Thursday, June 08, 2006

Thoughts on Entrepreneurs & Librarianship

Read this post at SG Entrepreneurs titled "Thoughts on What Singapore Lacks" in the context of Entrepreneurship. Seemed like a pretty good round-up of related discussions on the topic. What caught my eye was this paragraph:
What Singapore Lacks? Discussion Spaces? by Justin Lee. Justin adopts a specific example of using our new National Library and suggested that we should create Void Decks 2.0.

Naturally I went over to Justin's post, where he said he agreed with Woonzai who wrote about what the National Library (LKCRL) lacks, as well as the shortcomings of several other venues (btw, Justin did not elaborate on Void Decks 2.0 though -- maybe he'll write more next time).

Anyway, this post isn't a defence against the critisms about the library (the library was only one of the institutions/ venues being discussed). I'm responding to the larger premise that "Singapore lacks meeting spaces for interaction".


I humbly disagree that Singapore lacks spaces for interaction.

While Singapore is only a tiny red dot compared to other nations (697.1 sq km), there's plenty of public spaces to meet and discuss. I think the criticisms -- about the library, cafes and community centres -- are really about the lack of "airconditioned and furnished venues, with free WIFI", isn't it?

Now the airconditioned part, I tend to agree. I think our tropical climate makes it hard to just pop by the parks or open public areas and hold discussions in the day time. I find it hard to maintain my self-confidence and train of thought when I'm sitting on wet grass or hot benches, conscious of my sweaty armpits and damp undergarments.

But to expect institutions like libraries, community centres and cafes to be purely used as meeting places -- it just doesn't make sense in terms of why these instutitions/ businesses were set up to do.

Cafes need paying customers, preferably those who eat and scoot so that there's more room for more customers. Ever been to a crowded eating place and deciding to go somewhere else 'cos there's no space? You get the point.

If we have libraries whose function is just an airconditioned meeting place, then Singapore won't need a NLB to run the libraries (property management can be subcontacted out); there won't be a need for librarians 'cos there won't be readers; if I'm still employed with this new service provider I'd have to rename my blog to be Rambling Property Executive.

As I've heard the NLB Chief Exec respond on air one time, "We welcome people to discuss in the libraries, but not to just use the furniture only" (or something to that effect). Discussion and meetings are encouraged but within the context, purpose, form and function of the institution.

I don't deny there are issues and challenges for "Entrepreneurs" but therein lies the crux of what Entrepreneurship is about.

Isn't Entrepreneurship about Enterprise? The very concept of Enterprise involves "complication and risk" and overcoming obstacles. If everything were that easy, it wouldn't be entrepreneurship then.

Re-reading the points made by Woonzai and Justin, I can't help but feel the root of the matter isn't about spaces, but about an entrepreneur's self-discipline, attitudes and mental-tenacity; the person's ability to see the glass half-full in a practical and pragmatic manner.

Maybe for a change, we should start asking ourselves "What Singapore Has" rather than what is lacking to support entrepreneurship. I think we have a lot if we really start to look -- our schools, our libraries, our people.

Ok, wait a second here -- what's a librarian writing about entrepreneurship? What makes this rambling librarian qualified to comment on this topic?

Certainly not if you associate "Entrepreneur" with startups and self-employment. But I'd argue Entrepreneurship is not about montary gain. It's about taking risks. Librarians takes risks too. In the books that have to be acquired (the risk is that they don't get borrowed); the outreach activities librarians conduct (the target audience might not respond); the plans and strategies formulated (they could steer the institution totally off tangent).

Whereas the Entrepreneur stands to lose his/ her capital, librarians stand to lose the support of tax payers. The risk of becoming irrelevant is real. If we're not successful in achieving what we've set out to do, basically we'll lose our jobs. Might not be right away but the rot will set in.

Whether a person is an entrepreneur in the business or social sense, I just feel that a successful entrepreneur is one who achieves success (not necessarily monetary) inspite of the obstacles rather than having certain pre-requisits in place.

Even if all he or she has are hot humid parks for sweaty discussions in damp undergarments.

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  1. Hi Ivan,

    Thank you for your article.
    The space that they talked about is not the physical space, but the atmosphere that needed to be fostered to generate entrepreneurship.

    I have a much simpler example. In MIT, the famous MIT-$100K (used to be MIT-$50K) has a small club room that can only accommodate one person. Their competition generate companies that go to IPO. Cambridge University Entrepreneurs has no clubroom and I remember that the entrepreneurs prefer to have our meetings at Starbucks cafe. In NUS, the entrepreneurship society has a good clubroom. The space is there, except whether there are students to make the effort to do something.

    I think that it's important not to molly-coddle students into entrepreneurship. I prefer to show both sides of the coin so that they decide themselves whether they want to move on this path.

  2. hey,

    thanks for dropping by.. ya i agree entrepreneurship is not just about having spaces.. it's not a prerequisite. just a nice to have.

    i've written something about the pros of singapore:

    and cafes:

    don't mean to criticise NLB. i'm sure it's trying it's best and has its reasons. however, hope that policies can be reviewed based on feedback periodically. :)


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