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Startup Libraries *Updated*

The 'Startup Libraries' provide workplaces, supportive tools and information, and a social environment for startups that are in need of such infrastructure, by leveraging the existing network and facilities of public libraries.

Photo of Bram Geenen
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In 2011 I started working on an idea for a web application with two friends. Since we didn’t have an office, we decided to work in the local public library, which provide a workplace and internet.
For our first months, the library provided our basic needs, and it really helped in getting our startup off the ground. However we continuously felt the place could have been an even better environment for starting a web-business.
Here is from our own experience, what startups need;

Startups need:
1) location: A place to work, that is quiet and ergonomic, It also helps if it’s a nice and inspiring environment
-Good working desks, decent chairs
-Fast internet

2) knowledge. Startups have a big need for knowledge. I have met few entrepreneurs that are experts in all fields that concern a startup. Lots can of course be found online, but some good books and specialized magazines still turn out to be helpful. Then there is also all sorts of information from local governments and instances, such as organizations like chamber of commerce.

-There could be several racks of books that are of special interest for startup entrepreneurs. For example books on business, design or software.
-Events with speakers on startup topics could be organized.

3) social environment.
Then there is the social aspect. Though we all know the story of the lone genius in his dorm room or garage, in real life most startups thrive in an environment where they meet like-minded souls, and also run into surprising new faces. and the network effect can definitely help startups:
Startups can learn from each other and support each other in the process. The feeling of being part of a community also really helps to motivate.

Creating such places in our cities from scratch would be very expensive. However there is a great infrastructure of places designed to learn and grow; Public libraries.

This initiative also benefits the libraries, which suffer from declining visitor numbers and relevancy. Through this concept libraries can once again become important places in our societies. T he library gets a whole new image, making it an exciting and vibrant environment for people to go. A place where you can work during the day and when leaving for home pick up a good book or magazine of interest!

Incentives for the libraries:
-Increasing visitor numbers, renting out more books.
-Reaching demographics that now do not visit libraries, and thus becoming once again relevant for the whole community.
-New sources of revenue: Rent out supplies such as projectors, sell coffee and tea, host events with speakers.
-There could even be concepts in which startups agree to pay back the library for their use in case the become successful.

How will your concept support web entrepreneurship?

It will provide accessible breeding grounds for startups by providing their basic needs. It will also make becoming a startup more tangible and visible to others, thus inspiring them to start working on their own ideas

What kinds of resources will be needed to get this concept off the ground and scale it?

Funds that are now allocated to libraries could be increased with funding allocated to stimulating web startups to provide for the costs of furnishing the libraries into workable places for startups Libraries could sell coffee, rent out things like projectors, and provide courses and speakers amongst other things to find additional resources for revenue. The great thing is it need not be expensive. the places already exist. they have internet. the racks of books are there. Allocate some space to working desks, move over the racks with design and business books, place a coffee machine, and make sure you do some branding and marketing to attract the startups. Can be pretty low costs.

How could we get started?

-Start trials in some existing libraries. improve the concept based on feedback from both startups as visitors. then expand the concept to more and more libraries. You could easily start this in a lean way. -In cities where new libraries are being built or refurbished, this concept could be taken into the plans right from the start. It would be useful to create a extensive 'roadmap' that local libraries can use to get help when implementing this concept.

Evaluation results

14 evaluations so far

1. How well does this concept address a significant pain point felt by European web start-ups?

This is a major pain point for European start-ups - 42.9%

This is a "nice to have" but not a serious pain point - 57.1%

I really don't know - 0%

2. How novel do you think the concept is?

Never seen it before - very novel! - 0%

This is common in some places but not in many parts of Europe - 42.9%

This is not novel but a good iteration - 50%

There are already other solutions out there that address this problem - 7.1%

3. How easy is this concept to implement and maintain?

It could be implemented quickly and easily maintained - 42.9%

It could be implemented quickly but will require regular updates to ensure it is accurate and relevant - 14.3%

It is a big undertaking and would need a lot of support and cooperation from people and organisations to make it happen and to maintain it - 42.9%

4. What type of organisation is best placed to take this forward?

The European Commission should own this one - 0%

This belongs with member state governments (e.g., the UK, Belgium, etc) - 35.7%

This is best being owned by a private company - 0%

This feels like a non-profit - 50%

This is a start-up itself! - 14.3%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

It rocked my world! - 35.7%

I liked it but preferred others - 42.9%

It didn’t get me overly excited - 21.4%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bram Geenen

Does anyone have examples of this concept already happening in libraries? Share them!

