Using Your Library to Advance Your Small Business


Using Your Library to Advance Your Small Business

As interest in self-employment and business ownership has increased, libraries have evolved to fill this need, serving a critical role in the support of small businesses and the entrepreneurs building them. Libraries, such as the St. Louis County Library, report saving small business owners significant money each year (check out the American Library Association’s Library Value Calculator for more). This potential for cost savings is a national trend: Across the United States, libraries in every locality provide entrepreneur support resources of all kinds, from workshops and networking opportunities to specialized media equipment and market research.

Starting a business can be challenging even in the best of circumstances, and maintaining one is a constant effort. In this article, we will review some different ways libraries can help you confront these challenges—not just to save time, effort, and money, but also by providing local insight and helping you forge connections with your community and with fellow entrepreneurs.

Support When You’re Starting Out
In developing your business, libraries have something to offer regardless of your level of experience and which steps you’ve already taken. Many libraries offer introductory classes for aspiring entrepreneurs, helping individuals to take their ideas and turn them into plans. The Baltimore County Public Library, in partnership with the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Maryland, operates a training program called the Entrepreneur Academy, a series of seven classes on topics such as business finances, marketing, recordkeeping, and strategy. Enrolling in these classes provides participants with the opportunity to engage with industry experts, including attorneys, insurance agents, and bankers. The library also provides in-person and virtual instruction, laptops, hotspots, and database access for market research and more.

Specialized Equipment
Regardless of the industry you’re involved in, libraries provide specialized equipment and technology. The Laramie County Library System is at the center of a statewide initiative, Wyoming Library to Business, to support library-to-business outreach in the state’s 23 public library systems. For small business owners seeking a creative space, access to high-quality equipment, free use of business stations, and video production studios can be found through their local libraries. Video production studios can be used to produce a podcast, an audition tape, or an advertisement; to demonstrate a product in use; or to practice a pitch or announcement for your business. Similarly, Providence Public Library in Rhode Island offers its users makerspaces, providing equipment from printers and design software to t-shirt presses, woodcutters, button makers, and 3D printers. Many libraries across the U.S. set up spaces such as these to provide aspiring entrepreneurs with the opportunity to test-produce products and figure out what tools they need to run their business before making a purchase.

Specialized Information
For any business, having insight into the region where your business operates determines your success. For a small business, the opportunity to study local markets and populations is incredibly valuable. Libraries and library workers recognize this fact and will seek ways to make reference services available and affordable to patrons as they develop business plans. The Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County in New York founded its own Business Insight Center (BIC) to cater to this need. The BIC offers access to research sources such as IBISWorld, PitchWorld, and Frost & Sullivan, respectively helping users survey their industry, find venture capital firms, and investigate emerging technology. This reference center also provides market research reports, searches for trademarked logos, and helps review and file patent applications for free. The opportunity to obtain quality research while avoiding inconvenient or prohibitive costs makes the library an essential stop for any self-employed individual to check out.

Networking, Introductions, and Events
Small business owners at any stage benefit from being able to make connections with peers and with the business support organizations in their area. Many cities, towns, and localities are home to a Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a Chamber of Commerce, or a SCORE network, as well as a myriad of economic development organizations. Often, the library serves as an entry point to introduce new entrepreneurs to these networks or will use its spaces to host networking events or mentorship opportunities. The Spokane County Library District in Washington, in addition to its program series for small business owners, Small Business Boot Camp, works as a Neighborhood Champion to promote Small Business Saturdays and the Shop Small movement, and actively serves on the local Chamber of Commerce. The Santa Barbara Public Library, in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups program and the Women’s Economic Ventures group, acts to connect business support organizations and high-quality resources with harder-to-reach segments of its community, including Spanish-speaking business owners and entrepreneurs.

Visit Your Library to Find Out More
With 123,000 libraries across the United States, libraries are vital connectors and hubs—convenient, accessible, and open to all. Libraries already serve as the first stop for anyone in need of a place to work, study, and learn—and are staffed by expert professionals committed to serving their communities. To find out what your library has to offer, make a phone call, send an email, visit their website, or just walk in through the front door!

Jim Takeshita is a Public Policy Associate with the American Library Association and helps maintain the Libraries Build Business Community, a peer-to-peer network intended for libraries as they develop small business support services.

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