Best Practices

America’s Public Libraries: Champions of Entrepreneurship

Published Sep 20, 2018 by Pola Firestone

Libraries as Ecosystem Builders

Gone are the days when library patrons sat in silence, keeping to themselves. Libraries are the not-so-quiet champions of entrepreneurship, essential entrepreneur ecosystem builders, crucial for every community in their mission to support their entrepreneurs.

Nationwide, libraries are becoming collaborative arenas for business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and provide entrepreneurs with powerful additions to their toolboxes. These tools come in the form of resources entrepreneurs can use to start and grow their businesses, as well as a number of resources to help advance entrepreneurial infrastructure – all available with a local library card.

"Libraries have always played a powerful role in connecting people with the resources and learning they need to be successful in all aspects of their lives,” said Sari Feldman, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library and former president of the American Library Association (ALA). During her presidency, Sari launched the #librariestransform public awareness campaign.

“In the digital age, libraries are transforming to maximize our collections, community connections and expertise alongside new technologies to promote entrepreneurship and business development. Because libraries are open to all, they bring economic opportunity for all."


How can libraries advance entrepreneurship?

Think makerspaces, coworking spaces and don’t forget about business resource librarians. In fact, in many urban and rural communities, libraries are the only connection some patrons have to broadband and the Internet.

They are community builders and entrepreneurship builders. Libraries help build entrepreneurial infrastructures by providing:

  • Access to business databases. DemographicsNow, Statista, ReferenceUSA and Mosaic population guide reports are just a few of the free databases to assist with primary research

  • Makerspaces. These are free-to-use spaces with 3D printers, green screens, laser cutting and computers with video and graphic editing software

  • Education. Libraries often hold classes and host mentoring opportunities dedicated to topics covering all things entrepreneurship from the basics of starting a business to the details of selling a business

  • Intellectual property guidance. Librarians help guide inventors and entrepreneurs through copyright, patent and trademark resources

  • Youth entrepreneurship. Libraries engage youth in coding and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities

  • Networking. Libraries provide access through partnerships and collaborations with government programs like SCORE, U.S. Small Business Administration and more

With more than 20,000 public and academic libraries throughout the United States, libraries play a critical role in our national – and entrepreneurial – infrastructure. Libraries, as reported by the American Library Association, truly do propel entrepreneurship.

Here’s how just a few libraries around the country are helping shape and advance entrepreneurship in their communities.

In Dallas, Texas: The Portal to Entrepreneurship
The Dallas Public Library has embraced their role in entrepreneurial education head on, becoming for many aspiring entrepreneurs their first stop and dependable portal to the city’s wide range of entrepreneurial resources.

That move was deliberate. The City of Dallas Office of Economic Development saw the library as a gateway for entrepreneurship and partnered with the Dallas Public Library to connect aspiring and established entrepreneurs with the resources and knowledge needed to start and grow a business.

Online information and support was provided through the Dallas Business Resource and Information Network (B.R.A.I.N.), and at the Central Library, a dedicated area called the Sammons Small Business Center gives library card holders access to working spaces, classes and personnel committed to helping small businesses.

Dallas BRAIN Logo

In Kansas City: A Team of Business Specialists
Square One Small Business Services at Mid-Continent Public Library supports local entrepreneurs online and in-person with a deep-bench of information and programs.

Along with databases, webinars and online training, the library runs a full-suite of panels and workshops on food businesses (in collaboration with a local commercial kitchen space), social media and digital marketing and more. Business specialists meet with entrepreneurs at one of Mid-Continent’s 36 locations in urban, suburban and rural communities around Kansas City, Missouri.

In Phoenix, Arizona: Coworking Space for Entrepreneurs
Phoenix Public Library took the library’s role beyond the stacks. Entrepreneurs in Phoenix can actually work, connect and collaborate with other business owners at the hive @ central, a coworking space housed inside the Phoenix Public Library.

Developed in partnership with with the City of Phoenix Community and Economic Development Department and the Arizona State University Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group, the hive @ central operates as a free resource for business owners to work, receive mentoring and to leverage all of the business resources the library has to offer.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan: Makerspace for Youth Entrepreneurs
Kids need safe spaces to explore, innovate and take imaginative risks. That’s at the heart of building an entrepreneurial mindset.

To help foster and encourage that creative and critical thinking, the Ann Arbor District Library and University of Michigan’s School of Information created the Secret Lab, a makerspace for children. Equipped with 3-D printers and other tools, kids learn new skills and techniques to expand their creativity beyond the written word.

As just one example of Ann Arbor imagination in action, each June the library hosts the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF), a celebration of comics and graphic novels. This year was the 10th anniversary of the festival where more than 50 artists and authors were featured and kids could participate in more than 25 cartooning workshops and creative games.

In St. Paul, Minnesota: Entrepreneurial Hub of the North
True to its founder’s mission, the James J. Hill Center has turned a private reference library into a bustling hub of ideas that is helping grow cultural and economic development in Minnesota.

The Hills’ mission honors the legacy of its founder by continuing to support the entrepreneurial spirit in the 21st century. Certainly, they have a business resource library, but they’re also rethinking how libraries can be catalysts and conveners for entrepreneurial thought, energy and innovation. As just one example, the center brings together business, entrepreneurs and the community through 1 Million Cups (they call it a “shark tank with no teeth”), a weekly gathering and presentation of local entrepreneurs—in addition to business boot camps, workshops, one-on-one support and topical conversations on marketing, community leadership, workforce development and more.

 

Why is it important to include libraries in your network?

Libraries provide crucial access to resources for prospective and current business owners. Downtown locations create a hub for small businesses and reach diverse communities through branch locations. Rural libraries provide physical space, resource assistance, tailored skill training, start-up services, local information coordination and often broadband access.

Moreover, they are in every neighborhood, they are open and free to all residents, have training and meeting spaces and have skilled staff who are experts at information discovery – making them a key player as your build your entrepreneurial community.

The American public library has a long and storied history, providing information and education to the community through books, magazines and now other media. The library also has a long-held vision in most people’s minds. Libraries across the country, though, are coming to realize that their services can not only be a benefit to the community through reading – their services can propel entrepreneurship and a community’s economy.

So yes, libraries are ecosystem builders, especially when you connect them into your entrepreneurial infrastructure and to your entrepreneurs. #librariestransform

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Pola Firestone of SourceLink
Pola Firestone is the relationship manager and affiliate liaison for SourceLink. Through her outreach work, she has a window into the challenges of building entrepreneurial ecosystems, and uses that knowledge to help inform new products and solutions to the SourceLink network