Library Leadership

26. Assisting Entrepreneurs: Libraries as Launchpads with Eli Guinnee

National Entrepreneurship Week is February, 16-23, 2019. In this special episode of Library Leadership Podcast we explore ideas on how your library can support the local economy by assisting entrepreneurs.

The New Mexico State Library is leading the way in assisting entrepreneurs. They received a grant for $50,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)in implementing a creative economy initiative called, “Libraries as Launchpads.”

Want to find out how you can develop services and resources that create entrepreneurial success for individuals and your local economy? Tune in as Eli Guinnee, the State Librarian of New Mexico, shares the importance of libraries being involved in supporting start-ups and creative business ideas.

Transcript

This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University, where library leaders are created, with program sites in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Emporia and Overland Park, Kansas; and by the Park City Library—making film and podcasting possible with green screen, and sound recording resources.

Adriane:

The New Mexico State Library is leading the way in assisting entrepreneurs. They received a grant for $50,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in implementing a creative economy initiative called Libraries as Launchpads.

Want to find out how you can develop services and resources that create entrepreneurial success for individuals and your local economy? Tune in as Eli Guinnee, the State Librarian of New Mexico, shares the importance of libraries being involved in supporting startups and creative business ideas. You’ll be helping people support their small business dreams in no time. Enjoy the show!

We’re here today talking about leading the way in assisting entrepreneurs with Eli Guinnee. Welcome to the show, Eli.

Eli Guinnee:

Thanks for having me, Adriane.

Adriane:

Question #1: It’s great, and I want to jump right in on questions because this is an interesting topic. Libraries are continuously showing leadership and innovations to best serve communities. These days with many people working creatively and developing new ways to do business, libraries are well suited to be leaders in providing services to entrepreneurs. So, just to give us an idea, why is this important, and how are we situated to help? 01:31 

Eli Guinnee:

So, the most important and impactful thing a library can do, in my opinion, to support entrepreneurs in the community, is to know the assets of that community, and to think of their role as being an active partner and facilitator. The best leaders aren’t necessarily experts that have all the answers.

So if you’re looking to do work with entrepreneurship, your role is probably not to say, Follow me, I’m a business genius. I know everything. Your role is more likely to be the person who talks to everyone in the community—learns what expertise exists in the various agencies, and the people who live there. And, to connect the dots between the need and the resource.

We are situated to help as libraries, because we’re probably the only institution in the community that’s going to be inclusive and welcoming in providing support without trying to sell you something, or have a specific expectation of you.

So when it comes to economic development, there’s always an opportunity gap that will make it easier for some people in your community to access resources in order to improve their lives, than others. So understanding things like wealth and equality, implicit bias, true inclusivity, are extremely important for the librarian—without what we sometimes call radical inclusivity, which is essentially just being willing to go to the margins of the community and talk to people without expectation or requirement of certain behaviors from them. If we’re not willing to do that then we’re just reinforcing systems of privilege and bias. So, that’s where I feel our specific role is.

Adriane:

Question #2: What are you seeing in your state that led to your work in this area, which may relate to what other librarians are seeing in their areas? 03:36 

Eli Guinnee:

Well, I’ve been talking to libraries across the state. And, what I’m hearing is that even before they’ve heard of this program, which is a program we call Libraries as Launchpads, supporting entrepreneurship, and small businesses has been a hot topic that was already on their mind.

But it’s one that they didn’t know what their role in it, specifically, might be. A commonality that I’m seeing and hearing, especially in rural areas, is this desire to keep talented young people in town. They want to help people find a way of staying in town, or coming back to town after going to college, and raising their family there. They are, as one librarian said to me, Tired of seeing everyone move to Austin.

But that really requires economic opportunity, strong social fabric, and a high quality of life. And, I think a lot of librarians will recognize that desire to keep talented people in town. We also have remote areas where we’re seeing increasing numbers of people who maybe don’t own their business, or maybe they own a small business, but they work from home. And, much of what we want to do with Libraries as Launchpads will also apply to those people. Especially when it comes to having a support network and regular opportunities to meet and socialize formally, and informally, with other people in the community.

