The Workspace Operator that’s Improving Literacy in Chicago

Opened in May, 2015, the Literacenter provides shared workspace to Literacy Organizations in Chicago.

Serviced offices have evolved over the years, with a particular growth in demand for flexible workspaces in the last few years. The growth and push of the industry has been so significant that we now see various types of workspaces available, some which cater to very specific needs and market niches.

Such is the case of the Literacenter, “the physical home for literacy in Chicago,” which was established May last year by the Chicago Literacy Alliance.

The Chicago Literacy Alliance was founded in 2009 when several literacy focused organizations were seeking for ways to share resources and collaborate. In 2015, after state cuts affected various organizations and after realizing that there was a need to formalize connections between sister organizations, the Literacenter was founded.

“We realized many organizations were working with the same school. We all needed to partner and collaborate. We needed a centralized space, a central hub, where organizations could connect and work together to be more effective.” – Heather Bronson, Communications Manager of the Chicago Literacy Alliance

The idea came from the founder of the Chicago Literacy Alliance, Stacy Ratner, who used to be involved in the tech world and was a member of tech incubator at Chicago 1871. “1871 was the place you went for tech, we wanted to create a place where you’d go for literacy.” Less than a year later, the Literacenter is at capacity, home to 83 organizations.

The Literacenter operates like most flexible workspaces, the only difference is that they are fully committed to welcoming only literacy oriented organizations and nonprofits. It offers different types of membership status, provides workspace at discounted rates in the Chicago market, has meeting and conference rooms available to book, and hosts various events to encourage networking as well as learning.

When asked about the impact that the Literacenter has had in the community, Heather mentions how many organizations have been able to keep several of their programs running, even after the state cuts, thanks to the Literacenter. She gives the example of Literacy Chicago, which would’ve had to shut down their educate adults program if the Literacenter hadn’t existed, as the move to the shared workspace meant an 85% reduction on monthly rates and expenses.

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“The Li32-Literacenter-700x1012teracenter is the physical manifestation of our support for literacy services throughout the city.” Just like flexible workspaces allow entrepreneurs and startups to get the wheels going, the Literacenter allows smaller organizations in being more productive and better connected.

As for the actual space, it was designed with literacy in mind and to be a fun, inviting space where people want to visit, work, and collaborate. The walls are brightly colored, the meeting rooms are full of puns of classic books, and the stair risers are book spines. They also have a lounging space, a kitchen, a few pianos, and board games. “We wanted to combat the stereotype of a nonprofit workspace being dingy and depressing.” (Much like coworking spaces try to combat the typical executive office environment)

Yet, the Literacenter is not just about providing a workspace. “It’s really cool when our resident organizations provide their services here; they have their students come learn to read here; it’s not just a workspace, it’s a community space.”

“We like to find informal ways for people to network and also provide activities that make better professionals and organizations. We have weekly brown bag lunches to talk about topics like marketing, how to present a brand, how to build an advising board, and how to budget.”

Long-term? The Literacenter wants to expand to other cities; “literacy is an international problem, we definitely want to replicate this model and open more spaces.”

As for us, we’re eager to see how the Literacenter moves forward and how other specialized workspaces being to appear.

Feature image and staircase image by Tim Benson. Scooter image compliments of Chicago Literacy Alliance. 

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