In a recent article in The Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger wrote about how libraries can stay relevant by working with entrepreneurs eager to start their own businesses. Twenty-first century libraries are the current hot topic; and this aspect of our services can, indeed, play a crucial role in two main ways: space and research assistance.
The first way libraries can help small business owners is by offering them space. When starting out, entrepreneurs may not have a location they can use to work. They may also have the kind of business where they never need to acquire a formal space to complete their services. Many people do business anywhere they have Wi-Fi access and a place to sit. Libraries can also offer conference room space that can be reserved for meetings with clients or business partners. What better place to have those necessities than a library where they can also have assistance doing research to better compete in the marketplace?
This leads to the second way libraries can prove essential to entrepreneurs: research. Several databases with integral information for small business owners exist. ReferenceUSA provides information on businesses, as well as consumers. Entrepreneurs can use this database to look up the type of industry they are hoping to go into and find similar businesses that already exist in their community. When working on marketing, Business Decision, another database, is helpful for finding potential customers. This database can also be used to determine which part of town might be best for setting up their brick and mortar store, based on demographic information.
On a smaller scale, libraries can provide books on how to write business plans, make pathfinders that contain helpful websites, and provide technology that can assist with business necessities. Some libraries may be able to have a full-service business center with copying and report creation, while others can offer a copy machine or printer to create mailings. Perhaps a 3-D printer can be used to work on creating prototypes.
Some people may naturally think to come to the library for these kinds of services. However, many do not. Whether you have a librarian who specializes in business resources or simply a staff member who is eager to go out into the community and promote library services, you can get the word out. Arranging to speak at a Chamber of Commerce gathering and giving an overview of your resources or doing in depth training is a great way to let people know about you. Maybe your community has a SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives) group, informal business networking groups, or other similar entities, where the presentation could also be given. Connections can be made with the people at your area Small Business Development Center. These organizations are located all over the country and are funded by the Small Business Administration. You can also offer classes in the library on your services and resources. Pikes Peak Library District’s (Colorado Springs, Colorado) business librarian’s “Minding Your Business” classes are extremely popular. They cover how to research starting a business using our print resources, databases, and websites, which provide information on industry, competition, vendors, and more.
Not all libraries have large budgets for databases or a dedicated staff person. However, even small things can make a difference. Try getting information from the people in your business community to find out what would help them the best. Then, you can devote your energies to what people want. As new libraries are built or old ones remodeled, the business community should be a key focus group in design and service planning.
 Badger, Emily. “Why Libraries Should Be the Next Great Start-Up Incubators.” The Atlantic Cities. February 19,
startup-incubators/4733/ (accessed February 27, 2013).