Libraries— A Secret Treasure Trove for Hidden Gem Entrepreneurs
Supporting a strong foundation for unrealized and underestimated business owners
Across the country, small businesses have shut their doors, many to never reopen again. Studies have shown that 2020 was a financial crisis for small businesses but less so for large corporations. So why should we be worried? Contrary to popular belief, small businesses supplied approximately 50% of American jobs pre-pandemic, and currently 34% of small businesses are closed compared to January 2020.
As the country begins to reopen, we need to ask where will those millions of jobs come from? How can we support new small businesses and help them start off with a strong foundation? Who are these potential entrepreneurs, and where can we find them and accelerate their success? Libraries are in the prime position to help get to the bottom of these questions, which is why we prioritize partnering with them through our Libraries as Launchpads initiative.
Not all new and prospective entrepreneurs are pitching at 1Millions Cups, talking to the SBDC, getting mentored by SCORE, or becoming members of their local Chamber of Commerce. There are people out there starting businesses who don’t attend the networking events and workshops put on and frequented by support organizations. Many of them don’t even consider themselves entrepreneurs at all. There are creators with growth potential who think they need to stay a solo enterprise or that all they have is a side hustle. There are others who may not have yet considered the path of entrepreneurship, such as unemployed persons struggling to find work or teens looking for something other than the traditional career or college route.
The next Bill Gates may be tinkering in their garage unaware of where to find the right support to launch them to success! This is where libraries step in by becoming a bridge and essential multi-tool for the unrealized and underestimated business owner—the hidden gem entrepreneur. Now is precisely the time they are needed most. Here are just a few of the myriad of ways a library is an indispensable community asset with potential to be a center for long-term support and success for prospective entrepreneurs.
Libraries are Resource Equalizers
Libraries have always provided unmatched accessibility to resources. It is their goal to remove barriers to information and grant access to the resources their communities need.
Through our extensive work with entrepreneurs we’ve found that, especially in the creative industries, not everyone starting out on a new venture considers themself an entrepreneur. Many potential entrepreneurs are newcomers to the business world and have no idea where to go find a supportive hand. Some feel uncomfortable approaching business support organizations due to their lack of knowledge, or when they did, they were asked questions they were unable to answer or couldn’t explain their ideas in a way that sounded like a viable business and were turned away. These are all situations we have heard during our years working with creative entrepreneurs, many of whom have gone on to create successful businesses.
In contrast, everyone is welcome and accommodated in a public library. It is in the objective of libraries to provide access to what their community needs. The American Library Association takes it a step further saying libraries provide not just access but accessibility which, “simply defined, means that the fullest use of any resource should be given to the greatest number of people. Libraries, as providers of public space and digital content, have a responsibility to promote equitable access to all users.” Because of this self proclaimed duty, services are generally free, removing lack of capital as a barrier at your public library, an important benefit for early stage entrepreneurs.
Libraries Respond to the Needs of Their Communities
Libraries are embedded in their communities and respond to the needs expressed by their patrons who frequent libraries for many reasons far beyond checking out a book or attending story time. Libraries are truly one of the last community ‘renaissance’ spaces. Amongst countless free tools and amenities, what other dedicated space allows you to learn how to use a 3D printer, access continuing education, prepare for college, start a new hobby, get tech support, or jump start a business?
Libraries are highly trusted. Their inviting atmosphere and unique ability to fill the gaps in the local ecosystem through a cornucopia of services are what draw people from all walks of life to libraries. In fact libraries are one of the most trusted sources of information out there with nearly 80% of adults finding them trustworthy. All of these qualities position libraries in an ideal place to bridge the divide between hidden gem entrepreneurs and the support that would allow them to flourish.
We need to stop looking to the library as just a book depository and instead look at it for what it really is — a destination, creators workshop, launchpad, or wherever your imagination and drive can carry you. How this looks is different for each library in each unique community, but what we propose is that when a potential entrepreneur visits the library—a stay-at-home mom with a side hustle attending story time, an immigrant looking for better quality work taking an ESL course, a creator utilizing the Makerspace—a librarian can show them entrepreneurship is an option and how to get started.
Librarians are Resource Experts
One of the biggest reasons businesses fail is due to lack of market demand. We hear time and time again from idea-stage entrepreneurs that they think their largest barrier is funding even before they know who their customers are. We do not expect librarians to become business experts, but with a little bit of training, they can gain a better understanding of the entrepreneurial journey and what type of support is most important to businesses at different stages. A common tool librarians use to clarify what information or resources a patron needs is a reference interview. Equipped with an entrepreneurial reference interview, librarians can direct entrepreneurs to the support they really need at that time.
Libraries have access to a wealth of resources. They almost always have access to market research tools, such as data axle (formally Reference USA), and digital learning platforms, such as LinkedIn Learning (formally Lynda.com) or our Libraries as Launchpads portal where entrepreneurs can test the market feasibility of their business ideas. Well connected in their communities, libraries can also direct entrepreneurs to support organizations, mentors, potential customers, and other guidance available in their communities.
Libraries, often underestimated, are uniquely positioned to be the missing link we need to offer support to unrealized entrepreneurs. With libraries involved, we can help these underestimated entrepreneurs create a strong foundation as they start their businesses and accelerate their success. Our job market depends on it!
Creative Startups’ Libraries as Launchpads initiative offers training programs for librarians interested in supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses in their communities. Our Certified Entrepreneurship Librarian and Certified Launchpad Library programs work with library systems and local librarians to build capacity in libraries to fill the gaps in their ecosystems and give local entrepreneurs the boost they need.
Want your library or library system to become a launchpad? Get in touch by emailing LibrariesasLaunchpads@CreativeStartups.org!