On a + note

How to think like an entrepreneur. #11: 2012

Posted in on a + note by Admin on April 23, 2012

We talk a lot in library land about being more entrepreneurial, making the business case, developing alternate revenue streams, and being more productive. We talk about best practices and embracing innovation. But…what does all that jargon really mean?

To be entrepreneurial, as a library leader, you need to be:

  • Be fleet and flexible. You must be able to make decisions quickly and be ready to move at a moment’s notice. The entrepreneur does not have the luxury of studying an idea for six months before testing it. This is tough for library land; we are inherently cautious.
  • Be comfortable with change. I mean really comfortable. Entrepreneurs believe that everything (except death and taxes) can and will change.
  • Create an environment where employees can explore ideas and fail without repercussions. Employees will not take the risk and look for new and innovative ways to do things if they fear criticism or being reprimanded.


Question: How many attempts did it take Thomas Edison to invent the first commercial incandescent light bulb?

Answer: More than 100 attempts. He ran into “no” at least 99 times before he found “YES.” Luckily, he was his own boss!

To be entrepreneurial, invest a third of your time in the planning phase, a third in testing and execution, and a third in evaluation and fine tuning. Often, in library land, we spend so much time in the planning stage that we are exhausted by the time we get to the action phase!

So, how do we actually become entrepreneurial?  Here is an example. Look at your libraries raw membership data. Are the unserved in your community the

►25-35 years old, employed, single people who left the library in their teens and have yet to return?

►newly retired and have never used the library?

►text savvy teens who think the library is for babies and nerds?

When you have analysed the data, create a new service that reaches out to your target audience, uses their preferred communication channels, and draws them into the library.

What would bring them into the library? Have this discussion with as many “non library folks” as possible and your library’s few users in the underserved demographic. They likely know (better than anyone) why their friends don’t use the library and what would attract them!  

Then, have a discussion with staff, and decide on a small test of the best idea that would serve the target group. Can this idea/service generate revenue? This is something with which we are less comfortable, but with growing pressure to develop alternate revenue streams, it is something we have to embrace. Set challenging performance goals (several inches farther than you think you can reach) and a tight timetable to test the idea. And then, get going. It is truly that simple.

Being entrepreneurial is all about being fleet and flexible, getting comfortable with change, and encouraging staff to explore and think outside the box. It is about having the courage to embrace a whole lot of “no’s” for the occasional light bulb “YES!”  

Have a great week!


Kitty Pope                                                                                                    #11 April/2012



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