Libraries Help Main Street Businesses Thrive
Next time you enjoy a sunny day on the patio at a local restaurant or score some great finds at a small local shop, consider how a library might have helped to make that possible.
Small towns are well-known for their unique Main Streets, lined with local businesses. But what happens when a storefront opens?
It starts with an idea, maybe a “eureka!” moment, or perhaps it’s something you’ve been thinking about for a while. Suddenly, a storefront becomes available on Main Street, and you’re faced with a choice: go for it, or don’t? You decide to go for it! Starting a new business can be confusing, even terrifying, especially for those with little experience or knowledge. Those who live in rural areas and small towns can face even more challenges, often including slow (or completely absent) internet service, lack of access to higher learning, or inadequate local support. So, who can one turn to for help?
Your local library, of course!
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The Great Equalizer
Libraries, as the saying goes, are “the great equalizer,” containing resources that can empower anyone with a library card to pursue a dream, whether a popcorn shop on Main Street, registering a home business, or anything else in between and beyond. True, when someone says the word “library!” books usually come to mind. While books can take dreamers a long way, the right resources, access to the internet, and local partnerships can take those who dream of successful entrepreneurship even further.
At first glance, for-profit businesses and non-profit libraries might not seem to have much common ground or even any reason to support one another. After all, aren’t their goals opposite? However, the connection starts to make more sense when one considers that a solid local community can better support local businesses, which will support taxed public services such as a public library.
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“Hit the Books!”
Public libraries certainly offer books, but it’s not uncommon for those who haven’t been to a library in a while to realize just how diverse the book collections can be, even on a small scale. Libraries can have books about anything from launching a home business to registering a patent, how to create a website, study guides for certifications, plans for investing, and so much more. And don’t forget about eBooks: a digital copy of a book not on the shelf might be available on your phone or device (which you can then download for free via the library’s wifi).
If they don’t have what you need, libraries, big and small, will often consider purchasing requested items. If they can’t do that, they will ask to borrow it from a library that does have it so they can get it into your hands. Additionally, libraries can sometimes purchase access to expensive business-related databases that can be cost-prohibitive for a fledgling entrepreneur.
But wait, there’s more!
Many libraries check out mobile hotspots to address the challenge of slow or absent internet access. This can help those interested in higher education pursue it online, help people apply for licenses or certifications that are only available via a website, and help fledgling businesses grow their online presence. Some libraries even offer a “Library of Things,” allowing their patrons to check out items such as laptops, iPads, and cameras (all of which would be useful for starting an online store), with some even offering business attire, such as this “Tiebrary,” so you can make a good impression during your pitch to the city council.
Even if your local library doesn’t offer hotspots, chances are they offer access to public computers with internet, wifi, and modest printing services (usually, a small fee applies). Access to the internet is crucial for small businesses looking to reach beyond Main Street. Having the option for customers to order stock online may make the difference between making it or breaking it in the first few years after launching a business.
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Programs and Spaces
Library programs are a potential source of free education, with libraries of all sizes offering computer classes, programs centered around topics like growing and managing finances or even partnering with other local businesses and institutions to bring in experts on a topic that could support small-town entrepreneurs. Do you have an idea for a program or a topic you think others would like to learn about, too? Suggest to your local librarian, who is likely looking for new ideas.
Libraries of all sizes often have public spaces available. Whether it’s a table next to the stacks or a large meeting room that can be rented, the nice thing about libraries is that there is no expectation to purchase anything to use these spaces (in contrast to the large latte and fruit smoothie I bought while working on this article at a local coffee shop). These spaces can be used as a temporary office, a place to meet others involved in your business, or even to host a group meeting of local entrepreneurs to network.
Libraries are all about their community: without the public, there wouldn’t be a public library! So, if you have a big idea that needs a little help to grow into a small business, head to your local library. They have the right resources for you to turn that idea into a reality. Who knows? Maybe that friendly librarian will be one of your first customers.