Photo of Paul van Zoggel

The library in Amsterdam and Almere in Netherlands have many individual workplaces ( and meeting rooms, but not (yet) incubator style. Mainly I think because of the 'sound' thing, people want to read quietly still.

In theory, there have been many discussions and paper based projects on the future of the public library in NL, how to connect with generation Y and AO (Always Online).

In general, I think this is a very good concept, and libraries in Europe are starting to be open minded more and more.

Photo of Meena Kadri

New York Public Libraries seem to have some interesting workshops & competitions for start-ups:

Photo of Hicham null

I want to create a rural eco library in Morocco. Is there a ny chance for collaboration?

Photo of DeletedUser


As Paul van Zoggel mentioned, start-ups need a dynamic working place with lots of exchanges which might be difficult for public libraries to remain a quiet reading space. Additionally, not every public library is open-minded enough to accept this initiative and even they accept it, due to varied levels of budgets, it is hard to scale up to an EU level.
Actually with the support from the European Commission in terms of organisation and funding, we can open up a communal center including library, cafe, auditorium and information center in the heart of start-up hot spots. Our information center would give advice where to find the best co-work places for you and you don't need to worry whether there is still available places in the library. In terms of the library, members can donate and share books and a partnership with public libraries is still valuable to allow us embrace a greater sources of publications and database.
Lastly, just to include other initiatives, the web entrepreneur center would be able to provide spaces for hackathons and start-up evening in our cafe, hold a start-up week in our auditorium, publish our start-up annal from our library, give start-up guidance from our information center.

Photo of Bram Geenen

Hi Bingna, I think it is much more expensive to start new communal centers, hiring new people for that, setting up a new organization, then to simply start transforming one library at a time towards being a 'startup library'

Photo of Paul Reader

I like the concept and it would work to some extent here in Australia. I guess there are still places where libraries are traditional and used in traditional ways. In some places it may be a demographic thing. Population dynamics is an important consideration 'on the ground' compared to the global web market.

Photo of DeletedUser


Look up the Gates' Global Libraries Program, and see if you can launch this initiative in one of the countries of the program. The GL program provides free computers to libraries across the country and training for librarians, and brokers to have the country ensure Internet services at all its public libraries. Countries: US, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Botswana, Colombia, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc.

Photo of Louise Wilson

I'd work from a library if it looked like the one in the photo ;-). Lovely idea to use libraries that are currently struggling to survive.

Including talks and a rental service as you described would act as a good incentive for getting people to use the space but I wonder if potentially using every library would work or whether you'd need to target strategic areas? How far would people be willing to travel? Would people go to a library further away if more inspiring/successful entrepreneurs were using it?

I personally love working in the British Library in London because it's a wonderfully spacious, professional yet relaxed environment with a great cafe. I come away feeling like I've been working in an intellectually stimulating environment even though I haven't spoken to anyone else. My local library in Peckham, south east London is also a cool space yet it's less inspiring....

Photo of Bram Geenen

I would say that ultimately every library has the potential to stimulate entrepreneurship. Nevertheless as a start it would be better to roll out the plan in bigger, more central libraries or libraries located in an area where many young creatives live.

Photo of DeletedUser


I think this is a great and useful idea ;)
There is a local example that has just started in Willesden Green (London). They have open a nice co-working space where they organize also other activities like talks and seminars for entrepreneurs.

I would also consider the fact that 'Library Culture' is different in each European country. For instance, in the case of Spain you could open this idea to University Libraries as well. Many of them have open access to people; you cannot borrow books, but you can go and check what you need. I am sure that the universities would be open to have new users for a really small fee, so members would also have free access to Internet and other on-line resources.

I guess developing a regional/city plan to implement the project is important, taking into account different factors (some of them already mentioned): transports, services, resources, location, presence of other organizations, etc.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great example of this kind of thing in action, Esther! Scaling efforts like this across Europe & beyond could be a great challenge to embrace.

Photo of Rapudo Hawi

i value this as a concept for Kenyans especially poor to access knowledge and capacity enrichment

Photo of Bram Geenen

Yes, would be great if this concept could also be applied in countries like Kenya!

Photo of Rapudo Hawi

I wish you the best in the process and keep me on loop as i would be interested in success of this project.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great thoughts on leveraging existing space & resources.

