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CHAPTER VIII - Funding Resources

Several participants from philanthropy raised the connection between funding support for libraries that want to innovate and the ability of the libraries to report back to funders with hard data on the outcomes of the experiments. They recognized that this is messy work, but very necessary, and that sometimes there are no neat answers.

Gloria Jackson-Leathers, Director of Kansas City Civic Engagement for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, spoke to the role of philanthropy in this area. “What we do at the Kaufmann Foundation is provide support to libraries to help them be innovative. We provide funding around maker spaces, or maker faire. In foundations, people tend to have to measure everything, but you can’t always measure; sometimes you have to let it happen.” She continued by describing that her job is to “help move the needle towards innovation. …I usually come down on the side of buying into the mission of an organization and supporting them from that perspective and giving them walking around money and then figuring it out.”

Charles H. Revson Foundation President Julie Sandorf agreed that providing walking around money is critical to library innovation. “In terms of staff and walking around money, it is absolutely essential. But many library systems are barely making a 5-day week. Most branches in New York City were barely making a 4-day week. So, to get from barely holding on to having the resources to motivate entrepreneurial staff you first have to cover the basics. Philanthropy could make a significant contribution to providing risk capital to staff for experimentation, providing those entrepreneurial staff the opportunity to innovate both within the walls of the library and outside the walls in collaboration with other community partners.”

For libraries, experimenting with public funds can be risky unless library leadership has done a good job of communicating its vision for innovation with its government partners. Several participants noted that there are not a lot of risk takers entering government institutions. “Failure is a sharp point by which your adversaries stick you at every chance,” said Jonathan Chambers, who noted that people treat failure with public funds differently from failure with private funds.

Chambers, who has worked alongside entrepreneurs in both the public and private sectors, shared this advice: “I’ve run a bunch of trials and experiments at the FCC. I always tell people up front that I’m trying to learn something. I’ve seen a lot of poorly designed pilots. Don’t design a pilot to learn something and then, after a period of time, it’s gone. Design your experiment to learn something as quickly as you can and then move onto the next thing. Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as tinkering—tinkering is a badge of honor; experimentation, rather than success or failure.”

Photo Credit: New York Public Library Flickr Account

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