By Jim Takeshita
Even under the best of circumstances, starting and maintaining a small business is a costly, complex, and time-consuming process. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur with a good idea, an experienced operator trying to meet a bottom line, or a local creative seeking community connection: Where do you go if you’re not sure what your next step is?
Try your library.
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. Working with a local library is a good way for prospective and established small business owners to get the help they need—and a good way for business support organizations to extend the reach and impact of their services.
Partners in programming
Regardless of your level of experience and which steps you’ve already taken, libraries have something to offer. 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.
A community entry point
The Independence Public Library (IPL) in Kansas serves a rural population of roughly 9,000 residents and is located about 1-3 hours away from traditional business support organizations. To address this, IPL’s Cultivate Indy Business Lab was created with the objective of helping underrepresented entrepreneurs launch and maintain small businesses. Cultivate Indy collected resources offered by nearby SBDCs, SCORE, Main Street, and other economic development groups to provide easy, “one-stop” access for aspiring entrepreneurs. By acting as the community’s entry point for new entrepreneurs, Cultivate Indy has helped users access specialized aid, attain membership in the business community, and ensure area development organizations were able to reach business owners from all backgrounds.
Addressing specific client needs
In Stamford, CT, the Ferguson Library developed its Small Business Resource Center to support new minority and women-led small business owners and eliminate barriers preventing entrepreneurs from starting and growing their business. At the center of this effort are Ferguson Library’s Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiR), who are paired with their clients to assist with business plan development and applications to business incubators. The Small Business Resource Center can also draw upon its network of community partners (including the local Women’s Business Development Center) to hold workshops, lectures, and networking sessions for participants. In combination with the Ferguson Library’s coworking spaces, equipment and technology services, and industry database access, the Small Business Resource Center provides support, access, and expertise to its small business community.
Reach out to 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!