I’ve made no secret of my love for libraries, and one of my favorite stories to follow here at 3DPrint.com is the ever-growing involvement of the American Library Association in creating public access to technology, particularly 3D printing. Over the last year, the ALA has released several publications intended to help librarians and library officials to learn about 3D printing and how to implement it in their own facilities. Topics covered have included advice on how to set up makerspaces, potential legal issues, and more. Now, in a newly released white paper, the ALA is focusing on the broader topic of entrepreneurship and how libraries can serve as resources for getting startups off the ground.
Just a few days ago, Shapeways and the New York Public Library announced that they would be partnering up to develop curriculum, free to the public, on 3D printing and entrepreneurship. Now, in a new publication entitled “The People’s Incubator: Libraries Propel Entrepreneurship,” Charlie Wapner, senior information policy analyst at ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP), discusses the myriad resources that libraries can provide to individuals and groups trying to start their own businesses.
“Libraries have always played a powerful role in connecting people with the resources and learning they need to be successful in all aspects of their lives,” said ALA President Sari Feldman. “In the digital age, libraries are transforming to maximize our collections, community connections and expertise alongside new technologies to promote entrepreneurship and business development. Because libraries are open to all, they bring economic opportunity for all.”
The report provides several examples of services libraries can offer to would-be entrepreneurs, including:
- Classes, networking opportunities and mentoring services
- Makerspaces and tools such as 3D printers
- Collaborations with organizations such as the US Small Business Association (SBA) and SCORE
- Access to specialized business databases
- Business plan competitions
- Advice and education on intellectual property
- STEM programs for young people
The report dedicates a few pages to 3D printing and how the presence of 3D printers in libraries have helped entrepreneurs to begin getting their ideas off the ground. According to the publication, more than 420 public libraries now offer 3D printing services (a year ago, the number was only at 250), and the paper gives a couple of examples of successful businesses that were started thanks to local libraries and their 3D printers.
“Recent uses of 3D printing services at the Westport Library (CT) illustrate the utility of the library as a space for product prototyping,” the white paper states. “A woman with no background in business or entrepreneurship used a 3D printer at Westport to prototype a square-shaped headband that imitates the look of wearing sunglasses atop your head. She has now received financial backing and has begun marketing her headband in a variety of colors.”
Also highlighted is Scott Rownin, another patron of the Westport Library, who used the library’s 3D printer to prototype a device that would attach to cell phones and prevent drivers from texting while driving. The device was eventually turned into an app called SafeRide.
While libraries play an important role for everyone, they’re especially vital for certain groups such as immigrants; the Los Angeles Public Library and the Austin Public Library, for example, both provide comprehensive resources to help immigrants through the process of attaining citizenship and subsequently beginning new business ventures. (According to a recent report by the Kauffman Foundation, 28.5 new businesses started in 2014 were begun by immigrants.) Libraries, the paper argues, are more crucial to the economy than ever before, and policy makers should take note of the services they provide.
“Economic opportunity is clearly a major concern for voters this year,” said Alan S. Inouye, director of the ALA OITP. “We urge the presidential campaigns and the national policy community to incorporate libraries into their strategies and plans for jumpstarting business development and job creation.”
A few months ago, the ALA held its first-ever National Policy Convening to discuss ways in which libraries and their services can remain on the national and political radar. The conference focused on the role of libraries in economic opportunity, entrepreneurship and workforce development, and, as the ALA’s new white paper illustrates, that role is much more significant than many people may realize. You can read the entire paper here. Discuss further in the Libraries Promoting Economics and 3D Printing forum over at 3DPB.com.