Photo of DeletedUser


Reconsider what libraries are: 1) Information resource aggregation. Startups require information, yet often need more in-depth information. Libraries often have access to critical databases, which can be cost prohibitive for start ups to access, if they have any idea where to start to find this information. Economic Gardening economic development uses this strategy effectively. Libraries can serve this role-especially in smaller regions where economic development organizations don't have the capacity for such services.
2) Libraries are community gathering places- Place is very important for start ups. 21st century civic infrastructure needs to be built at the intersection of virtual and living networks. focuses on community gathering places. (Open Source Economic Development). Entrepreneurs require connection to community and a community requires knowledge of assets, and entrepreneurs are often a regions most hidden, underutilized assets.

Photo of Bram Geenen

Thanks for the comment!

Photo of DeletedUser


This is a great concept, using existing infrastructure and space resources, to promote technology growth.

I've been working out of an incubator and now co-work environment (1871 in Chicago) for the last year, and by far the most helpful resources (not mentioned above) are:

1. Access to seed capital - Bootstrap as much as you can, but eventually when you've built your minimum viable concept (MVP) and are ready to scale, a strong investor network is essential.

2. Legal resources - Especially for any first-timer, having the right documents, understanding what is actually IP, and registering your businesses can be very confusing. Open legal office hours would go a long way in your library concept.

3. Mentorship - Connect young web entrepreneurs with existing business leaders in the community. 30 minutes a month can go a long way.

The benefits to this idea are the existing infrastructure and ability to scale. Good luck moving forward.

Photo of Bram Geenen

Hi Kalan, I agree that access to capital is important to startups. I think the libraries are excellent places for startups that don't have funding yet. Once you have funding you can start renting a place, maybe hire people.
Maybe the hardest part of being a startup is developing your product and company to the point that you're able to receive funding. It is this early stage that the Startup Libraries are most suitable for. After such stage you could move into an incubator, or start renting a workplace.

I see the Startup Libraries as being part of a whole ecosystem that supports startup entrepreneurship, not as a one and all solution.

Your point about the legal resources is great, definitely something that could be included in the 'package of knowledge' that libraries could give startups.

Photo of DeletedUser


From Wells College (Leanna Dellinger, Hayley Otterness, Brittany White, Bryant Sanders, and Chris Galluzzo)

Our idea was to add a tablet where people could access online databases to resources as well as contact information to local business entrepreneurs and professionals.
We also thought these libraries could be on or near university campuses. That way the library would have students to use for feedback and students would be able to learn about web entrepreneurship too.

Photo of Bram Geenen

Hi, I totally agree that the libraries of universities are suitable places too! And indeed a place where entrepreneurs could get a lot of knowledge, and get in touch with students for knowledge, feedback, or maybe even to offer jobs.

Photo of Amy Bonsall

Great debate going on here guys! Bram, I love the simplicity of this idea - and the dual benefit - both to start-ups and to libraries / communities.

There are some great ideas below around trades start-ups could make. Keep going on that path - there is something to the idea that what we "pay" for we value more.

As another idea on that front, I wonder if there's something that start-ups could do in exchange, for instance host an open discussion hour on a regular basis with schoolchildren. Groups of students are always going on library tours (I was glad to hear my 10 year old niece just went on one - not an antiquated concept!). Wouldn't it be a fun way to expose them not just to books and reference materials but to what it is like to start a company?

Also, I wonder if there is a natural time limit - say start-ups are allowed a space for the first year, then they must "graduate" to something else.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Interesting concept which I think could be indeed revitalize some public libraries. If they do suffer from budget cuts, there might be a way to bring in some revenues by maybe asking start-ups to pay a small fee to have access to the facilities.
It reminded me of an inspiration in the my vibrant city challenge this summer about a library in Moscow offering quite new services focused on the youth:

Photo of DeletedUser


So many comments and only 21 applauses :-)

Photo of Bryann Alexandros

Great idea. Trialing the idea in select libraries is a good first step. Right off the top of my head, this could be feasible in my area.
I suppose you just have to think about the special variables affecting a particular location.

For example, there's a startup scene in my city, but it may be in its infancy still. Also, last time I sifted through online coworking portals, the verdict was that my city only had one coworking space in the downtown area. Libraries can be a good alternative extension.

We have a big "central" library, as well as smaller alternative ones scattered througout. But the central library is spacious and comfortable enough for this idea. Also, with state budget cuts, libraries were the first to feel it. Thus they've had cut hours and become more frugal with their resources.

Photo of Bram Geenen

You are right about the fact that libraries now suffer from budget cuts. However I do think that if done right, this concept could generate new streams of revenue for the libraries, as well as support the economics of the city itself by boosting startup-entrepreneurship.

I also agree that it would be helpful to determine a set of variables that alter the requirements for the startup space. This would help libraries to tailor the working environment to the local needs.

