Libraries: the Ultimate Entrepreneurship Accelerator
An entrepreneur walks into their co-working space. They nod to the person behind the main desk, pull up to an open spot, and start their workday. Their office offers a quiet space to work, classes for entrepreneurs, free or discounted printing and faxing and scanning, free wifi, and experts on hand to help answer questions on where to find local resources for their business. Sound like a dream workspace? It’s the norm for a lot of entrepreneurs all across the country who work out of their local public libraries.
Libraries? Yes, Libraries.
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If you’re looking for a competitive advantage, smart entrepreneurs know it can come from their local library. Libraries have the space, technology, and programming you need to start or grow your business. Librarians have the expertise and the access to data you need to build a more effective business, venture, or side gig. It’s time you walked, biked, drove to your library to see what you’ve been missing out on.
Amenities and Services
What amenities and services are libraries offering? It depends on the size of your local library but as a base most libraries offer:
- Free Wifi
- Access to Computers
- Free Books, eBooks, & Audiobooks on Entrepreneurship
- Free Scanning
- Classes for Entrepreneurs
- Access to Local, National, and International Market Data
- Wifi Hotspots for Checkout
- Skilled Librarians Who Help Search for Resources & Funding
- Meeting Rooms
Some larger libraries also offer:
- Market Data Research Assistance
- Funding Research Assistance
- Free or Discounted Printing & Faxing
- MakerSpaces & 3D Printers & Tools
- Coffee Shops
- Specific Workspaces for Entrepreneurs
- Laptops, Printers, Scanners, and other items to Checkout
- Entrepreneurial Events
- Free Skill Training Resources
- Business Plan Assistance
- Recording Studios
- Nonprofit Assistance
- Financial Research
- Patent & Trademark Assistance
- Passport or Notary Services
- Publishing Services
- Training for Your Staff
- Legal Help
- Pitch Competitions
Navigating Your Local Library’s Website
Now, all this being said, it can sometimes be difficult to find information on library websites. Whether you’re starting a small business or non-profit organization, or looking to get a side hustle up and running, look for these business and e-ship friendly keywords on the website:
- Research or Databases or Digital Resources. This is the section where you’ll see what kind of data your library has access to.
- Events or Programs or Calendar. This is where you’ll be able to see if your library has any upcoming business classes.
- Services. This section will tell you if your library offers any additional business services like one-on-one sessions (often called Book-a-Librarian), business plan help, research services, or training.
Resources at the Library
Once you’ve checked out the library website, you can head to the location to learn how to use some of the resources. Each library has different resources to offer, but here are the ways you can use some of the resources available at libraries.
- Coworking Spaces. A significant resource that libraries offer is their space. Some libraries are now calling their spaces what they are, coworking spaces. Libraries have long had free wifi, and open tables for working, but many libraries are now setting aside designated spaces for businesses and entrepreneurs. From Champaign, IL and Akron, OH to Spokane, WA, and Columbia, SC — libraries large and small are embracing and giving entrepreneurs what they need. Their own space for working and networking.
- Prospecting Lists. Whether you are a business-to-business company offering services, (B2B) or a business-to-consumer company selling directly to the general public (B2C), libraries have a way for you to find customers and market to them. If your library has Mergent Intellect or ReferenceSolutions or AtoZdatabases, these resources will help you pull lists of specific business types to target with contacts, and pull a list of direct customers to mail to. There are also resources like Sorkins and D&B Hoovers which have the ability to pull business lists and additional information about the businesses. If your library has more than one, use multiple resources and create a super list.
- Market Data. When you’re trying to figure out who your customer is, libraries have data that can help you. Resources like DemographicsNow and Claritas can help you target specific areas and find out where people are spending money on different items or have certain media behaviors like internet use, TV viewing, and radio preferences. Along with prospecting, ReferenceSolutions can also help you target specific areas based on consumer behaviors, like where people live with dogs or gardens.
- Industry Reports. If you’re trying to figure out what’s happening in a particular industry you can find reports on consumer products, industries, and countries in resources like First Research, Statista, IbisWorld, & Mergent Archives.
- Competitive Analysis. Need to know what your competition is up to? Librarians can help you find out who your competition is, what their sales volume looks like, and help you figure out how to compete in your industry. They use resources like ReferenceSolutions or AtoZdatabases, D&B Hoovers, Mergent Intellect, and yes, even good old internet searches.
- Legal Resources. Libraries have resources for those who want to protect their business as well. Gale Legal Forms offers templates for a variety of contracts, legal forms, and business forms. Legal GPS is new, and a few libraries are offering it. It helps entrepreneurs walk through some of the different scenarios for the business and figure out which legal issues apply to their business.
