Library Entrepreneurialism: Thinking Like a Startup

A new report from Virginia Tech explains how libraries can become a hub of economic activity by acting as a startup incubator for local communities. Inside we provide key takeaways and examples of this concept already underway


What Happened?

Brian Mathews, associate dean for learning and outreach at Virginia Tech’s University Libraries, recently drafted Think Like A Startup: a white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism that analyzed the modern startup culture and innovative methodologies used to incite new business concepts. The findings were then placed in a library setting, underscoring the value of connect young business minds and ideas with instant access to historical knowledge and modern publications.

So What?

With the prevalent use of the internet for academic research, public and university libraries must evolve and offer resources to support entrepreneurialism or risk becoming irrelevant. By connecting students with resources, first-hand accounts and mentorship programs to guide user-experience research projects, libraries can take on a new role in the future of scholarly publishing as well as economic activity in the community.

Mathews explains the role of a librarian is more proactive than in the past, and thinking like a startup is a good way to understand how access to knowledge can support entrepreneurs. Mathews outlined how library services currently available can be absorbed by university organizations so the resources are more seamlessly integrated into programs directly aiding in innovative thought. In the next 20 years, Mathews predicts:

  • Learning common spaces will be managed by residence halls and student centers
  • Electronic database subscriptions and on-demand access to digital academic publications will be managed by a school’s office of research
  • Off-campus warehouses where artifacts, books and other items are stored will be transformed into local museums
  • Database training, research assistance and classes on information literacy will fall under the management of graduate assistants, teaching fellows, post-doctoral students and undergraduate peer leaders to stay in connection with student demands
  • Computer labs and other academic research technology will be maintained by the office of information technology

Furthermore, public and university libraries will likely become a connection between entrepreneurs and external resources such as articles written by well-established startup founders to understand the potential obstacles facing a young business builder.

Libraries in Action

The Civic Center Library in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona, will be the site of a pilot program that connects the networking capabilities of startup incubators with the resources of public libraries. The co-working business incubators will host formal classes and informal mentoring programs to spur innovative entrepreneurship with the help of the Arizona State University academic resources.

The public library space will provide a collaborative environment for new ideas to be shared and nurtured, along with access to knowledge and academic guidance to support startup activity. Participants can get as much out of the program as they put in, taking full advantage of community tools and teamwork.

Spurring Economic Innovation

Other communities are looking at pay-for-success programs to fund various programs in the community or offering grants to attract new business to area.

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