This first week of May 2016 marks the 53rd annual National Small Business Week. When President Kennedy recognized the first National Small Business Week, the entrepreneurship ecosystem hadn’t yet been animated by digital “making” equipment or the worldwide web, but it was then and is today the beating heart of our national economy. Small businesses make up 99.7 percent of all U.S. businesses and employ 48 percent of U.S. employees, according to the Small Business Administration.
Every beating heart needs lifeblood to drive its cadence – and no network of institutions represents richer lifeblood for America’s vast cohort of innovators and small business owners than the library community.
Last year, in recognition of National Start-Up Day Across America, I wrote about various ways in which libraries propel entrepreneurship. I highlighted the growth of co-working areas – dedicated space for conducting day-to-day business – within libraries, and described how MapStory, an interactive platform for mapping change over time, has used D.C. Public Library’s co-working space to grow and make community connections. I also highlighted the business plan assistance and prototyping equipment – i.e. 3D printers, laser cutters and computer numerical control (CNC) routers – libraries make available to innovators looking to bring an idea for a new product to fruition.
Since then, I’ve done a lot more research on the role libraries play in assisting entrepreneurs. It’s been fun and inspiring work. Among my many discoveries, I’ve learned that libraries provide copious amounts of information on patent and trademark issues through a network of libraries known as Patent and Trademark Resource Centers. I’ve also learned about library production facilities – like Chicago Public Library’s YouMedia Lab – that prepare young people for careers as arts and engineering entrepreneurs. More than 5,000 public libraries provide small business development programs and resources, according to the Digital Inclusion Survey.
I assume that this information is not new to many District Dispatch readers. If you’re a working library professional, you probably know that libraries play an important role in the innovation economy. However, this post is meant to serve not as an exposition of facts, but as a call to action.
Given all libraries do to support entrepreneurs, we must seek opportunities to work with other actors in the entrepreneurship ecosystem to create stronger opportunities for all innovators – including those who lack the basic resources necessary to convert an idea into a venture. Libraries are ubiquitous; they have a footprint in low-income and rural areas that are generally underserved by other business incubators and accelerators. The library community must increase awareness of the role we play as a natural starting point for innovators and seek opportunities to bolster the assistance we offer through partnerships with government agencies, non-profits and private firms.
In short, during this Small Business Week, library professionals should celebrate our contributions to the entrepreneurship ecosystem, but also realize the potential of our community to do a great deal more to advance this ecosystem through effective advocacy and relationship building. Sharing what your library offers with the #DreamSmallBiz hashtag this week is one way to join the online conversation, and we invite you to share a new video featuring small business owner John Fuduric.
ALA is already working to put libraries on the radar of leaders in the entrepreneurship space through engagement with government officials and small business leaders. You can read about a panel of entrepreneurship experts that OITP Deputy Director Larra Clark recently moderated at ALA’s first-ever National Policy Convening here.