Friday, September 20, 2019

Pamela Tulloch: Public libraries offer the perfect environment to build Scotland’s future businesses

Pamela Tulloch, chief executive at the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC)
Pamela Tulloch, chief executive at the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC)

The introduction of business coworking hubs into Scotland’s public libraries has been such a natural move it has made us wonder why we didn’t do it sooner.

Public libraries offer the perfect environment for entrepreneurs, start-ups and micro businesses.  They provide free information and resources, a growing portfolio of digital facilities, including free wifi and 3D printers, and an open, accessible environment for everyone.  

Many entrepreneurs and start-ups begin with a fantastic and innovative idea, with technical and professional knowledge and experience, but often with little knowledge or experience of how to start and run a business.  It can be lonely without colleagues and mentors around to share ideas and offer guidance, and time and money are the most important commodities to get a start-up off the ground.

We have designed the Scottish Coworking Network to address these challenges and provide an environment and support structure that allows entrepreneurs to focus on the opportunities.

Underused spaces in libraries have been refurbished to provide modern, well-equipped working areas, with desks, office and IT equipment and facilities and meeting rooms.  We have structured membership packages with flexibility and affordability in mind and, crucially, the membership packages also include access to business skills workshops and professional networking events, as well as an online forum where members can support one another by sharing ideas and their personal experiences.  

A range of employment and enterprise partners, including Business Gateway, Scottish Enterprise and the Federation of Small Businesses, are involved in providing the much-needed professional advice on how to turn an idea into a commercially viable business.

The response to the new hubs has been welcome and we’ve already received positive feedback from our new network of members who say it is exactly the type of resource they were looking for to grow their business. 

For many years, public libraries have been adapting and transforming what they offer in line with the needs of modern communities.  Perceptions of libraries as buildings stacked high with books and strict librarians maintaining the silence are outdated.

Nowadays, libraries are vibrant hives of activity and you’re likely to find film clubs and computer coding classes taking place alongside the more traditional reading and book clubs.  Lots of libraries host health and wellbeing support groups, as well as dancing and live music gigs in some areas! The business hubs are yet another addition to the wide range of services available in public libraries.

While the Scottish Coworking Hub is the first national network of its kind, there are local examples that reflect a growing trend for libraries to support entrepreneurs.  

Edinburgh’s libraries set-up a business hub in 2010 to drive economic resilience through small businesses.  Glasgow Libraries have partnered with the National Library of Scotland and the British Library to provide a Business and Intellectual Property Centre.  More recently, Aberdeenshire Council and Robert Gordon University are working together to create business centres in libraries to support rural entrepreneurship.  

A recent report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Women and Enterprise recommended that libraries should be used more widely to house business hubs.  We already have plans in place to replicate what we have built so far. The impact of the Scottish Coworking Network hubs will be evaluated and the feedback will be used to develop a roadmap to roll-out the concept across Scotland.

It is this innovation, adaptability and resilience that will ensure public libraries remain at the heart of our communities for many years to come and they will continue to play a significant role in the social, cultural and economic growth of Scotland.

Pamela Tulloch is chief executive at the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC)

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