February 21, 2014
It’s never been easier to launch a startup. Powerful broadband networks, cloud computing and mobile and web applications have lowered the barrier to entry and created efficiencies for small businesses to scale. But while these resources make it easier to launch a business, they don’t remove the challenge of developing a winning product. To do that, startups need access to information. As a former startup founder myself, I have a secret. It’s a stubbornly obvious resource that will save you countless hours of labor and provide you with critical information for your venture: your local library.
Libraries are the single most underutilized resource by startups. And librarians are the key to accessing the library’s wealth of information. Many of the world’s biggest firms are able to employ dedicated librarians for their information needs. But fortunately for the shoestring budgets of most startups, resources comparable to those of the world’s blue chip companies are available for free around the corner.
Today’s libraries are more than shelves of books. They are resource hubs at the center of a proliferating world of information. Businesses at every stage, from ideation to scaling, can benefit from a library’s resources and a librarian’s expertise, because a librarian knows how to obtain the right information. A librarian can be an invaluable extension of your staff, ensuring you have what you need to make decisions and develop your product.
Google, Bing and other engines that search the open web are incredible tools, but to conduct good business research, competitive analysis, or market data gathering you need to be able to dig deeply. A librarian knows how to leverage tools like Google to scour the open web. But beyond that, librarians are trained to locate high quality information, wherever it may be, and approach digital resources with the same methodical care they take with traditional print resources. They know where to look to find what you need.
Plus, a librarian has access to proprietary databases, such as LexisNexis for legal documents, EBSCO and JSTOR for academic studies and Standard & Poor’s for market data, which can fill in critical gaps in a business’ research and development efforts. Whether it’s gathering competitive intelligence, conducting market research or answering vexing technical questions, a librarian can provide the information you won’t be able to find on the open web, making resources that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars available for free.
Indeed, getting to know a librarian can be among the wisest personnel choices a startup makes. Librarians want to support the businesses in their area. They are there to help, and that help can extend far beyond gathering research. You should think of libraries as a place to convene focus groups and beta tests. At the library you can generate valuable feedback from usage in real-world conditions across the array of hardware platforms many libraries hold.
As your startup looks to connect directly with consumers, a librarian can become a valuable partner because they can put a product into the hands of potential customers. Think of the library as a showroom. One study found that about half of library patrons go on to purchase items they first tried in a library, a relationship particularly strong among the key 18 to 24 demographic. Librarians are early adopters who are adept at training the public to use emerging technologies, and the feedback they provide can drive innovation by highlighting what resonates with users and what remains challenging.
You can launch your startup with little more than a laptop and some pocket change. But a key ingredient, and your secret to success, is around the corner at your local library. With a library card you’ll have online access to all of your library’s valuable datasets for free. And with a librarian as your guide to the library’s resources, you’ll have all the information you need to take your startup from idea to reality.
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