Besides being refuges for book lovers and places to surf the Internet and check out music and movies, libraries are increasingly becoming entrepreneurial hubs.
That's why the Urban Libraries Council, a Washington, D.C., based non-profit, has teamed up with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to link 12 public library systems across the United States and Canada. Public libraries such as the Kansas City Public Library and the Mid-Continent Public Library will collaborate on new ways to engage groups who have been underrepresented in entrepreneurship: people of color, women, immigrants and veterans.
"The library plays an important role in building business and our economy," said Susan Benton, ULC's president and CEO, in a news release. "This experience will shape current thinking about how libraries can support entrepreneurship and create new opportunities for disadvantaged community members."
Kansas City Public Library Executive Director Crosby Kemper says representatives of the libraries met in Kansas City, Missouri, a few weeks ago. The cohort, he says, will provide a way to bring libraries together to look at best practices, some that are universal and others that will be applicable to specific groups of people.
The new initiative, he says, recognizes and builds on something that's been happening in libraries across the country.
"We've been fairly entrepreneurial," Kemper says of libraries in the Kansas City area. "We're in advance of a wave of things that have gone on in the library world of help for small businesses. Now we're part of a wave in the library world for small businesses, entrepreneurs and for people looking for jobs."
Mid-Continent plans to focus on its Food Ed program, which concentrates on the first steps of starting a food business. The Kansas City Public Library's proposal, Kemper says, will provide small business and entrepreneurship programs for refugees and immigrants.
"We're getting information about how to start businesses, about how to be entrepreneurial to groups of people who never thought of themselves as having the right to be entrepreneurs, the right to start a business," Kemper says. "In other words, people who are excluded, in various ways, from our economy."
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.