Why Libraries Should Be the Next Great Start-Up Incubators
Co-working spaces are often treated today as a novelty, as a thoroughly modern solution to the changing needs of a workforce now more loyal to their laptops than any long-term employers. But the idea is actually as old as the public library.
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.”
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. Public libraries long ago democratized access to knowledge; now they could do the same in a start-up economy.
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On-demand status should be a badge of honor if prophets like Mr. Epstein are to be believed, promoting to book buyers wishing to be in the technological vanguard — or what it used to be before e-books. And if buyers like the results of what he calls the espresso machine, good for him, and them. Yet when I wrote about the 50th anniversary of the Xerox 914 last year, it took much detective work to determine that the classic book on the technology was available only in an on-demand version. I never saw it, so I can’t judge the results. But it seemed odd that at least one chain bookstore employee, whom I asked about a special order (the book was listed on their database as new) told me she could be fired if she revealed whether or not the title was on-demand. That’s pride?