Monthly Archives: January 2011

why libraries and archives need social entrepreneurs

What is a social entrepreneur?  While there are probably a few definitions out there, I think Wikipedia sums it up well.

A social entrepreneur recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to achieve social change.  Whereas a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur focuses on creating social capital.

Well-known social entrepreneurs include Muhammad Yunus who founded the Grameen Bank, which really brought microfinance to the forefront, and Wendy Kopp, founder and president of Teach for America.

Social enterprise has been an interest of mine for the past few years.  I originally moved to DC to work as a Social Enterprise Fellow at the children’s literacy nonprofit First Book.  First Book’s mission is to provide brand new books to children from low-income backgrounds through existing programs such as Head Start, Boys & Girls Clubs, Title I schools, and other community-based programs.  I was drawn to the nonprofit because of its cause marketing campaigns – and also because First Book gives educators the power to choose the book titles for their kids.  What makes First Book a social enterprise is how it uses private sector thinking to distribute books and achieve social change.  For example, the First Book Marketplace is an online store that sells books (and other educational products) at a deeply discounted price to eligible programs.  As a revenue generator, the marketplace ensures that First Book won’t be entirely dependent on the goodwill of corporations and individual donors.

Now the title of this post isn’t suggesting that there aren’t social entrepreneurs already working in the field.  I haven’t read all 450 profiles of Library Journal’s Mover and Shakers, but I’m sure some of them are definitely social entrepreneurs.  Social entrepreneurs can really help libraries progress forward, especially in this moment of technological and economic change.  Like many of you, I’m tired of hearing how libraries are going to die (because they’re not), but they do need to make some changes.  I’m not in any sort of library management position, and I don’t know the particulars of library finances – but the current financial model for most libraries clearly isn’t sustainable if services and staff are being cut all over the world.  The fact that huge budget cuts are even a topic of wide discussion is an indicator of its unsustainability.  While libraries should work on publicizing and proving their worth to those-with-the-money, they also need to think of alternate ways to get funding — especially generating their own revenue.  There’s more work to be done than arguing our worth to the government and public.

So my question is — do you know of any current projects in libraries or archives that are (or could be) a semi-sustainable revenue generator?  We certainly don’t collect enough money in fines, and I don’t think the answer lies in increasing them.  Libraries need social entrepreneurs, and I know there must be some already working in the field.  If there are, we need more.  And if there aren’t, let’s change that.

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Posted by on January 30, 2011 in social enterprse



hyping links

Creating a museum is hard, especially one based on an identity and culture.  An excerpt:
What story will it tell? As part of the Smithsonian, the museum bears the burden of being the “official” — that is, the government’s — version of black history, but it will also carry the hopes and aspirations of African-Americans. Will its tale be primarily one of pain, focused on America’s history of slavery and racial oppression, and memorializing black suffering? Or will it emphasize the uplifting part of the story, highlighting the richness of African-American culture, celebrating the bravery of civil rights heroes and documenting black “firsts” in fields like music, art, science and sports? Will the story end with the country’s having overcome its shameful history and approaching a state of racial harmony and equality? Or will the museum argue that the legacy of racism is still dominant — and, if so, how will it make that case?
Check out this video featuring the founder of Sparkseed, a nonprofit that helps college social entrepreneurs make their social ventures succeed.  Look for a blog post on social enterprise this weekend.  (Full disclosure: I went to college with Mike — he’s a cool guy with a passion for doing great work.)
Why do journalists insist on asking smart, powerful women questions about babies and marriage?
I plan on getting either the Motorola Xoom or second generation iPad when they’re released.  Since there is no official word on a new iPad, I am left to drool over Android 3.0.
Who doesn’t love a good TED talk?  Hosting one at a library is genius.
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Posted by on January 28, 2011 in links, social enterprse


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the blurry line between private and public: what do we have a right to know?

This question is one I’m constantly thinking about, so I suspect this post will only be “part one.”  Last semester I wrote a research paper examining different cultural values of knowledge sharing and the impact of open access on cultural materials, specifically Native American archives.  And the question came up once again after reading this Boston Globe article on restricted Robert F. Kennedy papers and this response by Representative John Tierney.  I also often think about this question because our society seems to have an obsession with speculating about the private lives of celebrities, as well as trying to learn everything about secret societies (and scientology).  What information does the public have a right to know?

I completely understand the argument for opening access to the RFK papers because I’m a huge advocate of government transparency (I’m not very trusting when it comes to big institutions like the government and massive corporations).  I do believe that open access to government information is the foundation for a strong democracy, but how does knowledge of people’s private lives or cultural rituals promote democracy?  Or rather, is not knowing personal details damaging in some way?  Sure, I may be curious occasionally (or often) about who is dating who and what they were wearing on the street, but I don’t believe I have any sort of right to know.  When it comes to public officials, I think I ultimately only care about their character and integrity — and lying or misleading the public about their personal lives and beliefs can certainly affect my opinion, leaving their personal lives in a swampy grey area.

In my research paper from last semester, I argued that open access is not always in the interest of the public good, nor is restriction of access always in conflict with the values of information science.  Because access is not a simple issue, archivists must become familiar with different cultural perspectives on information, privacy, and knowledge sharing.  We need to be aware of what things can be considered culturally sensitive, even if we don’t necessarily follow guidelines such as the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.  Archivists are certainly not alone in facing these issues but can learn from and work with other professionals who critically examine similar questions, especially anthropologists and sociologists.

Another story to add to this discussion concerns Franz Kafka’s papers.  Kafka burned most of his work during his lifetime.  When he died, he left his papers (manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, sketches) to a close friend — and asked that the material be burned unread.  This request was ignored and resulted in the publication of The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika.  Did Kafka’s friend do him a favor, or should it be considered a betrayal?  Currently, his papers are trapped in a legal battle.

This posts asks many complicated questions, and I know they’re not easy to answer — but they’re all important ideas to explore.

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Posted by on January 25, 2011 in access, archives, privacy


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giant steps

Blogging scares me. It’s putting myself out there, having my opinions evaluated by not just the closed circle of friends/colleagues/classmates/professors — but by strangers. I have been a blog lurker for quite a long time, rarely commenting on anything — which is rather unusual for me because in person, I tend to voice my opinion. Sometimes a lot.

I’m tired of just being an online observer, so I’m taking a step to join in on the discussions about libraries, archives, history, and culture (all nice big, broad topics). I’m in my second semester of library school and am eager to learn everything I can — what better time to start blogging than now?


Posted by on January 25, 2011 in Uncategorized