Entrepreneurship in libraries

I remember when I used to work in actual academic libraries, I thought a lot about entrepreneurship in libraries. Now that I don’t work in actual academic libraries, I still think about it, in a far more selfish way: Will my experience in the private sector lend itself to a traditional academic library setting, if I ended up back in the public sector? The answer is: I dunno, maybe?

In my experience, private sector is supportive of employees finding ways to make the company more strategically placed, more efficient, and more innovative. So if your small flicker of genius aligns with those goals, go for it. But if not….? Yeah. And even in companies, being entrepreneurial can be tough. Mythbuster:  funds are always limited in companies, much like in libraries! Yes they make money, but it’s not like the money’s sitting around shoved into people’s desk drawers, just waiting to be spent. And more than money, time is at an even greater premium.

Conversely, libraries are loud, dynamic, energetic spaces that are brimming with smart people trying new things that might be a bit more remove from the practical constraints of makin’ chedda. Of course that means that the profit motive isn’t there to guide and direct innovation. Sometimes I hear of library projects that – while brilliant and innovative — seem so far removed from the library’s core competencies that I (quietly and guiltily) question their utility and broader application. And of course, who among us doesn’t have some lousy story about our brilliant idea being killed by an obscure union rule, or caught up in some committee that seems to only meet when Jupiter’s third moon casts a shadow on Saturn’s rings that’s shaped like an origami crane?

Both industries – as far as I can tell – have ways in which entrepreneurial thinking is encouraged, and ways in which it’s quashed. So what’s a librarian to do?

Well for starters, I signed up for this AMAZING THING called The Startup Library, organised by librarians at the University of Guelph. It’s a PD opportunity for library people interested in integrated entrepreneurial thinking and values into their professional worlds. Things like user experience design, or lean thinking. I’m most interested in integrating entrepreneurial thinking to improve library service delivery – how we think about technology and users when we’re doing our thing. I’m also interested in maybe founding a start-up that makes gobzillions of dollars and then partying with Mark Zuckerberg on a yacht.  WHICHEVER.

Until I hit the cover of  Fast Company though, I’m  scheming about ways to finagle myself into The Conference for Entrepreneurial Librarians, where the focus of this year’s conference is on Social Entrepreneurship in Action (I swooon!). And I should probably read this book called The Entrepreneurial Librarian, that might be pertinent.

Appropriating concepts that have created enormous social and economic benefit in the private sector – while sticking to our guns on the public good and civic-mindedness fronts – seem like a brilliant way to hack existing concepts for much more altruistic ends. And maybe face fewer lawsuits than Mark Zuckerberg.


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