Long Overdue

Episode 11: Cultivating Your Library’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, Part 5

Sep 25, 2020

Host Duncan Smith is joined by Bill Kelly and Jennifer Jumba of Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio. Their conversation focuses on evolution of CCPL’s Encore Entrepreneurs Series, a six-week training program designed for members of the community who are looking to start a small business.

Learn more about the Entrepreneurial Mindset Training Course referenced in this podcast. 

Tammy Ross:

Welcome to Long Overdue: Libraries and Technology, a podcast for librarians in which we explore important trends and topics in the library industry. You are listening to episode five in our series called Cultivating Your Library's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, hosted by Duncan Smith, Founder of NoveList, and EBSCO's Chief Strategist for public libraries. In this episode, Duncan will be talking with William Kelly and Jennifer Jumba of Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio.

Duncan Smith:

We hear a lot these days about the challenges facing public libraries. COVID-19 and the economic devastation that has brought about have forced public libraries to rethink how they go about delivering basic services, as well as how to adapt to the societal changes surrounding them. The Cuyahoga County Public Library has been successfully growing entrepreneurs in Ohio from more than five years. Their success is based on addressing clearly identified needs and expanding staff capacity to meet those needs by developing new skills and filling new roles.

Duncan Smith:

Today, my guests are Bill Kelly, who is the Adult Programming Manager at Cuyahoga County Public Library, where he has worked for 25 years. Joining Bill is Jennifer Jumba, who has been an adult services librarian and at Cuyahoga for more than six years. Welcome Bill and Jen.

Bill Kelly:

Thanks Duncan.

Jennifer Jumba:

Thank you.

Duncan Smith:

If I remember correctly, Bill, Cuyahoga's entrepreneurial journey began by focusing on individuals who were starting second careers or making a change in their work life. Today, that's just about everybody. Why did you start with that group of users and how did you go about serving them?

Bill Kelly:

That's a great question. I guess it was about six or seven years ago. We had just recently done a new strategic plan and we identified a number of goals. Two of those were of course workforce development and then also serving older adults. And so when we did a map of the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Northeast Ohio, we noticed that services for older adults in the entrepreneurial space was a niche that we could serve.

Duncan Smith:

How did you go about serving those, addressing that need, Bill? That sounds like a really great niche that you found there and I want to congratulate you guys on actually finding and identifying that. But what exactly did you do and how'd you go about it?

Bill Kelly:

We were fortunate in that we work closely with the Cleveland Foundation and Encore Cleveland, and they provided us with an initial grant to create the series that we labeled Encore Entrepreneurs, which was a six part series that was really geared toward those who were in their second act, thus the Encore part of the Encore Entrepreneurs, those people who might be recent retirees or were looking for a change in their job who are interested in starting their own business. And the Cleveland Foundation gave us grant to fund that series to get it off the ground, hire a consultant to develop and lead that series, which grew and ended up being a six part series.

Duncan Smith:

So one of the things that I'm hearing is the benefit of actually mapping your ecosystem, and there are several here that you benefited from, one was that you identified a particular niche, but it also sounds like as a result of looking at your ecosystem, you identified some partners, including a funding partner. Did I get that right?

Bill Kelly:

Absolutely. The Cleveland Foundation has been invaluable. They're a great partner to the library system in general, but in this instance, it enabled us to plant the seed to start some entrepreneurial programming. And then once we began offering the series, it was always open to anyone, but we saw attendees from every age coming to the series and that allowed us to eventually leverage this series to continue growing our entrepreneurial services.

Duncan Smith:

Can you talk a little bit about how you grew those services and a little bit about library staff role and the role that they played in growing those services?

Bill Kelly:

Sure. One of the things we do of course is continually evaluate the outcomes of our programming, continue to modify and improve upon it. As we went from year to year with the Encore Entrepreneur series, so we modified it a little bit each year. We learned, for example, what to spend more time on like business plans, or we learned that over the six weeks for the first couple of years, week six was a pitch event. And we realized that most of the attendees weren't ready for that after six weeks. The six weeks are a great foundational course in entrepreneurship, but for those who are just coming to the concepts for the first time, it's a very robust but very truncated process. So we modified the series a couple of times over the years to focus on what we think was lacking and to remove those things that we felt perhaps some of the attendees weren't ready for.

