Libraries and Entrepreneurs: Let Me Introduce You

Recently I have been delightedly delving into a book ‘The Library of the Future’ published in 1936 and I have been marvelling at how issues facing public libraries remain the same. One of the core chapters deals with public libraries and its services to business at the local level and how a successful economy depends on relevant information being available for the local businessman.

SLQ Lunch Box Forum. Image by Josef Ruckli

The Business Studio at State Library  of Queensland. Image by Josef Ruckli

In 2017 the economic landscape and the very nature of work and business is changing at a rapid rate. Start-ups, social impact business models, the sharing economy and entrepreneurship are all being promoted as the new ways to generate your own work. Impacts on the economy and the future of work were discussed by an expert panel at a recent event at the State Library of Queensland where the future economy was robustly debated — especially who will be the losers and winners. And public libraries can play a core support role for their communities in this new innovation space. And, let me assure you, the new business world is not all about technology:  bespoke design, human-centred services and high-end products are all part of the new start-up world.

Over the past 18 months at the State Library of Queensland we have been providing a service to start-ups that help them stand up before they start-up. The Business Studio is a space in the Library that offers a powered workstation, business grade Wi-Fi, a curated collection and an online hub with all the information needed to start a business in Queensland. We now have over 500 members, a regular Lunchbox Forum of events, and a collated Business Intelligence blog of all media mentions of interest to the start-up community. An Entrepreneur-in-Residence 3 days a week has been possible through a partnership with a local co-working business Little Tokyo Two . And over the past 18 months we have seen a number of start-ups launched, ideas validated and ideas abandoned with lots of positive community feedback that they are willing to blog about.

As we work to develop a scalable model that other public libraries can implement, no matter their size, here are four ways that public libraries can support their own start-up communities right now!

  1. Curate a Collection: One of the surprising learnings for our team over the past 18 months is that entrepreneurs are eager learners, committed readers and very generous with their skills and stories. Libraries need to match this generosity by really putting time into curating a specific, targeted collection to support the entrepreneur’s start-up journey. There are many lists, top 50 titles, key databases, and for Queensland public libraries, com training videos that can be highlighted and promoted to this community. And they are a community within your local area that you need to connect with and serve with core information and resources — which they will devour. And as part of a genre collection model this one is a must if you have an entrepreneur community.
  1. Develop a Workshop Program: A focused learning program with a set time period (6–12 weeks) can be developed in partnership with local businesses, a local University campus, Chamber of Commerce and the Council Economic Development Officer. Key topics of interest at the Business Studio have been Social Media Marketing, Managing Cash Flow, Business Models, Marketing your Start-up and How to Develop your Pitch. Each of these lunchbox forums at the State Library of Queensland are developed with no budget and are free to attend with all speakers donating their time. This demonstrates just how generous this community is, as they share their expertise and experience with the new generation of businesses.
  2. Run a Young Entrepreneur Summer Holiday Program: There are many young entrepreneur clubs and programs in place in libraries around the world. Models range from a 3D tech club where young people learn the design process, produce their model / invention and then learn how to market their product over the summer holidays. Others combine design, making and production, and culminate in a market at the library to sell the young people’s goods — which can range from jewellery, to food, or even flip flops. Partnering with key local business people and local market (if you have one) can also give really good advice about how to run a market business which can help the program be really successful.
  3. Host an Entrepreneur-In-Residence: An Entrepreneur in Residence can be a 12 week program or a continuing partnership. Program models can be one day a week with bookings similar to how libraries manage their Justice of the Peace programs or can be more developed with benefits exchanged. At State Library of Queensland the Entrepreneur receives a free carpark, a lunch voucher and a work space in return for being available for consultation to the start-ups in the Business Studio for a day. Other library models can be funded through grant programs and the Entrepreneur is paid a fee, delivers agreed workshops, blog posts and selected mentoring sessions to new would-be businesses.
  4. Entrepreneurs need to be introduced to the Library — our spaces, our resources and also our staff. Set up your networking event today and remember library services to businesses have been highlighted as essential since 1936!

Finally, if you are interested in this topic, SLQ will be hosting a professional development event in Brisbane on 13-14 November on this topic – watch this space!

About the author

Jane Cowell

Jane Cowell

Jane Cowell is Director, Engagement and Partnerships, State Library of Queensland. Jane believes in a strong future for the profession and wants to ensure that library professionals have the leadership capability and key evidence to be strong advocates for our profession’s ethics, impact and value of libraries, no matter which type of library they work in. Recognising the digital disruption impacting the way we do business and working together, across all types of libraries, to respond in an effective, impactful way requires a capable, continually learning and confident workforce, willing to change. As an ALIA Director, she works across the profession to realise this goal. Jane was one of the Library Professionals invited to work on the NMC Horizon Report Library Edition 2017.