Libraries versus Labs

Attracting and growing talent is core to building a globally competitive innovation ecosystem. Cities such as London, San Francisco, San Jose and Boston have exceptional talent pools while Sydney and Melbourne seek to leverage lifestyle to broaden and deepen their talent ranks to play on the international innovation stage.

Targeting talent not only feeds the City’s innovation pipeline but also fuels the local economy, attracting investment across industries and infrastructure. Incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces pepper innovation hubs and districts, serving to fast track and foster ideas and individuals through the gruelling start up J curve.

Universities have long been leaders and collaborators in research and development, acting as a magnet for talent at both the student and academic level. It is a natural and valuable progression for universities to now be proactively participating in the ever-expanding innovation economy.

Cutting edge universities including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard, are talent magnets in the highly mature innovation ecosystem in Boston. The MIT City Science Lab partnerships with corporations spinning out urban projects from sophisticated algorithms evidencing planning trade offs on green space, jobs, density and mobility, to robotics that enable multi room living in micro apartments.

The Harvard Innovation (HI) Lab at academic rival offers students a safe and supportive place to experiment by leveraging the institutions brand to attract mentors, industry partners and potential investors. The Lab has been strategically placed to simultaneously serve as a beacon in a geographically isolated area and to lead the revitalization of semi industrial waste land.

Cornell University has taken things to another level creating a Tech Campus on the site of a former hospital on New York’s Roosevelt Island. Designed to diversify the local city economy and create a national innovation hub, the only things that are infectious about this place these days are the stern focus on the value of industry practitioners over academics, initiative over entry scores and laboratories over libraries.

Yet a successful innovation ecosystem cannot be complete without recognizing that the next big idea can come from anywhere, that innovation is about equality of ideas. So while Cornell may disperse with the traditional notion of a library, public libraries have been accelerating their long-standing capacity to empower and foster innovation talent across economic, social and cultural divides.

When it comes to innovation, the Toronto Public Library stands tall amongst its peers. Inside the library a dedicated area, aptly named Innovation Commons, attracts the hopeful and the homeless, the digital hub whirs and purrs with 3D printers and headphone noise, a social worker on staff provides training and advice to keep conversations going and borrowing a book has moved to being able to borrow a hot spot. This place embodies the mantra that a smart city needs all of its citizens to be smart citizens, and that a public library provides the foundations for the City’s overall resilience.

Libraries and laboratories enable, empower and energize ideas. They are both essential ingredients of the innovation ecosystem as long as they continue to dare do things differently.

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Level 23, 45 Clarence Street

Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia

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