Adriane:

Question #3: Not long ago you received a grant for $50,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for this program called, Libraries Lead: A Creative Economy Initiative—which will advance a multi-partner initiative called Libraries as Launchpads. It’s an amazing shot in the arm of funds to support this important work. How does that come about? 05:21 

Eli Guinnee:

Yeah, that’s right. A couple years ago in New Mexico we did a statewide Maker Initiative. It was called Makerstates. It was very successful. It demonstrated that we have a large number of creative people with great ideas, but they lack the tools to pursue entrepreneurship, or control their own economic destiny, so to speak. So, last year we did a small pilot with just a handful of libraries, and we gave them access to the expertise and curriculum of a nonprofit group called Creative Startups. They are our primary partner in this adventure.

We found that the program was effective in sparking a community-wide effort to catalyze creative entrepreneurship—that it helped reach, educate, and accelerate innovative ideas. So, the program really delivered high quality entrepreneurship workshops by experts in the field.

Libraries as Launchpads is aimed at budding creative entrepreneurs and small businesses that are ready to go to the next level. The feedback that we got from that first pilot project made it very clear to us that the libraries felt that it changed the perception of the library, so they were seen as an economic hub. They said that in the future, they wanted to be much more closely involved in the development and the training behind the program, so that they could get more out of it themselves. So that in the future, when people come in, whether it be creative entrepreneurs, or any entrepreneurs, they’d be more prepared to help.

So having proved the concept, what the IMLS grant is doing is that it’s helping us to work on what I would call the capacity building piece—the long-term piece. So, Libraries as Launchpads is a discrete program, but we want to make sure that the libraries will be well positioned at the end of the program to continue doing the work.

So to that end, the IMLS grant is allowing us to work with an experienced business librarian, named Joan DeVore. She’s going to help us develop an entrepreneurial reference interview, and an online platform for libraries, which will essentially be what we call a pre-accelerator curriculum, adapted for library use.

We also, I should let you know, have a small business administration grant which is helping us to expand the program to even more libraries across the state. We’re even starting to talk to other states, as well, to expand beyond our state borders. So, the IMLS grant has been huge for us.

Adriane:

Question #4: Definitely. So, can you share some of the details of the program? For example, if I’m a small business, or an entrepreneur, and I come into this—what am I going to see, and what am I going to experience? 08:29 

Eli Guinnee:

Right, so it’s a four-week, intensive course. It’s a cohort model. So, you’ve got a group of other like-minded people you’re working with. We define creative entrepreneurship very broadly, so there’s been a really great range of people being involved. My favorite from the pilot project was an individual who was designing clothes and accessories for pets, for example.

In this next round we’ll have about sixty participants at libraries—at nine libraries, mostly in the southern part of the state. So there’s an application process, which is open right now for those nine libraries—for those nine communities, to identify participants who have the potential and commitment to benefit from the program. 

Each of the cohorts has a local educator assigned to it. The educator goes through training and then acts as a facilitator and a mentor. So, as a participant you’re never alone, you’ve always got a support system there.

That educator piece is really one of the coolest parts of the program. The educators receive training and support from the Creative Startups faculty, so that they can facilitate the program in their regional libraries. The local educator completes a four-week online course themselves. Then, they attend in-person workshops with other educators in the region. The educators themselves become a network. They meet by phone as well. They then work closely with the Creative Starts faculty throughout the training. So, as a participant you’re doing some of the training on-line, but then you also meet regularly in person. 

Twice weekly there are one and a half hour in-person meetings in which you discuss what you’ve learned online—so it’s kind of a flipped classroom model with your other cohort members. There are two hands-on workshops, the last of which is an opportunity for the students to actually pitch their business plans. So, at the end of the program you actually have a business plan that you pitch. Creative Startups experts are there on hand to see the business plan and help them decide whether it’s something that’s ready for the big time, or not. So, at the end of the program the participant has a good idea of whether their idea has potential, whether it needs more work, or more research, or if maybe they should not waste their time or money on it—maybe it’s just too risky.

