5 Reasons Libraries Are Ready For Innovation.

Written by Helen Kula, Librarian at the Institute for Management and Innovation, University of Toronto Mississauga, and Organizer of Startup Weekend Education – Library Edition

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In less than two weeks, SWEDU will see the first-ever library-focused version of Startup Weekend take place in Toronto, Canada. Startup Weekend Toronto EDU: Library Edition will bring together developers, designers and entrepreneurs together with library & information professionals to solve library-specific problems.

Organized by a team of librarians, we’re determined to build connections and capacity in a community that has always embraced innovation but doesn’t always have the resources or know-how to create the products or services it wants for its users.

Now, some of you reading this might be thinking – huh?  Startup Weekend?  Libraries? What’s the connection?  Here’s five reasons why Startup Weekend: Library Edition makes sense for libraries – and the startup community.

#1  Libraries are digital

While most folks know libraries now offer more than books, not everyone appreciates the breadth of online services and content we deliver.  E-book circulation is sky-rocketing at most public libraries and virtual chat reference service is now mainstream at most college and university libraries.  And our users may never visit us in person – even corporate or government libraries, embedded within organizations, may never see their users in person.

Libraries are embracing this shift to digital – and we’ve been early adopters of all kinds of technology. But we don’t always have the resources or, in some cases, the expertise to translate or adapt existing services to this new online paradigm – or to build entirely new ones. Startups have design and development know-how we’d love to use to create new or improved online products and experiences for our users.  And Startup Weekend: Library Edition provides us with the perfect opportunity to address those problems – in just one weekend!

#2  Libraries are trying to solve hard problems

Libraries have a long history of trying to organize knowledge and make it accessible to our users – and in many ways we’ve been successful.  But the explosion of digital content has made search and discovery that much more challenging (yes, even with Google), while increasing the need for information literacy among our users.

Libraries are also engaged with issues like open access and open data, metadata standards, linked data, digital preservation and archiving, and improving workflow for research and scholarship, to name just a few.  Startup Weekend: Library Edition will provide non-library participants some nice, juicy problems to unpack and tackle over the weekend.

#3  Libraries already have a history with startups

Many entrepreneurs are already library patrons or users. Start-ups are typically hungry for information – about their market, their competitors, potential funders and customers, patents, and more.  Libraries can provide this kind of information – along with free wifi, long opening hours, and accessible locations across the city. Public libraries have a long history of working with entrepreneurs – Toronto Public Library, for example, has worked actively with this community for many years. And as startups have emerged on campus, academic libraries are also beginning to provide services and support for these entrepreneurs.

Startup Weekend: Library Edition just builds on those pre-existing relationships but makes them more visible and we hope, more meaningful. We’re hoping to see some long-term connections built between the startup and library communities through this event that results in ongoing dialogue and partnerships.

#4  Libraries need ‘startup thinking’

Startups have embraced lean startup methodologies and tools like the business model canvas, customer development, and minimum viable product.  These tools and frameworks emphasize rapid iteration and ongoing learning about one’s customers.  Libraries need to get ‘outside the building’ (to borrow Steve Blank’s expression) and start getting comfortable with new approaches to problem-solving that could result in better products getting to market faster and cheaper.  Startup Weekend: Library Edition provides some intense, experiential learning for libraries on how to think and act like a startup.

#5  Libraries matter (and you love us, don’t you)

Libraries contribute to the social good by providing free access to the information, tools and training that their communities need.  Libraries help their users find jobs, take charge of their health, and become engaged citizens.  Libraries preserve knowledge for posterity while extending their model to meet new needs – think of the tool and seed libraries that are coming on stream. Libraries make a difference and Startup Weekend: Library Edition provides an opportunity for the startup community to show their support (and yes, even love) for what we do.

Startup Weekend: Library Edition has just a few spots left and we anticipate a full-house on March 28.  We’ve assembled a great panel of judges and we’ve been lucky to land some amazing sponsors, including BiblioCommons, University of Toronto Libraries, University of Guelph Library and Mozilla Toronto, who are hosting the event in their downtown Toronto space.  For more information and for event updates, please see: http://toronto.startupweekend.org/.