Long Overdue

Episode 9: Cultivating Your Library’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, Part 3

Jun 18, 2020

Host Duncan Smith is joined by Janet Wurtzel, Business Consultant for the Delaware Division of Libraries, and Alta Porterfield, the Division’s Statewide Community Resources Administrator. Their conversation focuses on how libraries can extend their reach through networking and building partnerships.

Learn More about the Entrepreneurial Mindset Training Course discussed 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're listening to episode three 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.

Duncan Smith: Thank you, Tammy. Libraries have a tremendous opportunity to support economic development in their communities, but they cannot do it alone. Partnerships are a key element of achieving success in this arena. Rather than wait for potential partners to come to them, libraries must actively, proactively seek partnerships, and be prepared to show how, by working together, the library and the partnering agency can achieve more and have a greater impact.

My guests today know a lot about library community partnerships. Janet Wurtzel is a business consultant for the Delaware Division of Libraries. Alta Porterfield serves as the statewide community resources administrator. Janet and Alta, welcome.

In a survey conducted by the Urban Libraries Council, one of the main barriers to libraries not expanding their services to entrepreneurs in the business community is that these communities don't seem to recognize the value that libraries bring. Tell us a little bit about your organization's experience with partnerships, and whether you think partnerships can help address this issue.

Alta Porterfield: Thank you very much for having us here today, we're really excited to talk about our roles.

So partnerships is really a large part of what Janet and I do with our positions with the Delaware Libraries. Annie Norman, our state librarian, hired us because she saw the importance of networking and building relationships outside the library walls, and that with time it would bring authentic partnerships into the libraries. So most of our days are not in the libraries, but out in the communities. Janet is the business consultant, so she really is our key speaker here today. My focus is social innovation, but I really see everything with a business relationship lens.

Here in the Delaware Libraries, we started hosting non-profit meetup groups, with a logo "Better Together." The outcomes for everyone, everyone, was tremendous. I could go on and on for the entire podcast about stories, but I won't because this is not the emphasis, right? I will just say that the partnerships that we have gained, that are now embedded in our libraries is ... here's an example. 21 libraries with social workers in them, six libraries with Department of Labor, and there's many more examples. The groups saw for themselves the value of the libraries firsthand, and they wanted to be a part of it. We didn't ask them for it, they asked us. It is mutually beneficial, and that is really what partnership is all about.

Janet Wurtzel: Thanks Duncan and Tammy, and thanks Alta, for that opening.

I think what Alta just said is the key, is that the partnerships are of great value to the person that we report to, Annie Norman, the state librarian. She sees the value in networking, and knew that Alta and I, both by personality and by experience, are great networkers that have built networks before. And also, because of our very specific backgrounds. Alta actually started in workforce development, employment, and she still does a lot of work in that arena, and has some background in that. I already speak business and economic development, because I've worked in that arena. I've owned businesses, and I've worked for the Delaware Economic Development office.

So building on those people that we already knew was pretty easy for us. So pulling people in, which basically in terms of the library, Alta and I are just another resource, and Annie is using us to the library's benefit. We actually had to learn about libraries, because we only saw it as a place like other people do, where you go check out books. But, as we've worked there, over time we constantly find new ways to use the libraries resources to assist other organizations.

But, I think the important thing, and I think that Duncan alluded to it in the opening, is you have to get out of the building. You have to go out and network, network, network. Partnerships aren't a transaction, they're a relationship and you have to go out and build that relationship because people don't know what's in the library. It may seem counterintuitive, it may seem like you need to pull them inside to see what's going on, but you can tell them a lot about what's going on, but that's really not your focus. Your focus is to ask them questions, find out what it is that they're doing, and figure out ways that you can support and help them, and that starts the partnership.

So Janet and Alta, thanks for your opening remarks, and for that background. You know, librarians are comfortable conducting reference interviews, where they not only learn about a user's questions, but also frequently help users understand their real need, and then offer resources and solutions to help the customers achieve the goals.

Duncan Smith: So as you were talking, one of the things that occurred to me is it would be interesting to hear, because you both came into the library from outside of it, if you were sitting down talking with economic development, or a Chamber of Commerce, for example, now what have you learned about the library that you could put on the table, to start a partnership conversation? Or, how would you go about starting a conversation?

Janet Wurtzel: Well, part of it is, again, asking questions, listening, and understanding what they do. So, I presume it's the same in every state, we have a lot of economic development resources, and they are slightly different, and learning about all those differences so that you can better refer people for their assistance.

For instance, in Delaware we have a SCORE chapter, lots of places have a SCORE chapter. They're funded by the SBA, they're retired executives generally, although not exclusively. They interact with people on a one-on-one basis, and give them counseling, and help them build a business plan, and to figure out how their business can work. On the other hand, we have the Women's Business Center, they have an online course. We have the YWCA, who also does business development work in an in-person class series that's, I want to say, maybe eight weeks long. We also have the SBDC, which is housed at the University of Delaware. They have relationships to the university, which is very, very strong in engineering, sciences, and technology.

