Laurel Holden and Mary Howard are librarians at Southern Pines Public Library (SPPL) in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Although neither has business experience, they have embraced their roles in cultivating their community’s “economic vitality.” The American Library Association’s Libraries Build Business Playbook states, “With a history of bridging gaps in access to information resources and education, libraries are an important infrastructure that can be leveraged to tackle economic divides.” After building a library program around EBSCO’s Entrepreneurial Mindset Training Course, SPPL has seen several patrons start and grow their own small businesses. (Read the success story to learn more.)
In Part 1 of EBSCO’s Libraries and Entrepreneurship Webinar Series, “Finding Your Place in the Business Community,” Holden and Howard talked about their experiences in supporting local entrepreneurship and offered tips and encouragement to attendees. Although both librarians were initially apprehensive about taking on the challenge, they quickly realized that they could rely on the skills they already have ― reference, collection development and programming ― to nurture relationships with members of the business community.
In addition to offering members of the community access to the Entrepreneurial Mindset Training Course, SPPL held two round table events featuring local small business owners. These round table events gave prospective entrepreneurs an opportunity to learn from the experts.
Here are a few key takeaways from our webinar presenters on planning similar events:
How do you find members of the business community to participate in events?
The process of finding speakers was a big part of helping us learn about our business community. And we did this through a process referred to as social listening. Keep an eye on your neighborhood pages online on Facebook, where people might ask questions about the community or post about their new business. Keep your ear to the ground and try to figure out what people are talking about in your community. We also love to keep an eye on Instagram. A lot of new businesses are doing so much marketing through Instagram and local media outlets. You can also work your contacts, ask your peers and your coworkers, or even your patrons. We all know a patron who always knows exactly what's going on in your community. So reach out to those contacts.
What’s in it for the panelists?
They get an opportunity to promote their business! It's probable that if someone is starting a new business, your audience at the library might be a different audience that they haven't reached yet. In our area, there are a lot of businesses emerging that are solely online. The library audience may not be plugged into Instagram, so this is another way to build awareness. It's also a networking opportunity, one that is no cost to them. We found that one of the best things about putting a bunch of business leaders and entrepreneurs in the same room together was that they were coming up with ideas to combine forces and work together, which is a very empowering and exciting opportunity. Entrepreneurs want other people to succeed as well. They want to share their creative energy and they get excited about the community at large.
What’s in it for your library?
It’s good for your library to be seen as relevant to the business community. At the end of the day, we are dependent upon the business community. Without a thriving economy, we don't get funding from taxes and our municipalities. It can also help you build relationships. We don't want to exist in a vacuum or in a little tower off by ourselves. It's great to have relationships with the business community because you never know who might be willing to do another program or donate to your summer reading program or just promote the library to their customers and the community. That word-of-mouth is gold.