National Library Week (4/7-13, 2019) is an annual celebration highlighting the valuable role libraries, librarians, and library workers play in transforming lives and strengthening communities. To celebrate this week, we are re-running this article about the way many libraries are dedicating a part of their time and resources to helping those who run — or who are thinking about starting — a small business.
One of the lasting images of the iconic New York Public Library building is the menacing librarian ghost that haunts the basement and scares the ever-living-daylights out of library patrons in what we’ve already revealed is one of our favorite movies of all time about small business, Ghostbusters. Today, however, if you visit the New York Public Library, you’re more likely to find the Ghostbuster partners attending a workshop on franchising hosted by the library’s Small Business Resource Center.
All over the U.S., libraries are utilizing their space and facilities to serve the businesses of their communities. Here are some types of resources you may find at your public library today.
Public libraries provide facilities and resources that can help you grow your business
(New York Public Library’s Science, Industry, and Business Library provides a wide array of free services including the ability to reserve small meeting rooms for client meetings. Photo: New York City Public Library)
Think quickly: Where else can you go that offers free access to computers, internet, photocopiers, fax machines and space for meetings and training? For example, in 2010 the Free Library of Philadelphia provided more than $4 million of direct support to local businesses—and that didn’t factor in the revenue those businesses produced for the community.
“It’s like we’re sitting on a gold mine,” Kristin McDonough, director of the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry, and Business Library, told American Libraries Magazine. “(Entrepreneurs) can reserve meeting rooms so they can meet their clients. We let them use cell phones in low voices in certain sections of the library. They can network after work and at our lunchtime seminars.”
Libraries provide free access to important (and expensive) information
It’s not easy starting a business. Ask anyone who’s done it and they will tell you it’s more complicated than simply renting a space and throwing a sign on it. You are going to need knowledge across an array of topics. Cue public libraries. Aside from texts and multimedia on starting and running a business, you will also have access to sample business plans, model employee policies and subscription-based databases that provide community demographic info, industry trends or even sophisticated mailing lists—the kinds of resources that large corporations rely upon for success.
Libraries can provide business networking opportunities
It may not be the case with all public libraries, but a good deal of them offer weekly workshops and meetups for business owners. NYPL’s NYC Small Business Resource Center, for example, offers 10-15 workshops per week. And all over the country, public libraries often are where chapters of the SBA-supported association SCORE have meetings or work with their small business clients.
Some libraries provide a wide array of “maker” resources to help inventors and product developers
Creating innovative new ways to serve their communities, public libraries like the Westport (Connecticut) Public Library (above) are creating Makerspaces, described by the library as “a place for creation, collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship.” The maker space provides users tools and training to learn how to create a wide variety of inventions, product prototypes, crafts, and DIY projects.