And each year we improve that. And ultimately, we came to the conclusion that we needed something a little bit more advanced or robust, to handoff the attendees, and that allowed us to leverage another grant, this time with the Key Foundation. The KeyBank Foundation underwrote another series called the Key Advanced series. Now this one was a four week series that is much more advanced and a deeper dive into things like the financials and the business plan and is designed really to prepare folks for the funding phase, to really start up their business. And for that one we've identified yet another partner in the ecosystem, ECDI, or the Economic and Community Development Institute, who lead that four-week series for us. And so that provided us with two different series to offer to any of our budding entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio, depending where they were in the process.

Duncan Smith:

So really, I love what you're saying here about you started with a group and then you realized once that group, that got through that six weeks course, that they still weren't quite ready in many cases to wrap up stuff and really open their doors. So you had another course that took them to the next step with another and different set of partners. Sounds to me like one of the things that you're really doing is you're living the entrepreneurial dream here because what entrepreneurs do is they're constantly micro-experimenting, they're constantly trying to figure out new ways to address customer needs. And it sounds like that's exactly what's going on at Cuyahoga. Jen, we've heard a lot from Bill. What's been your role in all of this?

Jennifer Jumba:

My role is I was one of six librarians who were asked to partner and facilitate this six-week program in branches. So in 2019, I had the opportunity to facilitate it twice, with a colleague. And what we found is it was a really great experience as a librarian to connect that foundational or that primer of developing a business plan and all the parts that go along with it and complimenting it with library resources and databases to offer a more comprehensive program and a place where students could go to, to access things that they had questions on their own.

Duncan Smith:

Sounds like you became like a teacher here. So the role that you play went from Cuyahoga using outside consultants to do this, to library staff actually becoming the leaders of this content or this program series. Is that right?

Jennifer Jumba:

That's exactly right. We became facilitators of this great series to work with people who had that nugget or gem of an idea and figure out how to expand upon it. It was a great experience.

Duncan Smith:

So it sounds like you really enjoyed that and it was a slightly different way of being a librarian than sitting at a desk or responding to emails or answering the phone.

Jennifer Jumba:

Absolutely. But it was a blending of my two worlds. My background is sales and marketing before I decided to pursue my library degree. And I'm also a faculty member at San Jose State [University] where I teach. So all my worlds came together to employ what the library has to offer and resources, and at the same time, meet the needs of the community with two areas in which I was pretty darn comfortable.

Duncan Smith:

It also sounds like you had an opportunity because you were actually facilitating the content to build a deeper, more engaged relationship with this group of budding entrepreneurs that you were working with.

Jennifer Jumba:

Absolutely. When we looked at the people that were in the class, they were people that we’re used to seeing in branches. So that's really great. And a of times, when you're sitting at the reference desk, you're handselling it to customers who are coming in, who are looking for business books. So to your point, yes, it was an opportunity to develop more meaningful relationships with customers to demonstrate what the library has to offer.

Duncan Smith:

Can you give me, just sort of walk me through maybe an example of a student or an interaction that you had with a student that illustrates that process?

Jennifer Jumba:

The first cohort that we facilitated, we had a smaller group of six individuals, and we had one gentleman who was looking to start eventually a restaurant, but was going to start with the food truck, start small and build a following. Another student was looking to offer art classes to individuals, being booked and being able to offer painting or scrapbooking type of things to people. And what they found is that they needed this series to understand all the pieces and parts that go into, how do I take this idea and bring it to fruition?

Duncan Smith:

And I suspect along the way, you were able to show them and integrate library resources and other library services into their entrepreneurial journey at the exact right time. Is that right?

Jennifer Jumba:

Absolutely. Cuyahoga County's very fortunate. We have innovation centers. So we were able to integrate that if they wanted to create T-shirts for their business or hats for their business, or use the laser engraver. We were able to incorporate several different databases to help them explore from SIC codes in a particular zip code to make sure that they're putting their business in the right place, to things to develop business plans. So it was a really great fusion of everything that the library has to offer in one spot relevant to what that customer needed to develop their business.

Duncan Smith:

And when you say innovation centers, my mind goes to, is this another name for a makerspace or what we might call a makerspace, or is it broader than that?

Jennifer Jumba:

No, it's a makerspace where we have Cricuts and vinyl cutters and heat presses and laser cutters and engravers and 3D printers. So it's a great way for people to do what they want to do in-house instead of having to source that expense elsewhere, when you're just starting.

Duncan Smith:

Bill, in Jen's case, she had a business background, she had some teaching background or experience, certainly was comfortable in a classroom. So I could certainly see how Jen would be all over this. Is that true for the rest of your staff?

