Librii builds Internet-Age libraries so that people can follow their interests, acquire skills, and discover opportunities.
This is our elevator pitch. It is an indispensable tool for a young company, carefully crafted to deliver critical information efficiently at a time when attention is fleeting. This post goes a step further and gives a slightly deeper description of what Librii is all about and where we are headed. It is framed around answering management legend Peter Drucker’s book The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, which has been a useful tool in Librii’s early development.
1. What is your mission?
Librii’s mission is to provide world-class educational experiences to underserved communities. To achieve this goal, we are deploying a network of libraries to the frontiers of Internet connectivity. There are three key precedents that have inspired us in this mission: the library as an institution, Andrew Carnegie, and an idea by Steve Jobs.
The Librii team did not start out wanting to make cool libraries. We were researchers looking at the reality of the digital divide and trying to figure out how to create atmospheres of information at the points where digital infrastructure existed but access was still not widespread. This is when the LIBRARY became crucial. The public library, as we have come to know it, has the mission to provide the most knowledge, to the most people, for the least cost. This is exactly what Librii aims to achieve.
The second major influence on Librii was Andrew Carnegie, the American industrialist and philanthropist who impacted the idea of the library more than any other individual in history. Between 1890 and 1930, Carnegie personally funded the construction of 2,500 libraries around the world. 1,700 of these libraries were in America, representing HALF of all US libraries by the time the last grant was issued. While the numbers are astounding, it is equally important to understand WHY he focused on libraries. Carnegie viewed libraries as providing tools of empowerment for industrious and ambitious individuals. In other words, the library would meet you halfway. It would not offer you any direct charity, just a platform for anyone willing to apply themselves.
A final inspiration with mentioning is an observation made by Steve Jobs:
"Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again."
At Librii, we feel this statement is spot on. We feel it is part of our mission to ignite this realization in the minds and hearts of every one of our customers. Then, it is our job to provide those individuals the tools and assistance to build fantastic futures for themselves and their communities
2. Who are our customers?
Librii has two kinds of customers: primary and supporting. Like Google, we function in a two-sided market. On one hand, Google has customers who come to their site and enjoy their search service for free. On the other hand, advertisers pay money to Google to have their ads strategically placed. Librii functions in a similar way.
Our primary customers are youth in communities that lack wide access to high-quality Internet resources, specifically: 1) A powerful computer, 2) A high-speed Internet connection, 3) A suite of programs necessary for producing content. Within this group, we focus on youth who are in school, supporting their efforts to finish high school, and helping support a successful transition into higher education or the workforce. Additionally, we focus on serving OPPORTUNITY YOUTH - individuals 16-24 who are currently outside the school system and workforce. Like Google’s search users, all our primary customers use Librii’s services for free.
Our supporting customers are institutions who focus on community development. These groups break down broadly into government, foundations, and corporate social responsibility (CSR). These groups are looking at society more broadly and allocating resources to initiatives that offer significant impact. They speak a specialized language based on Inputs, Outcomes, and Impacts. Similar to Google’s advertisers, these customers engage Librii in a transactional relationship: dollars for impact.
3. What do our customers value?
Our primary customers want access. They want to explore the world through their personal interests. They want independence to control their own direction. They DON'T want to be dictated to (they get 8 hours of that at school already). They want to be part of a community that shares their values and offers support. They want emotional and physical security. They want a job and the confidence that tomorrow will be better than today.
Our supporting customers want impact. They allocate their resources to change the world for the better. They want people’s lives to improve. They want societies to become stronger, not just today, but over the long term. They want proof that the funds they entrust to Librii are being used to the greatest potential. To evaluate us, they look for specific metrics that compare Librii to other similar organizations.
4. What are our results?
Librii’s success hinges on a critical emerging dynamic: libraries are places of PRODUCTION. In the past, libraries where primarily places where you would go to absorb knowledge in a contemplative environment. In the age of the Internet, libraries are places where you go to make things. Librii’s results, therefore, must be viewed through the lens of user production.
Librii users produce content in a variety of media channels: literature, video, audio, and web. This is the atmosphere of information our primary customers are immersed in. Once users realize that they can make things, the goal is to support them in producing content of the highest possible quality.
It is useful to pause here and make a distinction between two different kinds of results: leading metrics and trailing metrics. The classic example used to explain the difference between these is weight loss. In that case, the trailing metric is easiest to measure - you step on a scale and record the weight. The leading metrics, such as calories consumed and amount of exercise, are much more nuanced but easier to directly influence.
In Librii, the trailing metrics will be the stream of AMAZING books, blogs, music videos, games, songs, reviews, graphics, movies, and websites produced by our primary customers. Our most valuable results, however, are the leading metrics that make that output possible: the hours of skills training; the number of programs mastered; the soft skills necessary to build to see a project through to completion. Not only will these yield life-changing impact in the lives of our users, these are precisely the metrics the supporting customers look closely at when evaluating our effectiveness as a company.
5. What is our plan?
Librii’s plan for 2016 is to start very lean. We're seeking to interact with our primary customers as quickly as possible and engage our early adopters in refining our services. This will take place at a small office in Washington DC. Funding and staff are in place for this first step. Our goal is to publish our first impact report by the end of March.
During this start-up period, we will be growing our board of directors and advisory board to support the establishment of a permanent Librii location in Washington. By expanding our number of users and refining our services, our impact reporting will become more robust and greater funding opportunities will be within range.
By late 2016 our goal is to expand Librii to a second location outside the US. There are several candidate sights we are investigating in West Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific Rim. At this moment, we can start realizing the potential of Librii’s network effects. When two Librii locations are functioning, we can get them talking to each other. We can see what is similar and what is different. Our mandate is to keep listening and asking questions, then use what we learn to continuously refine services.
Building the world around us
Sometimes the hardest thing in life is to follow your own advice. In the case of the Librii, our team looks closely at many of the interesting companies that are shaping our world (such as Khan Academy, Udacity, SpaceX, Uber) and realizes that those companies are built by people no smarter than ourselves. We are committed to doing our part to help build the best possible future. For us, Librii offers society one of the most valuable resources: education.
Thank you for your interest in our work and please feel free to reach out to our team if you can help us grow.
By: David Dewane, Librii Executive Director