The Startup Mindset…for Libraries?

Most people think of libraries as very traditionally managed, dare I say old-fashioned organizations. While some libraries may struggle to stay relevent in today’s service and technological landscape, many are wowing their user communities with cutting-edge services that meet their needs. How do they do this? One way is by adopting the startup mindset. Simply put, the startup mindset is creative, flexible thinking. has a great piece on this. The article details 5 core philosophies of the startup mindset. By adopting these, libraries and other organizations can bring useful services and efficient practices onboard more quickly than through traditional library thinking. These philosophies are:

  1. Curiosity — Ask “why” and “what if” and “why not” and always seek to understand and find a better way.
  2. Focus on Possibilities — Focus on what could be, rather than focusing on what is.
  3. Disregard for Status Quo — Work like you have nothing to loose, and forget about those sacred cows!
  4. Conquer Fear — Be brave in the face of change and risk.
  5. Speed — Get those services and improvements into production quickly and tweak them while they are live.

One benefit of the startup mindset is clear: it makes the workplace more interesting. About six years ago my professional life was transformed simply by thinking differently about my job: I began to look at my workplace as a lab in which I was to experiment with improving user services. I stopped worrying so much about what was not working and began thinking more objectively about how to work differently to achieve my vision of what service could be. Some things worked, others were chalked up as learning experiences. But overall the benefits were clear: not only did service improve, but so did the workplace. Suddenly it was all a lot more interesting. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was running my department like a startup.

A recent episode of the Coaching for Leaders podcast focuses on knowing when it is time to move on professionally. It reports that “moving on” doesn’t necessarily mean finding a new job. It may mean reinventing your current job. Adopting the start up mindset is one way to do this.

Want to learn more about the startup mindset and how it applies to libraries? Read Brian Matthews’ 2012, “Think Like a Startup: A White Paper to Inspire Library Entrepreneurialism.” Seriously, READ IT! It is inspirational, well written and only 13 pages (including notes). In my opinion it’s a half-hour well spent. What do you think?

[I am Kimberly Sweetman, a librarian-turned-consultant who has made a career of applying business practice to the mission-driven world. This post was originally published at You’ll find more like this there. Follow me on Twitter @sweetcoachcons.]

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