Bill Kelly:

Jen is obviously a perfect example of somebody who was well-prepared to take this journey. But what we did is in 2018, we did bring in a consultant to work with our heads of adult service, our adult staff, to give them a multi-day training in the facilitation and program design. This was separate than the entrepreneur work we were doing, but this gave those staff tools and the ability to just feel more comfortable sharing content, designing programs, having the creativity and flexibility to thinking on their feet. So that once we started the training for the entrepreneur series, everyone in this cohort had that background and the tools. So we, at least, had some base level training in just facilitating and instruction.

Duncan Smith:

I think this is just another example of Cuyahoga being entrepreneurial and leveraging, in this case, staff resources to help them discover new roles, new ways to meet user needs. I think we're in an environment where that role between information provider and teacher is going to be very, very blurred. It always has been blurred, but it's just getting even more blurred. And while that may have been something that our academic library colleagues were very familiar with, I think for many public libraries, that's kind of new.

Bill Kelly:

True. And I think one of the big takeaways from the facilitation training engine, can certainly weigh in, but as you said, we're information providers and then every day we're responding to reference queries on whatever topic is thrown at us. We may not have any experience with that topic, but we're going to provide them with authoritative sources. And delivering these types of programs is really just providing an anticipatory, more detailed reference response. So we identified that entrepreneurial services were a huge need in the community. So developing a program that developed our response to that met that need so that we could deliver a much higher level program for our customers.

Duncan Smith:

In my experience, and also as a librarian who way back in the dark ages was doing adult programming, for a long time, I feel like we have viewed programming as an outreach or a marketing strategy rather than as an extension of our basic and core information services. It's one thing to answer someone's specific question about starting a business. It's another thing to provide them with a series of curated experiences that lets them walk through a journey. And that's really what it sounds like you're doing at Cuyahoga.

Bill Kelly:

Well, exactly. And I loved what Jen said too about forming these relationships with the customers, because first of all our most valuable resource is our staff. And when we provide a library program, we want those customers to come in and see our staff and think of the library and our staff as one. Whereas in the past, we used more external presenters, but we'd rather put our time, energy and resources into our staff so they can fulfill that function. And this entrepreneur series is a perfect example of having that sustainability, where we provide the training, we give them the tools and then we're able to provide this service and these programs well into the future.

Duncan Smith:

Right. So you basically have built sustainability for this programming effort rather than being dependent on outside funding to continue it.

Bill Kelly:

Correct. We were very fortunate to be able to get this series going and get it off the ground, and build a curriculum through some of the grants that we were able to receive. But I think now we positioned ourselves so that we can continue this on our own once the funding falls away. And I think this is a model that we'll want to explore in many other avenues, moving forward.

Duncan Smith:

Jen, you're a natural for this. What have you said to your colleagues at Cuyahoga, or what would you say to our librarian colleagues that are out here who might be a little skittish about taking on this role?

Jennifer Jumba:

I think it's certainly understandable. As a librarian, I think it's the best part of the job, having the opportunity to constantly have new things that you learn and facilitate. To my colleagues who were a little hesitant, it's important to make sure they have the training and the structure to feel confident. But Bill mentioned earlier, it is truly just a really long reference interview. It's no different than if somebody asked for books on a pet and don't have a pet. This is a much more meaningful and sustainable and replicable initiative that could be applied to different areas moving forward as Bill mentioned. But you got to become comfortable with the material and thankfully we were given time to work on the PowerPoints ourselves, phrase it in ways that made sense for us, infuse it with library related resources and databases, to the point where you became comfortable with it.

Duncan Smith:

That's really great. A friend of mine, Fred Stutzman, who is a librarian entrepreneur that started a software company called Freedom, in my discussions with him, he says to me, "Duncan, being an entrepreneur or starting a business is just one long unanswered question. No matter what you think you know today, you're going to have a question that you're going to need to have the answer to tomorrow." And it sounds like Cuyahoga is positioning itself very well to be able to be there for those people as they get to the next question and the next question. What is the community saying about this course and what you're doing and has the library benefited in a significant way from this work that you're doing with these entrepreneurs?

Bill Kelly:

Yeah. Well, I can tell you that, of course, we survey our participants after every series. We also survey our staff, as Jen noted. And it's been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I think 100% of the participants, and we've only been doing the staff series since last July so it's a smaller sample size, but 100% of the participants said they definitely agree that this was an immensely valuable experience and that they now had the tools to begin their entrepreneurial journey. So we're doing something right. And I think some of the anecdotal comments that are shared is they love the fact that the staff are leading the series because they do feel more comfortable, they do build those relationships. And it also fosters an environment where the participants are creating these relationships between themselves, as well. And Jen can probably add some to this.

