Monthly Archives: February 2013

21st Century Public Library As Business Incubator – Seriously?

As much as I encourage libraries to innovate and become something more, I am highly skeptical of this idea. This article at Atlantic Cities Why Libraries Should Be the Next Great Start-Up Incubators has some interesting ideas, but it goes way out on a limb in trying to fabricate a new mission for the 21st Century Library.

Since it’s a short article, it is copied below in its entirety so there can be no accusations of taking anything out of context.

Co-working spaces are often treated today as a novelty, as a thoroughly modern solution to the changing needs of a workforce now more loyal to their laptops than any long-term employers. But the idea is actually as old as the public library.

One of the world’s first and most famous libraries, in Alexandria, Egypt, was frequently home some 2,000 years ago to the self-starters and self-employed of that era. “When you look back in history, they had philosophers and mathematicians and all sorts of folks who would get together and solve the problems of their time,” says Tracy Lea, the venture manager with Arizona State University’s economic development and community engagement arm. “We kind of look at it as the first template for the university. They had lecture halls, gathering spaces. They had co-working spaces.”

This old idea of the public library as co-working space now offers a modern answer – one among many – for how these aging institutions could become more relevant two millennia after the original Alexandria library burned to the ground. Would-be entrepreneurs everywhere are looking for business know-how and physical space to incubate their start-ups. Libraries meanwhile may be associated today with an outmoded product in paper books. But they also happen to have just about everything a 21st century innovator could need: Internet access, work space, reference materials, professional guidance.

Why not, Lea suggests, put these two ideas together? Arizona State is planning in the next few months to roll out a network of co-working business incubators inside public libraries, starting with a pilot in the downtown Civic Center Library in Scottsdale. The university is calling the plan, ambitiously, the Alexandria Network.

Participating libraries will host dedicated co-working spaces for the program, as well as both formal classes and informal mentoring from the university’s start-up resources. The librarians themselves will be trained by the university to help deliver some of the material. The network will offer everything, in short, but seed money. “As we develop this pilot and start to scale it out,” Lea adds, “we would like to be able to direct people on how to find those resources.”

Libraries also provide a perfect venue to expand the concept of start-up accelerators beyond the renovated warehouses and stylish offices of “innovation districts.” They offer a more familiar entry-point for potential entrepreneurs less likely to walk into a traditional start-up incubator (or an ASU office, for that matter). Public libraries long ago democratized access to knowledge; now they could do the same in a start-up economy.

“We refer to it as democratizing entrepreneurship,” Lea says, “so everyone really can be involved.”

Whoever dreamed up this idea is stretching the facts to fit the situation. Asserting that “… philosophers and mathematicians and all sorts of folks who would get together and solve the problems of their time” is inaccurate to say the least. They got together to share and discuss ideas and philosophy and never solved a single thing. That’s not the purpose of philosophy! Academicians solving problems is a modern invention. And, twisting the Alexandria library community into the modern concept of co-working spaces is another unfortunate distortion to find some support for the program they want to implement. Why anyone would go to such lengths to justify their actions only calls into question the efficacy of the endeavor. Why not just state; “we think this is a good idea for our communities, so we’re going to give it a try”?

There are numerous subject matter experts within the university library setting, that’s the way it is configured. There are history reference and research experts, literature, science, and of course business. But that’s not the way public library staff are organized. Anyone with a subject specialty has developed it on their own and in many cases don’t even have a venue within the public library to exercise that expertise.

Trying to make public library staff into business development subject experts is a recipe for disaster – for both the “would-be entrepreneur” and the library. Business expertise takes years of study and practice, and constant professional development to keep up with recent practices and innovations.

Unfortunately, this particular idea seems beyond the capabilities of a vast majority of public libraries. While most communities today could use as much boosting to their local economy as possible, the notion that libraries are capable of offering “professional guidance” for “a 21st century innovator” is grossly exaggerated. Either the author is horribly misinformed, or the person pushing this initiative is blatantly unfamiliar with the current librarianship professional.

If public library staff were capable of offering professional guidance to innovators and entrepreneurs, their own organization wouldn’t be in the desperate position libraries find themselves today – seeking a new mission. Public libraries offering Internet access – of course, offering co-working space – sure, offering reference materials – absolutely! But, professional business guidance – that’s delusional.

The Bayonne (NJ) Free Public Library and Cultural Center’s seminar to help growing small businesses seems much more appropriate – offering a venue to promote small business and providing access to creditable resources. “The seminar, entitled “Starting and Managing a Successful Business,” is presented by the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE).”

“The librarians themselves will be trained by the university to help deliver some of the material.” In university language, deliver means teach. Most people who want to start their own business have no clue where to begin, and helping them get to the point of actually investing their own, or someone else’s money, is a huge liability. Not to mention that as soon as some disappointed, angry and bankrupt “would-be entrepreneur” decides it was the “professional guidance” they received at the library that sank their business, the library will be in for the lawsuit of its life. Libraries continue to be sued over much less.


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You Have Two, Maybe Three Years…

… before libraries become irrelevant.

When I came across the December 14, 2012 article at Publishers Weekly website, the headline – You Have Two, Maybe Three Years… by Peter Brantley – caught my attention.

