How My Love for Libraries Turned into a Spiraling Obsession with Resource-Driven Work

There are two types of people in the world: those who work in the nonprofit industry and those who work in for-profit industries.

Just kidding. That is becoming less and less true every day (Actually, it never was. Though I love the way Gretchen Rubin groups people, human motives are not that simple.), and my journey from one side of the spectrum towards the other illustrates how.

Illustration by Grace Easton

Around the time small talk with adults became, "So what do you want to be when you grow up?," I decided I wanted to be a librarian. As a voracious reader who finished several books each week, I was buddy-buddy with the school librarians and knew which staff at the public library had the best recommendations for me.

There would be moments when I would pause, midway through an aisle with a stack of books and DVDs spilling out of my arms, to marvel at the idea of it all: resources. The resources available to me (and anyone else in the community) at the library was really something else. I could watch every movie in the Criterion Collection for free. If I put my mind to it, I could learn several languages. Attend workshops. Use research databases. Read an entire seven-piece series without spending a dime.

I became obsessed with the idea of resources: access to high quality tools, services, and safe community spaces where people can come together to better themselves. I might as well have gotten a tattoo on my bicep with a heart around it that read: resources. I was all about it, still am all about it.

This led me through a string of jobs in the nonprofit sector, ranging from libraries and schools, to a longstanding, traditional nonprofit, and eventually a startup nonprofit, where I am today. All of these jobs fulfilled my desire to work towards ensuring access to resources in one way or another, but about six months ago, I started to see a couple holes in my personal mission.

Resources require funding.

Sure, every institution has a budget. But have you seen some nonprofit budgets? They're tight. Nonprofit organizations often end up having to compete with other nonprofits in their community that are doing equally critical work to receive grants and sponsorship. Even then, a lot of time is spent just jumping through hoops to meet and and track requirements for a grant that might only cover three years of a project and end up detracting from the real social change the nonprofit is working towards. Cue the concept of a non-profit industrial complex.

"Resources" is broad.

What do I mean when I say, "I'm all about resources"? Isn’t everyone? Many people's jobs involve working towards providing a resource or a service of some kind. In fact, most for-profit businesses start by entrepreneurs asking themselves:

How can we make people’s lives easier? How can we improve the human experience? Or better yet, how can we help people improve their own human experience?

Business is not so cut-and-dried anymore.

Think B-Corporations (this model really excites me!). Think business for social innovation and social change. Think triple bottom line.

Nonprofits have been partnering with businesses for a long time - this concept is not new. And don't get me wrong: partnerships can be strong and full of funding for social services. However, they are only as strong as the relationships that bind them. In place of cross-industry partnerships where for-profits help support nonprofits, a hybrid between the two is beginning to form. Businesses are cropping up today that embed their social mission into their legal structure. This holds the company accountable for socially-responsible business regardless of leadership or partner changes. Essentially that means:

social mission (nonprofit) + financial profit (for-profit) = long term sustainability = increased potential for larger social impact

So, there aren't just two types of people in the world. And there aren't just three, four, five types of people in the world, either. The ability to create resources at the intersection of nonprofits and for-profits really excites me. Like, more than discovering that my local library has all the books on my 2017 reading list excites me (shout out to Multnomah County). Though I'm not certain how I'll channel that excitement, I'm constantly exploring new ideas.

What about you? What is your take on this shift?

Do you believe nonprofits, for-profits, or hybrid businesses can be more effective in addressing social issues around resource? Any book recs?