Jennifer Jumba:

Yeah, absolutely. That was one of the things that I noticed in the two cohorts that I facilitated, is they develop this sense of rapport with one another, to keep in touch with one another to support and encourage. And part of facilitating is not just spewing forth material for them to learn, it's putting them in positions to have dialogue, to have small group discussions with each other to really understand the material and then within the framework of their idea, apply that lesson from that week, at that point in time. And it was just really neat to see them, at the end of the six weeks, talk about how much they're going to miss each other and keep in touch to support and encourage one another. So that tells me we've done something right.

Duncan Smith:

Right. So it's not just the content that's being delivered here, it's that a community is being built and strengthened as a result of these experiences as well. So Bill and Jen, it sounds like that Cuyahoga has been doing an awful lot for several years now for entrepreneurs in your community. What's next? What are the next steps and what are you looking at for the future?

Bill Kelly:

That's a great question. Well, we want to continue to build on the current entrepreneur series, the staff led entrepreneurs series. Of course, we had to hit pause earlier this year, right in the middle of a series. So as soon as it's safe to do so, we'll resume that series. And we'll also pick up with the Key Advanced series with our partners at ECDI, which has also been put on hold. I've been having conversations with a lot of our other colleagues around the country, and I think we want to explore doing some specific series on particular types of entrepreneurship, like maybe one geared for the culinary arts or food trucks or fashion design or whatever. Again, mapping our entrepreneur ecosystem, but getting a little bit more specific so that we're providing a very relevant series for folks.

Duncan Smith:

Jen, we just heard Bill's vision for the future. Do you have anything you want to add to that or are you just on board for it and going to lead the charge?

Jennifer Jumba:

I would say I'm on board and ready to lead the charge, but I like the fact that it's becoming a little more focused, which I think will help people to be able to drill down to their particular business idea and then form an even tighter community because it's other food truck or culinary arts people or other fashion designers. So much more collaborative.

Duncan Smith:

Yeah. That sounds like that's really promising. And it sounds like a natural evolution of where you are today. Before I summarize, anything else that either of you would like to share with our audience or a key point you want to be sure to make before we wrap up today?

Bill Kelly:

I would just summarize by saying one of the pillars of our own strategic plan is lifelong learning. We here at Cuyahoga County Public Library encourage lifelong learning from our customers. And I think this is just another great example of how we not only embrace lifelong learning, but embody it ourselves, our staff here at the library and are constantly evolving and learning new things.

Jennifer Jumba:

I would just add that if there are librarians out there to not be afraid of what you don't know, that you have plenty of time to research and prepare and truly connect and make a difference in the community that you're serving.

Duncan Smith:

Well, I want to thank Bill, both you and Jen for being with us today. And a couple of things that our conversation has reminded me of, or brought to light for me is that one of the things that the Library Council and some of their studies about public library services entrepreneurs, one of the biggest reasons that more libraries don't do more of these services is a lack of staff capacity. Now, one part of that is just the number of staff hours. Another part is a lack of comfort and knowledge of working with business community. And especially with entrepreneurs, Cuyahoga has done a great job of addressing both of those areas of staff capacity. And I want to congratulate you on that. And I really love the fact that you're pointing out that in a profession that talks about lifelong learning, we not only need to talk the talk, we need to walk the walk and Cuyahoga is certainly doing that.

And one last thing that I especially want to remember or reflect back on, Jen, that you said about the fact of this being the facilitator for a multi-session course gives you the opportunity to build relationships with users and actually meet their needs in more and different and better ways. One of the things that public libraries need to face as we move into this somewhat vague future, and as we think about looking for ways to measure our outcomes, is that when you talk about the things that really matter for many people, starting a business, finding a better job, keeping my small business afloat, those challenges can't be adequately addressed just by answering one question. They require relationships. And if we are really going to demonstrate the power and the value of public library, it is only through sustained connection to these people on their entrepreneurial journey that is going to get us the outcomes that are going to result in increased funding and support and true recognition of the value that public libraries bring to their communities. So once again, Bill and Jennifer, thank you both.

Bill Kelly:

Thanks so much for having us, Duncan.

Jennifer Jumba:

Thank you.

Tammy Ross:

Thanks for checking out Long Overdue: Libraries and Technology. If you'd like to learn more about how EBSCO's new entrepreneurial mindset training course can help your library support entrepreneurial thinking in your community, please check the link that we've shared in the episode description.

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors.