Libraries and entrepreneurs

Library workshop

A library workshop

In this season, politicians at all levels of government seek votes by talking about our weak economy and what they’ll do to create jobs.

Meanwhile, libraries are quietly (or perhaps not so quietly) doing something about this problem. I have already written about library services for the unemployed.

There are a couple of paragraphs there about supporting local entrepreneurs, and in fact, many people use unemployment as a spur to start their own businesses instead of looking for a new job. The topic deserves more careful attention.

The importance of entrepreneurs

Some of the nation’s most successful companies have started during economic hard times. The number and rate of new businesses has steadily declined in recent years.

On the one hand, the most recent declines can be explained as a result of the economic meltdown we have suffered. On the other hand, decreasing numbers of startups over a period of decades may help to explain why recovery is taking so long.

We’ve all heard arguments over whether large or small corporations create more jobs. As it turns out, the age of a company more accurately predicts its power as a job creator.

Nearly all new jobs (as opposed to job openings created by turnover) have come as a result of startups for the last thirty years. The failure rate for new companies is high. Anything that will encourage entrepreneurs to start new companies and help them succeed will be good for everyone.

The role of libraries in helping entrepreneurs

I can say from personal experience that starting a new business has a steep learning curve. Even startups by people with much more business experience than I had require development of all manner of new concepts and skills that simply don’t matter to anyone who is not starting a business.

Libraries are in the information business. In this day of electronic databases, nearly every library can provide access to recent, relevant information about all aspects of business and investment.

Even when a library has a dedicated business specialist on its reference staff, or even a full business department, it does not always advertise and promote its services. Most libraries have many different programs that compete for the money and staff energy it takes to make them highly visible to the public.

So if you’re someone who has started a new business or wants to explore the idea, take time to investigate the services at your local library. It might have resources you never dreamed of that are exactly what you need for success.

Here are just some of the resources to look for and expect to find whether they’re adequately promoted or not

  • Information on creating and running a business in both traditional print and newer multimedia formats
  • Sample business plans, employee policies, and similar study materials
  • Databases for demographic information and industry trends, as well as the tools to make the most efficient use of what you find
  • Workshops, classes, and lecture series about new businesses (including such subjects as licensing, government regulations, contract law, taxes, accounting, and of course, marketing and advertising)
  • Equipment and services like computers with Internet access, wifi, copiers, and fax machines
  • Spaces suitable for meetings, networking, or basicallyusing the library as an office

And how important are these services to the community at large and not just entrepreneurs?

The Free Public Library of Philadelphia helped 8.700 businesses in 2010, providing direct support worth $4 million. These companies as a result generated new revenues, increased their purchases of supplies and materials, and hired new people. Benefit to the community therefore greatly exceeded the cost of supplying that help.

The Carson City (Nevada) Public Library opened a new branch downtown that anchors a Business Resource Information Center that will serve as a catalyst for the economic renewal of that hard-hit city.

Even libraries with small, under publicized business and investment programs return value to the community in exchange for the services they provide to local entrepreneurs.

Business Startups: Why Entrepreneurs Didn’t Start Up in 2009 and Why That’s Likely to Change (link no longer works as of Feb.2016)/ by Mark Dorns, Chief Economist, US Department of Commerce
How Public Libraries Are a Boon to Small Business (link sno longer work as of Feb.2016) / by Bradley Collins. American Libraries
Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Technology & Social Change

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