August 29, 2018

Q&A with Gina Bingham, business outreach librarian, New Haven Free Public Library

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Gina Bingham.

As public libraries adapt to the 21st century, many, like the New Haven Free Public Library, are creating innovation spaces. Gina Bingham ties together her work as the library's business outreach coordinator with the needs of the new 5,820-square-foot Ives Squared "innovation commons" that opened this summer on the building's first floor. It includes a café, patio, digital and nonprofit networking space and tinkerlab. New Haven Biz spoke with Bingham about her role, fostering the connections among patrons in the space.

Q. What is your background in New Haven and with the NHFPL?

A. I'm brand new to New Haven. I moved here from the Washington D.C. area in April and instantly fell in love with the city, the people, and the library. I grew up in a small town in western Colorado and, as I was breaking out on my own, craved the offerings of a big city.

I got my start working as the head of adult services at the Safety Harbor Public Library in Florida, where I oversaw a Small Business Resource Center and worked with organizations such as SCORE and the SBA. I also worked overseas in Switzerland as a business English teacher for TLC International House Sprachschule and taught everyone from factory workers to managers English at companies such as GE and ABB. Upon returning to the U.S., I landed in Virginia and worked as an assistant branch manager. While all of these places were big and exciting, I found that I was seeking a place that felt more like home. I am finding that in New Haven.

Q. How did those experiences translate into the work you do at the library and for Ives Squared? What are your responsibilities?

A. My previous experiences helping those in business, as a teacher overseas, and in libraries with diverse communities provided a strong foundation for my responsibilities at NHFPL. As the business outreach librarian, I provide reference and learning support to businesses and nonprofits as well as to job-seekers. I connect customers to relevant resources — extending from the wealth of print materials and business databases in the library to referrals to other organizations. I like to see myself as a super networker — connecting the dots, and serving the community in finding different options to meet their needs.

Q. What were some of the drivers for Ives Squared and what are your aspirations for the endeavor?

A. Ives Squared is dedicated to promote innovation and civic engagement through interactive, state-of-the-art technologies where collaborative learning and networking would occur, and to be a center for entrepreneurship and business development. NHFPL is an anchor institution in the Elm City Innovation Collaborative, CTNext 'Innovation Places' grant and Ives Squared is envisioned as the 'front door,' contributing to the city's economic growth as a high-tech hub and reinvigorating the historical entrepreneurial spirit of New Haven.

Ives Squared comprises: the Switchboard, an information and referral point for entrepreneurs, businesses and creative [professionals]; the Exchange, a co-working space with small business and nonprofit support; and the Tinker Lab, a makerspace. All of the trainings, equipment and materials are free to the public. Last month the Café, operated by G Café Bakery, opened and the space is really a wonderful place to meet and network with others.

With the wealth of talent in New Haven, I'm looking to bring the talents of local organizations and business specialists into the Exchange to foster the environment of collaborative learning and innovation. Right now, we have wonderful partnerships working within Ives Squared space such as SCORE New Haven, the Yale student organization Elmseed, and the New Haven-based accelerator, Collab.

Q. What has been the public reception like for Ives Squared? Are people coming in for classes or to learn to use the equipment?

A. We are seeing increasing attendance on a weekly basis and have increased our classes for September and October to accommodate it. In its first two months of operation over 1,500 customers have checked into Ives Squared with weekly participation growing to 250 a week. About 125 people have participated in programs offered through the Exchange, and we have certified 85 creatives in the use of Tinker Lab equipment.

With the arrival of fall, we are expanding our offerings and appreciate suggestions from the community about what how they would like to see services develop.

I still get a jolt of excitement whenever I see the look on someone's face as they walk into this space for the first time and see what a 21st-century library is capable of offering. I love welcoming them into the space and saying, 'Hi there, we've been waiting for you! Come in and let's find something that speaks to your interests and your needs.'

Q. What sorts of things are you learning as part of this program?

A. I'm really enjoying getting to know my new community and am thrilled by the incredible ideas that are developing within it. The technology in the space was new to me and a librarian's dream when it comes to creative possibilities. I've taken trainings in our 3D printer, laser cutter, vinyl cutter and CNC router with an eye toward how they can be used for business marketing, branding and product prototyping. I'm currently diving into intellectual-property issues to help those who are creating in the New Haven innovation ecosystem protect their ideas. There is no end to the learning in the library world, and that's what makes it such an exciting place to come every day.

Q. How many partnerships are forming and how exactly do people and ideas come together? Is it organic or is there some work on your part as the business outreach librarian?

A. The Elm City Innovation Collaboration has more than a dozen institutional projects with many partners. However, that is really only scratching the surface of the potential network. The power of conversations is incredible: The more we reach out, the more the community has responded with interest and the opportunities are growing.

Reach Wendy Pierman Mitzel at news@newhavenbiz.com

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