Then as I mentioned, there’s the capacity building piece where we’re developing an on-line platform—the entrepreneurial reference interview. We’re also developing some collection development recommendations that we’ll be able to share out as well. So that’s in a nutshell, what the program is.

Adriane:

Question #5: It sounds fantastic, and really supportive of the individuals who come into it. And it’s supportive of communities, as well with their economies, benefitting from some of these businesses. I mean—I’ll order some doggie clothes for my cute little pets, why not? [laughter] It sounds great. So what would you suggest for other libraries wanting to implement similar initiatives? 12:05 

Eli Guinnee:

If you’re interested, definitely shoot me an email. I’m pretty easy to find, and I’m happy to help out, or be a sounding board, or tell you more about the program. I can’t stress enough that the most impactful thing you can do is to get to know the resources available in your community, so that’s always the first step. 

Just looking around at your community, seeing if there’s other development agencies there already talking to community members. There’s nothing particularly complicated about doing that, and once you start doing that sort of community engagement work it’s really quite fun. The trick is that you just actually have to do it. You actually have to leave the walls of your library and go out and talk to people.

To start with, you can do things like attending economic development meetings, if those happen in your community. You can talk to your municipality about their development plans and see if you can fit in with that in some way. This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all thing, every community is unique. So, just say, Hey, I would like to be better prepared to help small businesses succeed in our community. I’m trying to figure out what resources are available to my patrons. Pretty simple. That’s the first step, really. The other side of that coin, of course, is to have a dialog with your community. So, there’s a whole downloadable program on ALA’s Libraries Transform Communities webpage. You can follow a process by which you get to know your community better.

The key is that you have to get comfortable asking your communities what their needs and aspirations are, and not necessarily what the library can do, because you know what the library can do better than they do. But, what are their needs and aspirations for their community? Once you’ve got a handle on what your community’s needs and aspirations are, and you’ve really understood the assets in your community—then you’re in a good position to use something like our entrepreneurial reference interview to connect people to the resources that they need.

So, again, feel free to reach out to me if you want to. I’m more than happy to discuss what your role—and what your first steps might be. And, as we develop our tools for libraries here in New Mexico to better help entrepreneurs, we certainly plan to make them freely available to other libraries. So, definitely stay tuned.

Adriane:

Perfect. And, can you share your email address? 

Eli Guinnee:

Yes. It’s eli.guinnee@state.nm.us.

Adriane:

Question #6: Thank you, that is so helpful. So, I’m just curious, what have you seen as this has gone one in the way of entrepreneurial success in your programs? What’s coming out of it? 14:58 

Eli Guinnee:

So, it’s important to point out that the curriculum is a pre-accelerator, which is to say that its first goal is to help people determine whether their idea is ready for action—whether it needs further development, or whether they should not waste their time and money on it. As libraries, like I said, we’re a trusted place that isn’t necessarily trying to profit from anyone. So, part of our role in the program is to tell people, Yes, that was a great idea. And, yes, it’s okay not to pursue it anymore. You don’t necessarily need to invest an extra $10,000 on that idea, or whatever.

This is definitely early days for running the program at libraries. So if you ask me again in a year, I’ll have a much better answer. It’s only a four-week course, so we don’t necessarily see success stories at the end of it.

Creative Startups, the nonprofit that is our major partner in this—they’ve been doing this sort of program for a long time. One of the biggest successes they’ve had is Meow Wolf, which is an interactive art experience here in Santa Fe. If you haven’t heard of Meow Wolf yet you’ll hear about it soon, because they’ve been hugely successful, and they’ve been rapidly expanding across the county.

I’ve been impressed by the variety of creative entrepreneurs that we’ve seen enter the program. You would just never know how many inventive, creative, innovative things that people in the community are thinking up every day. So, if you do a program like this expect to be surprised at how much creativity is in your community. It’s a really cool thing.

