Re-imagining the Library as an Innovation Hub

David Seaman

The Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University celebrates the second anniversary of its ribbon cutting in Bird Library this month.  David Seaman, Dean of Libraries at Syracuse University and Principal Investigator on Syracuse University’s Blackstone LaunchPad grant, discusses the benefits and impact of having this campus innovation hub in Bird Library in a Medium post for  Read the entire original story on the Blackstone Charitable Foundation website here.

By David Seaman for the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, April 2018

“Really? It’s in the library?”

Librarians are getting used to hearing this refrain as news circulates about 21st century library services, which now include virtual reality labs, media hubs, maker spaces, institutes for teaching and learning excellence, tutoring resources, and digital humanities centers. You can add to this list, at Syracuse University Libraries at least, a center for innovation and entrepreneurship — the Blackstone LaunchPad, funded through a grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation — complete with two full-time library staff, a team of student employees, and a supporting network of library experts, communications specialists, fundraisers, and administrators.

At your service, ‘round the clock.

The Blackstone LaunchPad space is a custom-built glass cube on the entry floor of Bird Library, the busiest academic building on campus. The space has rapidly become both a showcase for the work of campus entrepreneurs and inventors, and a point of first contact for students who have an idea, or a skill that they think a startup company would need. The first floor of Bird, containing a recently renovated Learning Commons, technology support desk, and cafe, is packed with students from the various schools and colleges at Syracuse University, who meet, study, socialize, and collaborate there, 24 hours a day. It’s very much their space. Students and alumni who sign up with us can use the LaunchPad space round the clock, and fledgling businesses make it their office and planning space late into the night. We’ve even found the occasional dozing innovator curled up on a couch there after a grueling startup all-nighter when we come to work in the morning!

Visible, accessible, and collaborative to the core.

Syracuse University is a complex network of schools and colleges, each with their own faculty and staff, students, and buildings. In the libraries we pride ourselves on being of service to the whole institution and to the surrounding community. Our faculty and students are used to coming to the library to study, to access expert help, scholarly collections, and technology support, or to attend the lectures, workshops, research showcases, and art exhibits that are held in our various spaces. A library location therefore guaranteed high visibility for this new service aimed at entrepreneurs and inventors, and ensured easy access at the center of campus.

The success of the Blackstone LaunchPad is not based solely on its highly visible and accessible location, however. The deep, trusted, collaborations librarians have developed with colleagues from across the institution have also been fundamental to its impact. The LaunchPad staff and students have worked assiduously to stress that we were not in competition with any other program or center, but rather that we are allies in furthering our collective ambitions to support our innovative students, faculty, and alumni. In celebrating the success of the Blackstone LaunchPad ventures we are also celebrating the schools and colleges that our entrepreneurs come from, and we are promoting Syracuse University as a place for invention and innovation.

Student success, diversity, and community.

In the first two years of operation we have enjoyed remarkable success. The investment in the LaunchPad has brought new programs and events to campus, provided extra publicity for activities and student successes, additional resources for mentoring and business development, and new collaborations with state and regional resources. Businesses have launched, seed funding has been obtained, clubs have formed, entrepreneurs have graduated with enhanced collaboration and communication skills, and we have helped our students triumph in business planning and invention competitions, with them winning over $300,000 in prize money to date.

When asked what they value most about the Blackstone LaunchPad in Bird Library, however, our students often comment on the sense of community and comradery that they find there, and the ease with which they can meet people from other schools and colleges at our frequent programs and activities. The Blackstone LaunchPad has quickly become their entrepreneurship space, in their library, where they feel welcomed, supported, and at home. We’ve worked diligently to make sure the LaunchPad community is a diverse one too, with outreach to women and to international students, and have been successful in achieving an almost even gender representation (50.55% male/49.45% female) within our 2,300 registered users, and attracting students from 47 countries. As we get ready to double the size of the space in summer 2018, we are looking forward to another academic year of deep collaborations, shared successes, and new friendships as we provide Syracuse University students with a competitive edge, a collaborative community, and enhanced business development acumen.

And we even have books!

It wasn’t long before we wanted an entrepreneurship bookshelf outside the Blackstone LaunchPad, but even that activity we went about in an innovative manner, crowd-sourcing the selection of titles from faculty across campus who told us of their favorite books on innovation, and funding the collection through the generosity of library donors and the prize money from a first place win in a fast pitch competition at a library conference for new collections strategies.

So, you want to create a university-wide innovation and entrepreneurship hub that is diverse, collaborative, and communal? Of course it should be in the library — it’s the obvious place to put it! We are deeply grateful to the Blackstone Charitable Foundation for their funding, and for continuing to work closely with us as a collaborative partner as we develop this latest addition to the Syracuse University innovation ecosystem.


Blackstone Charitable Foundation aims to empower a global community of engaged citizens who have access to the resources and networks necessary to pursue their ideas, grow and scale their businesses, economically impact, and positively contribute to their communities.

More from Blackstone Charitable Foundation: