The librarian with a head for business

Cathryn Harris - Mount Gambier Library

As the 2012 Telstra Businesswomen’s awards open for nominations, Dynamic Business is chatting to twelve former winners about the impact the program’s had on their businesses.

Cathryn Harris believes a library should be treated the same as any other business, despite it being a free community service.

By approaching her management of the Mount Gambier Library in this way, she’s turned it into the hub of the local community. The library is renowned for its program range, which includes mentoring workshops for at-risk youth to meet local business people; reading and play sessions for children and babies; IT lessons; family history programs; and Sunday farmers markets.

Harris used her business smarts to convince the local council to invest $10 million into revamping the library, which was re-designed to mirror the latest book retailing trend, with an integrated café, giving it the feel of a social bookstore.

It was these innovations that led Harris to win the South Australian Nokia Business Innovation Award in the 2011 Telstra Business Women’s Awards. Now, she’s sharing some important advice all aspiring business women can relate to.

Q.   How important do you think it is for a business owner to have an innovative spirit, and why?

Innovation is about taking calculated risks and pushing the boundaries.  In libraries, as with most other retail businesses, it’s about providing customers with an experience so they keep coming back.

Customers no longer just want a product or a service, they want an experience that wows them. All businesses need a point of difference and an innovative spirit provides that edge. 

 Q.   What innovative activity is likely to impact your business over the next 12 months?

All the innovative, creative programs offered by the Mount Gambier Library have been built on the belief that the future of libraries lies in the ability to engage with the community – by building strong social networks while meeting the informational and recreational needs of customers. This can only be achieved it there is a willingness to go above and beyond the normal expectations to achieve spectacular results.

Whatever the program might be, we try to make them relevant and fresh, with a dare to be different approach. Customers are very smart – they know what they want and more often than not you won’t hear a complaint from them if they don’t like it, they simply don’t come back.

Everyone knows libraries are about books but it is the innovative programs is what stands Mount Gambier apart from the rest

Q.   What one piece of advice would you offer other aspiring businesswomen and female entrepreneurs?

Believe in yourself and take time to reflect on your achievements, as only then will you realise how much you’ve achieved and far you’ve come.

Also, have a vision and stick to it. We sometimes don’t believe enough in ourselves which leads visions to waiver – be strong and when things don’t go to plan, go back to that vision.

Q.   How has being nominated and winning a Telstra Business Women’s Award impacted your business or organisation?

The award has acknowledged that libraries can be placed alongside businesses as being both creative and innovative in their approach to service delivery. Despite a library being a free community service, it has to be treated as a business in order to achieve greatness.

It’s also justified the hard work and determination I’ve put towards delivering the community with the best possible library service.