Adriane:

Question #7: It sounds like a great way to get those ideas out there. And, I’ll definitely look at Meow Wolf. Thank you for sharing that. So, as you’ve gone on, and I’m sure you did a lot of work on prepping for this program, did you come across any favorite books or resources you’d like to share about this, or about leadership? 17:00 

Eli Guinnee:

So in terms of business books—a book that I really like is The Regenerative Business by Carol Sanford, which is an accessible introduction to the principles of regeneration. The most important part of regenerative thinking is understanding the whole system’s approach, and reading the book will forever make the decisions that you make more impactful on social well-being in your community.

If you’re interested in regenerative business principles as well, I would recommend that you go to https://regenesisgroup.com/. They’ve got a lot of resources on there that help organizations—including libraries, find their place in their community, and help them figure out how to partner with other agencies, and other stakeholders in the community to make the community the best that it can.

I always recommend three books to library leaders that I think are important for understanding the context in which we do our work. Those include, The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, which I think should be required reading for everyone, but especially for those of us in a profession that plays, what I would say, is a very key role in democracy.

Also, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Picketty. In case you’re under any illusion that capitalism is working well for everyone, the book helps to give us the context for why capitalism and democracy doesn’t always work well for everyone, and why we as librarians have work to do. 

And then the last would be, No Shortcuts by Jane McAlevey, which is a good introduction to the differences between advocacy work, the type of advocacy that we do commonly in librarianship, and true community organizing. I think it points the way forward to our profession to have more influence and more impact. We put a lot of effort in our field to advocacy without talking about, or understanding the limitations of it. So, I think it’s time as libraries want to have more of a positive impact on their communities, that we start to understand the deeper thinking on the issue—on issues that would be beneficial at all levels, and how we can make a true impact on our communities.  For library leaders, I think those books are a good start.

Adriane:

Question #8: Excellent resources, thank you. Anything else you would like to share? 19:58 

Eli Guinnee:

Well, I guess since this is a leadership podcast, I hope that you’ve got a—and it is an excellent podcast, by the way. I enjoy listening to it, and you do a great job with it.

Adriane:

Thank you.

Eli Guinnee:

There are a lot of future leaders that are listening to it. There’s a lot to learn from it. I want to encourage future leaders not to be afraid to question the way some of us older leaders have done things. Our field has a long way to go in a lot of areas, and there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening. So, it’s important that we both celebrate our successes and we be excited about the new ways that we’re getting involved in our communities, with things like supporting entrepreneurship. But, we should also hold ourselves accountable and question whether doing the things we’ve always done—the way we’ve always done them in the past has gotten us as far as we need to go. 

Things like—most of our professional research is behind paywalls. Those of us, especially in the public library world, can’t afford it. That’s a big problem that we need to tackle. Diversity in our profession is nowhere near the diversity of the communities we serve. That’s a real shame with real life negative consequences every day. So while we have a lot of exciting stuff going on, I think we also have a lot of work to do. But, it’s work that is meaningful and I think we can get it done.

Adriane:

Question #9: There’s definitely room for growth, and a lot of people with amazing ideas and leadership out there, so that’s why we do this show. It’s really an exciting time with all the change, we need leadership skills more than ever. So, thank you for that. In closing, what does it mean to you personally, being a librarian? 21:48  

Eli Guinnee:

So for me, being a librarian is mostly about democracy. We have this crazy democracy thing. It only works well if everyone has intellectual freedom, and equitable access to information, opportunity, and truly inclusive democratic arenas for sharing ideas. The most meaningful thing that we do as librarians is to empower people—to help develop their agency so that they can more fully participate in democracy. For democracy and capitalism to work it has to work for everyone. And, everyone has to be able to play a meaningful role. When more people can play a more meaningful role in their democracy, we are all stronger for it. And, I think that is what libraries are here to do, and what we’re doing every day. So, for me that’s really the key.

Adriane:

Well said. Eli Guinnee, thank you so much for being on Library Leadership Podcast today. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Eli Guinnee:

Thank you so much, I’ve really enjoyed it.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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