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Start-ups, start your engines

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Yesterday marked the 12th annual Start-Up Day Across America – a “holiday” dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of local entrepreneurship. Organized under the auspices of the Congressional Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, National Start-Up Day represents an opportunity for owners of local businesses to meet directly with their elected federal representatives and share their ideas and concerns about the direction of the innovation economy.

The American Library Association believes strongly in the foundational purpose of National Start-Up Day: The advancement of our economy through the encouragement of the entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, you might say that every day is National Start-Up day for America’s libraries. Libraries of all types provide a host of services and resources that can help entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs at every stage of their efforts to bring an innovative idea to fruition.

According to the ALA/University of Maryland Digital Inclusion Survey, most public libraries (over 99%) report providing economic/workforce services. Of those, about 48% report providing entrepreneurship and small business development services. These services range from providing programming and informational resources on financial analysis, customer relations, supply chain management and marketing, to working directly with actors in the financial sector to help patrons gain access to seed capital and consulting services.

For example, New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library offers one-on-one small business counseling through SCORE (a small business non-profit associated with the Small Business Administration), and the Brooklyn and Houston Public Libraries are partners in business plan competitions that offer seed capital to local entrepreneurs. These are just a few examples of how libraries are doing their part to create synergies that grow our economy by fostering innovation.

Furthermore, libraries are not just places to launch a business – they’re also places to grow a business. Last Spring, Larra Clark of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy organized and participated in a program highlighting the growth of co-working areas in libraries at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. To accommodate the increasing number of self-employed, temp and freelance workers in our communities, numerous libraries offer dedicated work spaces. Startups use the spaces to build and launch new businesses and enterprises using robust digital technologies and resources. Jonathan Marino – one of Larra’s collaborators at SXSW – runs MapStory, an interactive and collaborative platform for mapping change over time, out of the co-working space at D.C. Public Library. Jonathan is just one of numerous entrepreneurs who rely on library resources to operate their respective ventures on a daily basis.

Even if you’re not ready to monetize or market your product, you can come to the library to bring your product into the physical world for the first time. As makerspaces sprout up in libraries across the country, people of all ages with nothing more than a budding idea and a library card are becoming engineers; they’re using their library’s 3D printer, laser cutter and/or CNC router to build a prototype of an item they hope may one day galvanize consumers.

The point of all of this is not just that libraries do lots of stuff to help entrepreneurs (although we do, and we’re proud of that). It’s also that the library community doesn’t have a single, narrow vision for advancing the innovation economy – we help individuals in all areas, of all ages and backgrounds advance their own visions. In short, librarians encourage the diverse communities we serve to ignite the innovation economy in a diversity of ways.

The ALA hopes that National Start-Up Day Across America enriches the discourse on small business policy and encourages entrepreneurs in every part of our country to continue to drive our economy forward.

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Charlie Wapner

Charlie Wapner is an information policy analyst for the Washington Office.


  1. […] 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 […]

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