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Journal ArticleDOI

Why Startups Need Libraries (and Librarians)

18 Jul 2014-Serials Librarian (Routledge)-Vol. 67, Iss: 1, pp 31-37

Abstract: Academic libraries must play a direct role in supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs to get their start. The primary way to do this is through the development of library space to support innovation. Additionally, entrepreneurial library and information science (LIS) students should look for work beyond the library. The knowledge and skills that they acquire in the classroom are exactly those that startup companies need and want in new hires. If academic libraries embrace the need to break from the old and try something new, they can become hubs of innovation on increasingly entrepreneurial college campuses. And if entrepreneurial LIS students embrace the learning objectives of their programs, they can become the ideal new hire for any number of emerging innovative startup companies.

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Why Startups Need Libraries (And Librarians)
The Startup Buzz
Tomorrow, the United States will celebrate National Entrepreneurs’ Day, which
began in 2010 when the Obama administration first proclaimed November as National
Entrepreneur Month. Paired a few months later with the 2011 launch of the Startup
America initiative, National Entrepreneur Day recognizes, for the first time, the
American entrepreneurial spirit as a part of public discourse. In his 2013 proclamation,
Obama notes, “Our Nation is strongest when we broaden entrepreneurial opportunity,
when more of us can test our ideas in the global marketplace, and when the best
innovations can rise to the top;” continuing that the role of universities is to “cultivate
hubs of innovation” so that these opportunities, ideas, and innovations might flourish. In
doing so, Obama not only acknowledges the need for universities to lay the groundwork
for future innovators and entrepreneurs, but also implicitly calls upon the individuals who
maintain the operation of these universities, library and information science scholars
included, to consider their role in an increasingly entrepreneurial environment on the
college campus.
Entrepreneurial Libraries

While universities have broadly been warming to the idea of becoming hubs of
innovation, this opportunity has not yet begun to take shape in many critical sectors of the
university, including libraries. This is both a misfortune and a call to action, and was
most clearly evidenced in October of this year when the Commerce Department issued a
100-page report titled, “The Innovative and Entrepreneurial University,” in which the
word library was not once mentioned. This is alarming as the report notes both that,
“Over the last two decades, the majority of job creation in the United States has occurred
in young, startup companies,” and, “Over the last decade, universities have been the
largest sector to receive federal research and development (R&D) grants receiving
nearly $36 billion from federal agencies in FY2009.” So not only are startup companies
the primary source of job creation in the US economy, but universities are also the
primary sector that the government invests in to encourage the research and innovation
from which startups are born.
The body of the report considers quite extensively the best practices of the most
successful universities in using federal funding to become both innovative and
entrepreneurial, ranging from promoting student innovation with degree programs; patent
clinics; internships; business competitions; and innovative residence halls to supporting
faculty research with entrepreneurs in residence and including entrepreneurial activity in
the promotion and tenure requirements. Even more ambitious is the successful practice of
actively expanding the role of University Technology Transfer Offices, facilitating
university collaboration with industry, and engaging with regional and local economic
development plans. One might find it intuitive that libraries would be involved with

many, if not all, of these best practices; and while they might be indirectly, it is
significant that the report does not once mention them specifically.
In the face of such exclusion, academic libraries must now call upon themselves
to play a direct role in supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs to get their start.
And academic librarians must be both cognizant of the needs of budding entrepreneurs
and to have themselves the mindset of a startup culture. The primary way in which a
library can support entrepreneurship is the development of its space to support
innovation. And as a model, they can look to private spaces that are quickly becoming the
hubs of innovation that the President encouraged university campuses to develop.
One such example is Techpad, located across the street from the Virginia Tech
campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. Techpad is a 6000 square-foot co-working space for
creative thinkers, designers, and developers, all working for student-founded startup
companies using the space to conduct their business. The concept of co-working space
encourages constant communication with individual students, other startups, and Techpad

advisors, former and current business leaders who guide student and company
development. In their 3-minute introduction video, every one of the Techpad participants
interviewed cites collaboration as what makes Techpad both a good environment in
which to work and a successful launchpad for startup companies. And perhaps most
poignantly, one student even offers that Techpad pulls in students who otherwise would
have been unaware of entrepreneurial opportunities located right across the street from
their college campus.
Everything that Techpad does, libraries can do in a university-supported, campus
setting. And Brian Mathews, the Associate Dean of Learning and Outreach at the
Virginia Tech Libraries, has already begun to consider the implications of this in his
research. In his white paper, “Think Like a Startup,” Mathews composes a manifesto of
sorts for encouraging entrepreneurial spirit in academic libraries. His advice ranges from
philosophical to strategic, but embraces throughout the idea of breaking free from the old
to try the new. A few key takeaways from Mathew’s paper include:
Not aiming to simply expand services, but solve problems. Mathews believes that the
library is a platform, not a place, and that libraries must challenge themselves to
invent new solutions to current problems.
Performing less assessment and focusing more on R&D. This returns to universities
receiving the largest amount of funding from the federal government for R&D.
Libraries, as a part of universities, can benefit from this if their focus is on research
and development.
Trying many solutions, maintaining the ones that work, and giving up on the ones that

Providing space for usable, feasible, and valuable ideas to incubate, fail, and evolve.
Remembering that innovation happens in the public space, and is a messy and
disruptive process.
Staking a claim in other parts of scholarly enterprise.
And finally, embracing the knowledge that entrepreneurialism is not going away.
Libraries must learn to incorporate it into their models, while striving to change the
profession in doing so.
If libraries want to become a key player in the growing innovative and
entrepreneurial university, they need to be willing to embrace these takeaways and
become spaces that support the next generation of entrepreneurs.
A Place for Librarians
But perhaps entrepreneurial library and information science students want to find
work beyond the university library. This is not only a possibility, but also an attainable
reality. The knowledge and skills that library and information science students acquire in
the classroom are exactly those that startup companies need and want in new hires.
In a 2011 article in defense of a PhD in the humanities, Damon Horowitz
concludes, “You go into the humanities to pursue your intellectual passion; and it just so
happens, as a by-product, that you emerge as a desired commodity for industry.” Though
specifically referring to the IT sector, on a broader level Horowitz, the in-house
philosopher at Google, is examining what it takes to be a desired commodity in a startup
economy. He even acknowledges this himself when he references his involvement with a
startup called Aardvark, a search engine that defined a query as, “an invitation to a

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