Entrepreneur teams will transform libraries in 48 hours

Monday, March 24, 2014 - 5:01pm
Brianna Goldberg

A global program fostering quick-turnaround startups is set to revolutionize library systems at U of T and beyond through the first-ever Startup Weekend EDU: Library Edition. The event is sponsored by University of Toronto Libraries and produced by a team including some of U of T’s top library innovators.

This debut library edition will take place at Mozilla Toronto’s community space starting on March 28 and still has space for a few more applicants. (Read more about Startup Weekend EDU: Library Edition)

Startup Weekend holds events across the world in which teams conceive of, pitch and produce themed projects over the course of a weekend. The venture has hosted more than 500 events with more than 100,000 participants since it began in 2007. And U of T’s entrepreneur community has lately distinguished itself with frontrunners in both local and global events. (Read more about University of Toronto entrepreneurs taking top honours at Startup Weekend: Maker Edition in Toronto and the Global Startup Battle)

U of T News spoke with Helen Kula, librarian at UTM’s Institute for Management and Innovation and one of the lead organizers of this global first.


What do libraries have to do with entrepreneurship?

Libraries are increasingly digital enterprises as more and more users engage with library services and content on-line. This shift means new challenges and opportunities. Libraries recognize they need to innovate and to develop new forms of support for research, teaching and learning, but must do so without additional new resources. Like startups, they develop creative solutions to the knowledge ‘problems’ of their community; they just don’t operate in the same for-profit context.

Entrepreneurs are also library patrons or users. Startups are typically hungry for information – about their market, their competitors, potential funders, potential customers, and more. Some libraries have also launched maker spaces or digital innovation hubs to support hands-on innovation. With a startup community now emerging on campus, it seems only natural that academic libraries like the University of Toronto Libraries would start to work and engage with them as well.

Finally, libraries have long embraced technology to enhance search of and access to their collections. Many librarians work as developers or in technical services and rely on the same skills and knowledge as their startup counterparts.

Why and how is U of T involved in this libraries-focused Startup Weekend?

Startup Weekend Toronto EDU: Library Edition will bring together library professionals, developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to build solutions for library problems over the course of a weekend. It takes the Startup Weekend template and focuses it specifically on the needs of the library community – a global first. It will offer an experiential, hands-on learning event that combines the best of startup and library thinking that starts with pitches and team formation on Friday night and winds up with demos before a panel of judges on Sunday afternoon.

The University of Toronto is involved in a number of ways. I’m a librarian at UTM and a lead organizer for the event – and three of my fellow organizers are iSchool graduates, as am I. The University of Toronto Mississauga Library, University of Toronto Scarborough Library and University of Toronto’s Central Libraries have also sponsored Startup Weekend for a number of reasons. First, sponsorship demonstrates their support for an event that offers a new set of tools and frameworks for approaching library problems  - Startup Weekend is based on lean startup methodologies, with an emphasis on customer development, rapid iteration and a minimum viable product.  Second, their support ensures up to three dedicated spots at the event that can be used to pitch the libraries’ ideas or needs. Third, the event should develop products and services of value to academic libraries.

Who might enjoy being involved in a libraries-focused Startup Weekend?

Folks who are passionate about libraries. All our designated ‘librarian’ spots are taken but we have a few openings left for developers (front-end, back-end, and/or mobile) and designers. Many students looking to grow their skills in this area have found Startup Weekend a great learning and networking experience – as have more experienced participants.  Participants should be prepared for an intense, ‘all action, no-talk’ experience; coding can sometimes go late into the night, as can final pitch prep. But it’s always fun! And we promise to keep you well-fed and watered during your time with us.

What are you hoping will come out of this Startup Weekend?

I’m hoping to see new relationships develop between the startup and library communities – networking is an important component of Startup Weekend. I’m hoping the library community get exposed to new tools and a new way of thinking that changes how they frame and address problems back in their respective workplaces. I hope the startup community gets excited about libraries and is motivated to continue working with us after this event in some capacity. Finally, I hope some products or services are presented at the final demo that add real value to a particularly library or set of libraries and can be further developed so they are function, useful tools.

Anything else you want readers to know about this Startup Weekend?

We’ve landed an amazing panel of judges: Beth Jefferson, CEO of BiblioCommons (and sponsor of Startup Weekend: Library Edition) and Candice Faktor, General Manager of Wattpad, another great local startup have agreed to serve along with David Weinberger, co-director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and Chris Eben, Partner in The Working Group and leader of Startup Weekend Toronto. And did I mention prizes? First, second and third-place winners will receive great prize packs! Last but not least, Startup Weekend EDU is sending us one of their most experienced facilitators, Katrina Stevens, who’s flying in from Baltimore to spend the weekend with us.