Libraries: The New Frontier

libraryThe times are a changing and among those changes are the notion of what makes a library a library – and how they are able to impact us more than ever before.

Libraries ain’t just about a place to do your school homework – and this is demonstrated in what’s taking place in Arizona:

Arizona State is planning in the next few months to roll out a network of co-working business incubators inside public libraries, starting with a pilot in the downtown Civic Center Library in Scottsdale. The university is calling the plan, ambitiously, the Alexandria Network.

Libraries as incubators?

Consider: it makes perfect sense. Where else can you go and draw upon resources  to develop business plans, seek out possible funding sources, lay out building plans  and/or system schematics, develop new potential business contacts / networks or enroll in job / skills training?

As the folks in Arizona explained:

One of the world’s first and most famous libraries, in Alexandria, Egypt, was frequently home some 2,000 years ago to the self-starters and self-employed of that era. “When you look back in history, they had philosophers and mathematicians and all sorts of folks who would get together and solve the problems of their time,” says Tracy Lea, the venture manager with Arizona State University’s economic development and community engagement arm. “We kind of look at it as the first template for the university. They had lecture halls, gathering spaces. They had co-working spaces.”

Makes perfect sense – in fact, why didn’t anyone see this before? Now, rather than just a place where one can go and read or check out some books, libraries are playing an ever more growing important role in today’s world. Libraries are now resource centers; places to go where folks can get the tools, resources and skill they need to start a business, learn a trade or develop a new product.

Libraries are invaluable engines of social and economic growth:

Libraries also provide a perfect venue to expand the concept of start-up accelerators beyond the renovated warehouses and stylish offices of “innovation districts.” They offer a more familiar entry-point for potential entrepreneurs less likely to walk into a traditional start-up incubator (or an ASU – Arizona State University – office, for that matter). Public libraries long ago democratized access to knowledge; now they could do the same in a start-up economy.

On a more practical level, what this also implies is that libraries now need to turn to other funding sources to meet their needs. As reported in the past, libraries nationwide are facing major cuts – with some local governments even shutting down their libraries outright (as was done in Camden, New Jersey nearly two years ago). With the new definition and roles of libraries, now would be a good time for librarians to come together and reach out to local / area businesses and obtain funding not through the usual means, but rather through grant funding from the federal Commerce Department, local Chambers of Commerce, various foundations and the like.

And given the well-established role of libraries, libraries offer a true cost-effective return on any investment – something for any funding entity to seriously consider.

Libraries are not just about books: they’re about information and the conveying and distributing of information in ways that are effective.

Libraries are now, more than ever before, invaluable community resources that could very well help establish and maintain economic and social development for the 21st century.

For more about what’s going on in Arizona, check out this link:


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