By Daniel Hunter

The British Library, the Intellectual Property Office and six major UK city libraries signed an agreement this week stating their joint intention to establish a national network of services for small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country, modelled on the services offered by the Library’s Business & IP Centre.

This agreement is an outcome of funding granted to the British Library earlier this year by the Intellectual Property Office, supporting a feasibility study looking at how the success of its Business & IP Centre in supporting small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), start-ups, inventors and entrepreneurs could be shared nationally.

While the project remains in the blueprint stage, this agreement is an important step towards establishing a national network of business and innovation advice centres across the UK, modelled on the flagship Business & IP Centre at the British Library in St Pancras, London.

All of the participating libraries in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield are part of the PATLIB network, and have the core intellectual property and business collections and expertise which are crucial to the success of the proposed partnership. Building on these foundations, the project aims to share knowledge and expertise in order to help each city library to integrate the ‘one-stop-shop’ information service which the British Library’s Business & IP Centre specialises in. It also aims to strengthen knowledge exchange between business and libraries, and establish a network of best practice and resources-sharing across the seven cities.

Since the IPO funding was awarded in March 2012, considerable support work has been done with focus groups in each of the local communities to assess their unique needs. After this week’s agreement, the project will move forward to deliver on plans to share the British Library’s Business & IP information resources across the PATLIB network and to work together to strengthen services for small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country.

The idea for the network has been piloted in Newcastle Library over the past year, and they hope to be fully operational in Spring 2013, with the remaining city libraries planning to pilot the services throughout 2013 and 2014. After this point the libraries will be looking to secure support and funding in each local area, in order to make the piloted schemes a permanent fixture.

Isabel Oswell, Head of Business Marketing at the British Library, says “Since opening in 2006, the Business & IP Centre in St Pancras has helped to create over 2500 businesses and over 3000 additional jobs, and has provided information, inspiration and practical support to over 30,000 people. We are thrilled to be working with these city libraries on this project and look forward to our business and innovation support service being shared with thousands more people across the UK.”

Tony Durcan, Director of Culture for Newcastle City Council, says, “Working in partnership with the British Library and the other city libraries has been hugely beneficial for us. Newcastle Libraries has already reached over 2,000 entrepreneurs in the North-East through our pilot Centre, and we look forward to seeing more of the benefits of the network emerge as our plans develop and we launch fully in Spring 2013.”

Rosa Wilkinson, Director of Innovation at the Intellectual Property Office says “The UK has a rich pool of creative and innovative businesses, but making sure those businesses can find the help and advice needed to help them turn their great ideas into commercial success has never been more important. Developing tailored Business & IP Centre services through the PATLIB network, geared to the needs of the local business community, will help unleash their real growth potential.”

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