He was writing about “… a small, invitation-only meeting convened late last month in the Netherlands by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) … for an exhausting, engrossing three days of debate. But after many hours of discussion and examination … none of us was left feeling that libraries were firmly seizing control of their future.” [Emphasis added.]

The stunning conclusion to his article was what really resounded in my professional core.

The most serious threat facing libraries does not come from publishers, we argued, but from e-book and digital media retailers like Amazon, Apple, and Google. While some IFLA staff protested that libraries are not in the business of competing with such companies, the library representatives stressed that they are. If public libraries can’t be better than Google or Amazon at something, then libraries will lose their relevance. It’s good that the library e-book issue has heated up over the past year, and not just in the U.S. but globally.

But libraries have dithered for far too long – it is now time for action. No matter how glorious the vision of local 3D printing, community gaming, or how critical the literacy training and job assistance libraries offer, reading lies at the heart of the library mission – and as the world goes digital, we cannot let the library become a pile of dusty books. We must make the library the most cool and awesome space it has ever been.

But absent immediate innovation, libraries are going to be increasingly unable to meet the expectations of their patrons, and if such a breakthrough cannot come in the next two or three years, libraries risk losing their central place in the world of literature. That would be a great loss. [Emphasis added.]

This is by no means the first or even a new call to action, but it may be one of the more authoritarian assertions to date pointedly written that time is running out for libraries to find their place in the community they serve. I for one seriously wonder what it will take for library leaders to recognize the future challenges and adopt a vision to overcome them and save the library. Traditional librarianship is a relic of the past century. Creative and innovative thinking with visionary leadership and bold action is the only approach that will save libraries.


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21st Century Libraries and Librarians Look Like: YouTube

Here are more resources from my personalized professional development, that to me typify what the 21st Century Library looks like – what it does – what it symbolizes – how it performs – how it benefits its community – how it remains relevant – and most of all, how it is different in the 21st Century. These come from YouTube, some are new, some are older, all are worthwhile.

JISC – Libraries of the Future

Libraries Present and Future

libraries past – libraries future

Library of the Future in Plain English

Espresso 2.0 and the Library of the Future

How to Create the Library of the Future

The Future of the Harvard Library

Librarians of the future

Library of the Future? let’s hope not

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21st Century Libraries and Librarians Look Like: Innovation

As I conduct my personalized professional development, I want to share articles that to me typify what the 21st Century Library looks like – what it does – what it symbolizes – how it performs – how it benefits its community – how it remains relevant – and most of all, how it is different in the 21st Century. This will include the Librarian and Librarianship – what skills you need – what attributes – what practices – what education – and most of all, how they are different in the 21st Century.

What Does A Library Look Like In 2013?

The Future Of Libraries.

Think Like a Startup: A White Paper To Inspire Library Entrepreneurialism

College Students Study Habits Changes Library Operations

Libraries Transforming In The Digital Age

Library Adds Vending Machine to Dispense Laptops

What Is The Role of a Library?

Adopt-A-Magazine Program

These articles are presented to be thought provoking and ideas for change, adaptation and progress. What they mean to you is what is important, not what they mean to me. There will be other resources to follow periodically that I hope will also spark conversation.

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Personalized Professional Development? Scoop.It!

In this 21st Century environment most everything is moving toward personalized service and product. Marketing efforts are trying to reach individuals as well as market segments, and products that sell very well are those that people can use in ways that fit their interests, needs and life style.

Seems to me like librarianship is also one of those interests that can benefit from being personalized, especially since professional development opportunities on cutting edge librarianship are few and far between. Everything from embedded librarianship to virtual reference services to BISAC is focused more on the individual’s needs than ever before, and taking charge of your own professional development is more important than ever.

ScoopItI have found that for me Scoop.It works extremely well for searching the Internet while I work, and pulling out headlines and URLs that are potentially of interest to me according to the search parameters I determine.

Professional reading – not just juried articles or publications – and everything thought provoking, is my personalized professional development program. is the most connected curation publishing platform. Our partners and integrations include major social networks and platforms including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, WordPress, Tumblr, SlideShare, and HootSuite.


We built to help the marketers, the consultants, and the entrepreneurs increase their visibility online. enables professionals to share important ideas with the right audiences giving them an opportunity to create and maintain a meaningful Web presence, a crucial component to the success of their business and career.

So, in a sense, you can become your own consultant – and certainly you should be an entrepreneur – regarding your librarianship professional development, as well as your network. I use my 21st Century Libraries Scoop.It site to collect hundreds of headlines and URLs almost every day. It provides me with the latest Who’s Doing What information, as well as articles of interest on anything “21st Century Library related.” Other interested professionals browse my site and Re-Scoop articles and URLs for their own audience, and share thoughts and Scoops.

Scoop.It is the easiest way there is to keep tuned in to the world of librarianship, or whatever interests you.

For those hundreds of you who are interested in my Strategic Planning series of posts – the most viewed posts on this Blog – feel free to review my picks for my own professional development at my new Library Strategic Planning Scoop.It site. It currently has over 20 very informative and thought provoking scoops.


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