingness to improve New Haven’s premier library will take patience and innovation in its own right. Sullivan said they need to examine community needs, who they’re designing the space for, and what outcomes may arise from the project?

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Director of the library, Martha Brogan, said they would consider a 4,600 square-foot space on the first floor for the innovation zone. The location already has business reference books, non-profit resource collections, and computers geared towards business database use, she said.

“We do have some opportunities over the next decade to really think about this library as studio concept, and where these different places might fit,” Brogan said. “We do want to do something around business, entrepreneurship, non profit, social, enterprise—more that we can experiment with in an existing space.”

The New Haven Director of the Department of Transportation, Doug Hausladen, agreed Thursday New Haven needs a public venue to promote innovation.

Before the library launches a narrowed conversation surrounding outcomes, Brogan says, they need to continue gathering additional information about who this zone will be created for.

“I want more discussion in the community about who’s going to come and make use of this, and where can we make an impact,” she said. “Trying to create a community culture that is interested in innovation. We have a very diverse constituency that comes through the doors.”

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Sullivan and Brooke Rho—of Margaret Sullivan Studio— during the first of the two-day workshops presented examples of collaborative facilities around Connecticut and the country where innovators meet to change their industries through originality.

Some of these included New Haven’s The Grove, Make Haven, and Chattanooga Public Library, WeWork, and Commons on Champa.

These incubation centers help startup companies; peer networks, or inquires along their creative paths through rented and communal spaces.

Some suggestions for New Haven’s newest think tank included technology like 3D printers or virtual reality devices—really anything that community members could experience they would otherwise be exposed to.

Another tabled idea was extending closing time beyond 8 p.m., a change that has positive creative implications, but is fiscally taxing.

The group of experts will meet again Friday morning to dig deeper into the broad spectrum of possibilities for this recommended space. Only time will tell of what New Haven’s next innovative treasure will bestow.

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