Photo of DeletedUser


Hi Bram,

Well there are currently many program how to Transfer old Brick and Mortal libraries into Innovation and Social Community Driven Places:

But main question is if we need for start-uppers linking Library as rigid institution with book catalogs and so on, or we can develop something more flexible just linking community driven physical places and books ?

I already start experiment with this concept of Linkraries and Linkrarians, see:

Photo of Tamar Lasky

These folks have something analogous going on in libraries:
It looks like info about funding, but could tie in nicely with start-ups.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Nice one. Here's the unbroken version of the link:

Photo of Tamar Lasky

Ooops! Thank you!

Photo of Bram Geenen

Yes, this is exactly what I meant in the concept when saying that the startup libraries are also a place where knowledge and information relevant to startups can be spread. In the library where I used to work there was a corner with flyers and folders from the European Union.. Thanks for the link!

Photo of Tamar Lasky

They also seem to have developed a network of participating libraries, as well as a community for that network - a great place to start sounding out your ideas, and perhaps, finding partners, collaborators, sites, etc., and learning from their experience.

Photo of Bev Chu

I agree that the institution of a library makes it a natural place for innovative start-ups to grow. I also think they're particularly well suited as community centers with programming and infrastructure that nurture curiosity starting with children -- I think getting kids inspired at an early stage is a key factor in growing a next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. May be an interesting way of re-branding libraries in a digital age. Good luck!

Photo of Bram Geenen

Hey, good comment! Could work inspire and teach children about entrepreneurship and digital technology.

Photo of DeletedUser


This idea has merit and it can be done now. It can be expanded later on with specific funding for larger dedicated zones within libraries.

Plan for getting startup areas in every library.
1. Contact the American Library Association ( or a similar institution that could promote startup areas within all libraries.
In addition, people could reach out to their local libraries and start a discussion on the topic of startup areas within their own library.
1. Each library could dedicate some shelf or display space for startup books and information and add signage. Areas could be placed next to tables or seating areas and if possible placed near computers and printers.
2. Monitor the check out history for materials in these dedicated startup areas to help with future planning.
4. On an ongoing basis librarians could speak with those using the dedicated startup areas to collect feedback and/or/both consider leaving a survey sheet and collection box in the area. Could also consider adding a survey to the library website as well.
3. Startup events could be held within the library. Libraries could encourage startup newbies and mentors to participate.
4. Startup areas could be marketed year round with a greater presence during the national entrepreneurship month in November (
5. Take this idea further and try to get support from the new Startup America program launched in January 2011 (

Those are just a few quick thoughts. Great idea!

Photo of Bram Geenen

Great comment. Like the point where you mention to monitor the check out history for materials in the startup area. It can help to get insight in the needs of the local startup scene. I think it's of great importance to know about needs of the community. And in the library there is much data about that within reach, that could help to tailor services the library offers.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Bram, as our culture becomes more digital, we do see an increasing need to diversify the role of libraries in the community. You've provided a great start. We wonder how your idea might accomodate the existing users of libraries. How can we still cater to the less digital needs of the community? We would also love to see some early prototyping of this idea!

Swing by our Web Start-up Challenge Refinement Phase Announcement: + the Lowdown on Refinement: for more tips!

Photo of Bram Geenen

Yes, I agree we must not forget the 'traditional' role of the library. I think there is a way that the concept of Startup Libraries can synergize the none digital functions of libraries, and at the same time assure that libraries will continue to play an important role as hubs of information within our society.

Photo of pjv

I'm doubting if we should combine this idea with this one: ? Or rather spread the good ideas over two concepts but keep the two themes separated: hackathons/UGs - libraries? What does OpenIDEO and the advisory panel think? It seems evident that the need stems from the same region (Belgium?) in both cases.

Photo of Paul van Zoggel

Can we imagine a growth model for public buildings?

2 hours : Micro Flash mob : Some people just meetup in public building and start working together (building public and we do not disturb others)

2 days : Hackathon

2 months/2 years : startup in libraries/public building.

If a public building likes the minimob of 2 hours, they can host a hackathon. If they have space in the building, concepts can flourish to startups.

Photo of Meena Kadri

As well as thinking about what the offering of this concept would entail, it would also be great for folks to think about how we might motivate / incentivse libraries to support it.

Photo of Tamar Lasky

I like the idea of using our libraries - they are everywhere, people use them, taxpayers support them, they serve the community, etc., etc.

Photo of Lisa Martinez

Community Support Models - Concept modeling and Systems Simulations should begin in a few weeks.

Pilot test complete around community start up models

STW-Lisa Martinez