“One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out” — Jeff Bezos
So how to you go about inventing your way out of a tight box? It requires curiosity and creativity. Libraries themselves have been in a tight box lately. For centuries, they have functioned mostly as repositories of information. Rightly or wrongly, society seems to be coming to the conclusion that it does not need repositories any more. For the past several decades, libraries have been reinventing themselves into idea factories.
Why did society start building large collections of books for public use in the first place? To make them available to a wide public that otherwise could not afford to get them. Even a small library’s collection contains more than even the richest of citizens could buy. The same principle guides newer library services today.
Many libraries, both academic and public, offer media labs. Even smaller libraries can set aside one fully loaded workstation where patrons can find advanced software and the peripherals necessary to use them. The Barrington Area Library, for example, has
- One MacPro computer with dual monitors
- A tablet computer
- Professional grade microphones
- A music keyboard
- A fast-track audio interface
- Stereo multi-media speakers
- A film and negative scanner
- A card reader
- An external hard drive (available for checkout)
- A digital camera (available for checkout)
- A high definition camcorder (available for checkout)
- Tripods (available for checkout)
- Plenty of software
With this equipment, elementary and high school students can complete class projects. In the process, they can discover and develop their talents in other ways. Small businesses can use it to make brochures, videos, and other marketing materials. And how could any one post enumerate all of the creative projects various adult users might take on.
For example, if someone wanted to compile a family history, they can use the media lab to record and preserve oral histories. They can scan family pictures, home movies, etc. going back several generations.
The library media lab not only makes it unnecessary for individuals to purchase so much equipment and software. It greatly shortens the learning curve for learning to use it. Library staff trained on all the lab’s resources work with patrons on their projects.
Media labs in larger libraries may or may not offer a greater variety of hardware and software than the Barrington library. They will surely have two or more workstations to accommodate their larger patron base.
Small business incubators
Starting a new business is a complicated process. It requires first an idea, then funding, and then a workable plan to turn the idea into reality. All of these things further require finding and collaborating with the right partners. Business incubators have long existed to speed the process along. They help entrepreneurs refine their ideas to make them workable and then introduce them to suitable partners.
Now that so many new businesses deal in information and need a strong online presence, libraries as small business incubators just makes sense. After all, libraries have always been in the idea business. Quite apart from a media lab, the library has the information that entrepreneurs need to stimulate their creativity, refine their ideas and learn basic business skills. What’s more, larger libraries probably have expert business librarians.
According to an April 2011 article, the James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul, Minnesota, is planning to start a business incubator. The library’s web site has not yet announced its opening.
Media labs, business incubators, hackerspaces, and other fairly new library innovations may not be widespread yet. But if your local library offers nothing of the kind, it does have information sources, reference librarians, and a wide variety of programming to nourish your creativity.
Do you need to reinvent your way out of a tight box? Check its schedule for classes, workshops, lectures, discussions, and other opportunities to learn new ideas and meet like-minded people. Get in on some of this creative activity for yourself.