James J. Hill Library May Become Biz Incubator

The library's board is considering devoting up to 10,000 square feet of space to a business incubator, which will help offset losses that it has faced during the recession.

The James J. Hill Reference Library's board is considering turning some of its space into a business incubator to help offset losses that it has recently faced.

Tom Triplett, director of strategy development, confirmed Wednesday that the St. Paul library is looking into the possibility of devoting up to 10,000 square feet to a business incubator.

Triplett was hired earlier this year as a consultant to help the library evaluate several options to offset recent losses. In addition to the business incubator, the library has considered leasing out space to other organizations.

The idea of a business incubator is attractive to the library, according to Triplett, because it fits the library's mission of entrepreneurship and allows it to keep library and reference staff.

Although the library's recent efforts to market events has paid off-it is booked through the end of next year for weddings and has seen an increase in bookings of corporate events-it is still suffering from the effects of the recession.

Historically, the library has been funded through earnings from its endowment and research services fees. According to Triplett, the library's endowment has decreased by 23 percent in the last three years to $14 million, and research services fees have dwindled as more and more people are relying on the Internet to do research.

If the incubator is approved by the board at the end of the year, the library will give a $2 million start-up grant that it hopes to have matched. That money will be used for equipment, to upgrade the broadband capacity of the library, and to help subsidize costs for incubator participants.

Details of the specific industries the incubator would focus on have not yet been decided. However, Triplett said that many options are being considered, including technology and software, medical, educational services, and social enterprise.

If it becomes a reality, the incubator will be funded by both grants and membership fees. Triplett said that the library will start sending out grant requests and begin seeking partners once the model of the incubator is finalized.

He said the library will reach out to local colleges and universities to create partnerships so that young entrepreneurs have a place to go to seek mentoring and support when starting a business.

The James J. Hill Reference Library opened in 1921 and houses a world-class collection of practical business information resources. According to its Web site, the library is considered one of the most comprehensive business libraries in the country.