New High-Tech Libraries Are Helping Entrepreneurs Succeed

New High-Tech Libraries Are Helping Entrepreneurs Succeed

There’s a library in Omaha, Nebraska,  that may just be an entrepreneur’s dream workspace. It’s not filled with books, but instead offers cutting-edge technology, including 3-D printing and computer workstations loaded with Adobe Creative Suite so business owners can design marketing materials and more.

“Do Space is a first-of-its-kind technology library,” says Executive Director Rebecca Stavick. “It provides the community with free access to the latest software, devices and ultra-fast internet. It’s an interesting example of the evolution of libraries to help individuals improve their lives.“

Entrepreneurs using Do Space have gone on to launch creative businesses, online and off. One used the laser cutter to create fashion designs for Omaha Fashion Week, while two others used it to create custom engraved products now sold through their Etsy shop.

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Creating Entrepreneurs

A visit to the library turned Oliver Calderon into an entrepreneur. His library, the North Richland Hills Library, hosts The Maker Spot, which offers over 25 pieces of equipment including 3-D printers; sewing, quilting and embroidery machines; a portable grand piano; a drill press, soldering station and a scroll saw.

Curious about 3-D printing, Calderon decided to take a class and discovered it was not as difficult to use as he thought it would be. He printed some cookie cutters for his daughter. He describes how that initial foray into 3-D printing led him to his current entrepreneurial endeavors:

“After a few sessions of printing things that weren’t really important, I printed a replacement part for one of my hobby toys. That led me to becoming more confident with Raspberry Pi’s which in turn inspired me to build an arcade. The arcade taught me a few things, and I decided to build other electronic items such as an app controlled garage door monitor and opener. Then I needed to learn how to solder for other projects. I learned this at The Maker Spot as well. I never thought that these new skills I learned at The Maker Spot would be anything more than a hobby, but I was able to turn it into a small business. I now sell 3-D printed and computer controlled devices online.”

The North Richland Hills Library is committed to helping spur entrepreneurship in its community. It hosts a satellite office for the Small Business Development Center and SCORE, available to anyone who wants free business counseling and mentoring. “We have also partnered with the SBDC and our local community college to host two monthly ‘Starting a Business’ classes in our facility,” says Christine Deaver, digital marketing and services coordinator. “We have hosted over two dozen of these classes and trained over 300 people on the process for starting their own businesses.”

A Space to Create

The Johnson County Library Black & Veatch MakerSpace in Overland Park Kansas has helped a growing number of entrepreneurs, non-profit organizations, and small businesses who have used its makerspace to create product prototypes, ranging from laser cut puzzle kits for kids, 3-D printed enclosures for embedded electronics used in agriculture, to recording and editing media for self-published audio books.

I think in general libraries ae going back to more of what they were in the time of the Library of Alexandria,” says Sarah Boisvert, founder of Fab Lab Hub, a part of the international Fab Lab Network that originated at the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT. “There weren’t just books in the libraries – there was a lot more going on.” She’s referring to the Ancient (or Royal) Library of Alexandria in Egypt which not only housed books (mainly as scrolls) but also had meeting spaces, gardens and lecture halls that attracted many of the famous thinkers of its time.

“More and more libraries are taking the role of not just being about books but offering opportunity to the community,” she says. “In the Fab Lab world we’re seeing more makerspaces going into libraries because of the stability libraries bring.” She believes rural areas in particular benefit from this model.

In New Mexico, Creative Startups is spearheading “Libraries as Launchpads,” a four week program for entrepreneurs who are starting or are in the early stages of growing a creative business. One of the programs goals is togenerate future-facing jobs for New Mexicans by supporting startups in the creative industries across the state.” Fab Lab Hub is working with the participating libraries to help budding entrepreneurs rapid prototype their product ideas. As Boisvert says, “when designers can hold their ideas in their hands, the real magic happens!”

If “makerspaces” and high-tech equipment become standard issue in libraries, it’s entirely possible they could spur a whole new wave of entrepreneurial activity. Calderon gets most excited when he sees kids using The Maker Space. “They get excited about learning to program ‘toys’. These aren’t just toys,” he says. “These are building blocks to programming bigger and better things.”

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