- Mentorship. Mentorship is important to small businesses. According to a study by the UPS store, 70% of small businesses that received mentoring survived more than five years — double the survival rate of non-mentored businesses. And sometimes, you may try different mentoring organizations but not find one that reflects you as an entrepreneur. That’s why some libraries, like Mid-Continent Public Library and Kansas City Public Library in Kansas City, partnered up with local organizations to offer mentorship programs to their entrepreneurs that better reflect their communities.
- Nonprofits. Don’t worry, it’s not all about the businesses. Libraries help nonprofit startups as well. Libraries have access to finding funding, to help you research donors, or develop fundraising plans. Some libraries even help write grants for you, how’s that for service?
Librarian Experts to Help Guide You
The biggest advantage that a library can offer an entrepreneur isn’t space or tech or programs. It’s access to the librarians. These information professionals are ready to help in several high-impact ways. Just as each library offers different resources, libraries will offer different services based on their staff.
- One-on-One Help (Often called Book-a-Librarian). Not sure where to get started or which resources to use for your particular business? Librarians will sit down with you and walk through which resources are best for your business, and how you can use them to get the exact data you need. Many libraries offer these types of services, or just walk in and ask. They’re always ready to help.
- Classes. Libraries offer classes all the time. Sometimes these are put on by the library themselves, or sometimes they bring partners in for their expertise. These vary from How-To classes for using their resources, to book clubs, to social media, maker classes, and more. At the very least your library might be offering a business book club, and even in some cases like Brooklyn Public Library’s PowerUP! program — they’re offering a Pitch Competition with a monetary prize. The Goodyear Library in Goodyear, Arizona even offers an entire Startup School put together by the local university.
- MakerSpaces. Libraries all over are creating space for the makers and the doers of the world. From having 3D printers for prototypes to small maker carts they can roll out for use to actual large maker spaces with sewing, large format printing, jewelry making, robotics, and music studios — libraries are the place to go if you’re creating something from scratch.
- Research. Librarians are experts at finding the information you seek. They are trained in research, they research answers to questions every day, and they know where to find the best information, the most accurate data, and they will make you look good. You wouldn’t hesitate to hire an expert accountant, insurance agent, or lawyer for your business, so don’t skip getting a librarian’s help when you need accurate information for your project, business plan, or marketing strategy.
- The Great Connector. If a librarian isn’t sure of the answer to your question, or can’t answer your question, they’re always ready to get you to someone who can. Librarians are connected to other resources in their communities and can help you figure out who you should be talking to. They are great connectors to funding, organizations, and information in your community. Even if a library doesn’t offer a service, they almost always know where you can go to get the help you need.
How to Ask Librarians for Help
You looked at the website of your local library or went for a visit, you saw what services they offer, but now it’s time to ask the librarian for help. If it’s your first time checking out your local library, here are some tips.
- Ask Lots of Questions. Approach the librarian and ask them as many questions as you want. If you’re not sure where to start, just ask what kind of resources they have for small businesses. That will surely open up the conversation to start.
- Come with a Specific Ask. If you’re trying to find your demographic, or figure out what industry projections are for your business, give them lots of information. Tell the librarian what types of products you sell, who you think your demographic is, and exactly what kind of question you’re trying to answer.
- Librarians Will Ask You Lots of Questions. It’s part of their training. Don’t get upset when the librarian asks a lot of follow-up questions, they’re just trying to get you the best information for your business.
The Weird Librarian Language
Sometimes, librarians speak their own language. It’s ok to ask them what they mean or follow the guide below.
- Databases. This is where you find all that great marketing and industry data. Librarians call them research databases, but they’re just the resources where all the great data lives.
- Abstract. If a librarian tells you they have an abstract of an article, that just means we don’t have access to the full article. We only have access to a snippet. But sometimes, if you need that info, the librarian can get it from another library to loan to you (a process called inter-library loan).
- Reference Librarian. More and more libraries have business departments or business librarians, but they often wear many hats in small libraries. For librarians who are super trained in research, look for a reference department or librarian who can help you dive deep into the business data.
Libraries have always been community-based co-working spaces — before there even were for-profit ones. Entrepreneurs have been using the library space as a way to get away from the home or office for years, and now libraries are promoting the fact they provide many of the same amenities as paid spaces. Some libraries have even added coffee shops or vending machines for people who stay long hours. Just don’t spill it on the books.
Help entrepreneurs in your community. Consider a donation to your library or visit www.everylibrary.org to learn more.