Getting down to business on Policy Revolution!

George Washington School of Business, Washington, D.C.

George Washington University School of Business, Washington, D.C. — Source: Wikimedia

In November 2013, the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy – rabble rousers that we are – started a revolution…a policy revolution, that is. Realizing that perceptions of what libraries do among decision makers and the public do not always reflect reality, we spearheaded an effort by that very name (Policy Revolution!) to increase the library community’s visibility and capacity for engagement in national policymaking. One of the most significant products to come from this Gates-funded initiative to date is a public policy agenda outlining national priorities for the library community across numerous policy arenas.

Now that the agenda is public, we’re focused on advancing its priorities through purposeful, organized advocacy and thoughtful collaboration with decision makers and influencers across all sectors. One of the first steps we have taken to affix rubber to road on Policy Revolution! is to zero in on areas of policy we feel the library community is best positioned to impact in the coming years.

One such area is small business and entrepreneurship. In a recent post celebrating National Start-Up Day across America, I outlined a number of the ways in which library small business and entrepreneurship services advance the innovation economy. The post describes library activities and programs that help entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs gain access to capital; access critical information about starting a business; prototype ideas for new products, and more. To advance the Policy Revolution! initiative, we must figure out how to leverage and expand upon the great work that’s being done in libraries on small business and entrepreneurship. It is with this goal in mind that I attended the 6th annual October Entrepreneurship Research & Policy Conference at George Washington University last week.

Delivering one of the keynote speeches, Winslow Sargeant, the Small Business Administration’s Chief Counsel for Advocacy from August 2010 until January 2015, noted that there are nearly 28.5 million small businesses– employing over 56 million people – in the United States. He described research institutions as critical “centers of knowledge” that catalyze the innovation these small business firms drive forward.

After his talk, Dr. Sargeant assured me that libraries fall within his definition of “centers of knowledge.” He touted libraries as repositories of information that entrepreneurs use to create innovative products and services. The longer I work on small business and entrepreneurship issues for ALA, the more convinced I become that libraries – school, public and academic alike – are the best kind of “knowledge centers” for advancing the innovation economy.

Dr. Sargeant asserted: “Research is the transformation of money into knowledge, and innovation is the transformation of knowledge into money.” Libraries democratize this proposition. With nothing more than your library card, your drive and your imagination, you can create knowledge that breeds innovation. In short, libraries replace “money” with “information,” thus: “Research is the transformation of information into knowledge, and innovation is the transformation of knowledge into money.”

This seems a solid premise from which to start our Policy Revolution! work to raise the library community’s profile in the entrepreneurship/small business arena. In the coming months, we will trumpet library leadership in this arena and work with leaders across the public, private and non-profit sectors to identify projects and activities that will expand the library community’s capacity to help all people participate in the innovation economy.

Read more about Policy Revolution on District Dispatch here.

About Charlie Wapner

Charlie Wapner is an information policy analyst for the Office for Information Technology Policy.

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