Libraries have long played a role in nurturing entrepreneurship, especially among disadvantaged citizens who rely on free access to computers and other resources. They’re the original co-working spaces and, in light of projections that half the US workforce will be independent contractors by 2020, it’s a role libraries across the continent are embracing.
“If half the population are going to be freelancers,” says Jennifer Blenkle, director of strategic initiatives at the Urban Libraries Council, “libraries need to think of themselves as the places where people can develop their own economic security.”
To that end, the Washington-based advocacy group recently announced an initiative to assist library systems across the US and Canada to build their capacity as entrepreneurial hubs, removing barriers to business for people of colour, women, immigrants, refugees, veterans and ex-convicts. “You need to think about helping everyone in your community succeed, not just those with the means, resources or networks to do so,” says Blenkle. For the Austin Public Library, that means workshops led by local businesspeople. At the Toronto Public Library, an entrepreneur-in-residence will coach and consult with aspiring business owners.
“Libraries are evolving as 21st-century learning centres,” says Blenkle. “They’re no longer just about books. They’re about providing support for entrepreneurs and teaching people how to use these digital tools that are part of our lives.”
In 2012, Jiang Min-yu returned to Taipei after more than a decade in Tokyo looking to start a retail venture. Her desire to be close to a friend’s café led her to Chi Feng Street, then dominated by mechanics’ workshops. Now she runs 6 shops there, including a liquor store, a gallery and a restaurant, under the Xiao Qi group name. “Starting small allowed me to run at my own pace,” she says. Since then more have followed, including Eslite, Taiwan’s main bookshop chain. Jiang now hopes to expand beyond Taipei.
When charged with creating a simple, effective tool to help India’s motorcyclists navigate chaotic streets, London-based Map Project Office took a dive into Indian biking culture. “We ended up at biker meet-ups, bars and rallies, trying to get our heads around what they need to get from A to B,” says Map’s Alex Hulme. The product that emerged was a slim, square device that can be mounted on handlebars and operated with gloves. BeeLine’s rubberised body and recessed screen (legible in the strong Indian sunlight) are robust enough to withstand the bumpiest of roads.
Brianna Wettlaufer is CEO and co-founder of Stocksy United, an online co-op that specialises in high-end stock photography. The idea is to “shift the power by letting artists be co-owners and shareholders and have their voices represented in day-to-day business,” says Wettlaufer. “When we launched five years ago authentic stock photos were missing so we stood out quickly,” she says. The company made $10m (€8.6m) last year – of which more than $6m (€5.1m) went to its artists.
Q. What would you spend $5,000 on?
Answer: “I would host an event, preferably one where everyone comes in costume to break down barriers. It would be an opportunity to brainstorm ideas to guide the business.”
Here are the top five nations, according to the OECD’s Work-Life Balance index. Scores (10 being the highest) are based on indicators including working hours and average leisure time. In the top-ranking country less than 0.5 per cent of employees work very long hours, compared with 34 per cent (in Turkey) at the other end of the spectrum.