Everyone's Doing It

Reading Rainbows

Before Amazon.com, even before Barnes & Noble, there were libraries. These bastions of all things literary still have their mainstay microfiche machines, plastic-wrapped book covers and overdue fines, but walk into the renovated 1913 building of the main branch library in Portland, Oregon, and you just may do a double-take. The ever-present college students are laboring over their studies at a Starbucks cafe. The gift shop better resembles a museum shop. Even the used-book store brings in $125,000 annually. Hmmm, library or book superstore?

Although it claims not to be influenced by the success of its retail counterparts, the Multnomah County Library, with 18 branches serving about 700,000 patrons, is noticeably getting down to business. Until recently, the library even boasted an entrepreneurial activities coordinator. "It's another way to show our community we're good stewards of their money," explains Ginnie Cooper, director of the library system and former president of the Public Library Association.

Although the business operations comprise only 2 percent of the library's funding, Cooper is more than satisfied with the library's entrepreneurial efforts. "When people ask, `Have you tried [to raise funds]?' the answer is `Yes, and here's what we're doing, and we're pretty successful."

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Everyone's Doing It.

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