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Libraries as Centers for Entrepreneurial Thinking

Libraries as Centers for Entrepreneurial Thinking
March 23, 2020

Public libraries were never designed to only be buildings to check out books. In January, COSLA’s Board of Directors was reminded of this when meeting in one of the most historic public libraries in America: The Library Company of Philadelphia. In 1731, Benjamin Franklin convinced members of The Junto or the “society of mutual improvement” to pool their resources to purchase books none would have access to individually. The foundation of this idea was that broader access to books, along with conversation that would follow, would improve the career, business, and political interests of all shareholders.

Figure 1: Collection Development Ben Franklin/ca. 1750 styleA central purpose of the first public library was to further the career of business leaders in colonial Philadelphia. Libraries, today, are still critical components of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Diamond Sponsor EBSCO’s Chief Public Library Strategist Duncan Smith shared more about positioning libraries to be community resources for entrepreneurs in a recent COSLA Webinar titled, “Helping Libraries Become Centers of Entrepreneurial Thinking.”  In the webinar, state library leaders learned how to recognize entrepreneurs in their community along with practical ways libraries are positioning themselves to serve these patrons:

From job-seeking to business building

An OCLC study published in 2018 found that 42% of voters recognized the public library as a place that helps people develop the skills needed for the workplace.  When the task is not finding a job but building a company, will voters see the public library as a place to start?  Voters will if libraries communicate their value to their user base which is filled with future entrepreneurs.

Beyond Bezos, Jobs and Zuckerberg:  The Truth about Today’s Entrepreneurs

While tech giants and Silicon Valley capture the headlines, these technology, venture-capital backed individuals are the exception not the rule.  According to Rob Herndon, President of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, the reality of main-street entrepreneurs is:

  • They keep their “day job”
  • Field test their ideas through micro-experiments
  • Fund their start-up from personal savings/credit
  • Take an average of 25 years to achieve “overnight success”
  • Say that community support and mentorship is critical to staying the course
  • Acknowledge that mindset was the key to their success

Not lone wolves—members of a pack:

Successful entrepreneurs are not lone wolves, they are members of a supportive pack. Communities that are intentional about becoming a hub of start-up activity need to develop a partner-rich entrepreneurial ecosystem to support it.  John Austin, Senior Program Director for NC IDEA a private foundation in North Carolina committed to building and supporting a state-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem:

John feels that public libraries have the following to offer:

  • The information and resources that entrepreneurs need to research, launch and grow their business.
  • The library’s internet bandwidth (especially in rural communities) is a necessary part of a healthy ecosystem.
  • The library’s meeting rooms and physical spaces can give entrepreneurs the room they need to think and connect with other members of their local start-up community.
  • Libraries also have the potential to not only catalog books, but, catalog and promote local resources, agencies and groups that support individuals in their entrepreneurial journey.

Lead, Partner, Support:

There is no one strategy, tactic or approach for libraries to take in becoming an entrepreneurial learning center for their community.  The approach that leads to success will be determined by the current state of that ecosystem.  Whether your community’s entrepreneurial environment is healthy or on life-support, you can:

An American Dream:

The rate of individuals starting new businesses has been flat for the past 20 years.  Yet 60% of Americans say they have a dream business in mind, and 40% say that they would quit their current job and start their business in the next six months—if they had the knowledge and resources to do it.

What difference would it make in our communities if the public library became the place where its users moved from dreaming about businesses to starting them?  What would that be worth to our libraries, our profession, our communities and our users?



For more information on how libraries can become centers for entrepreneurial thinking, please contact Duncan Smith at Duncan@EBSCO.COM or COSLA Program Coordinat, Tommy Morrison at

  • 23 March 2020
  • Number of views: 484
Categories: Items of Interest

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