If somebody comes in and talks to me, or to the librarians, the thing we need to understand is to get people assistance, we need to refer them to the organization that's most appropriate. So that's really what we're doing, is trying to get them to the right resource. So you have to learn about what the organizations are doing, and if you just read their descriptions, they really all sound a lot alike. So you really have to get out there, and talk to them, and find out what it is that they're doing.

I used to be in libraries, and have scheduled hours where people could come in and ask me questions. We found, over time, that that was ineffective. But, what was I doing was basically having that first interview with the patron about what it is they were doing, and figuring out is this something that requires science and engineering? I'm going to send them to the SBDC because they have that relationship. Is this someone who is really starting, has never had anything to do with the business before, and they really need some help, so what kind of help do they want? Do they want to have the individual, one-on-one of SCORE? Do they want to have a class that's going to keep them on pace with the Y? Or, do they want an online course, where they can move better at their own pace, and do work when it's convenient to them? So it's about learning, and understanding those things.

What has developed over time is that the Division of Small Business, which is part of the small broader organization of the Department of State that Alta and I, and the libraries are a part of, we worked a lot with them more recently. When we first started, they were in a transitional phase, so it took a while for them to settle down and figure out what they were about, but they're now our go-to reference. So they play the role, now, that I once did. We have bookmarks in various places on our website where you can connect to a request form, a referral form, that people who want to start a business fill out. That automatically generates an email to our Division of Small Business, where one of their councilors then either calls or emails, however the person wants to be contacted, and starts that first conversation and says, "Tell me what you're doing, tell me what you're at. What have you thought about, where are you?" Then, starts providing assistance.

The other thing is that you need to look and see what you have available. So one of the things that we have available is space, that was ... When Alta was talking earlier, about some of the people that have started coming into the libraries, they came from meetings that are held by each county, that are state agencies and non-profits. Basically, all we were offering them was space, it was a place to meet but it got them inside the libraries, to see what there was.

Then, we also have resources. So I work with a number of organizations. There's another business development organization program called Launcher, and they regularly tell their clients to contact me to help them using a database we have called ReferenceUSA, so I go through and run reports for people. In fact, I just did a workshop this past Wednesday with the reference librarians from the state to go through, from a business's perspective, what it is they're looking for out of that database, how they would use it, how to ask the right questions to make sure that you're really getting them what they want. Because, as you said during the reference interview, you ask people questions to find out what it is they really need or want.

So people will come in and say, for a project that they're doing in regard to taking the Launcher class, they need to find out who their competition is. A lot of times, they don't really understand who that is. They think that they're opening a pizza parlor with lots of takeout, so that's who their competition is, other people that make pizza. But, the Chinese takeout is also their competition, so you need to have those conversations, and that's a big place where the librarians can really, really help people, is that skill of doing the interview.

That's a lot, wasn't it?

Duncan Smith: You're right, that's a lot, and I'm going to try to unpack a lot of what you just said because you really said some very important things.

First of all, I heard you say that in order to get people into the library, and partnerships into the library, we have to go outside the library first. We also have to seek to understand these other agencies, and what their needs might be. You specifically talked about SCORE, which is the Senior Corps of Retired Executives, I believe. And SBDC, which is a Small Business Development Center at the University of Delaware. When you talked, you talked about those organizations as resources. So while I think that many librarians may not be comfortable with having partnership conversations, if they think about those organizations as resources that the library can use to meet the needs of its users, then that's something that we can have a more ... It fits more with what we traditionally do.

And then, when you talked about offering space, just the offering of space as a place to meet, another thing that I think that we, as librarians, don't really realize is part of our value proposition is we have a significant number of users. People like SCORE, and the Small Business Development Center, I bet they're not at capacity, I bet they're looking for good people who can use their services, and take advantage of those services. The library is a great place, not only to have a physical meeting, but to connect with parts of the community that these organizations may not be able to connect with in other ways.

Janet Wurtzel: Well actually, our SCORE chapter encourages their people, and many of them do, meet with their clients in the libraries, and they meet with them on a regular basis and they use study rooms in the libraries because it's a neutral space. As the retired executives, they don't have another space, they don't have an office. SCORE technically, they do have an office, but it's in downtown Wilmington. So if they're from Southern Delaware, that's going to be an hour and a half drive to the office, so they use the libraries. We've made that connection with them, so they're really comfortable in the libraries.

I've actually taken business councilors from our Division of Small Business out on tour if you will, and taken them into the libraries, and introduced them to library reference desk, and the directors and stuff like that. This is for your county, this is your resource, this is the person that, if somebody puts in a request for assistance through our referral form, this is whose going to respond to that person. It makes them more comfortable, I think, making the referral too, because now they have a person that they know. When that person calls in and says, "Hey, I need a room, I need a space, I'm going to meet with one of the patrons in person for a counseling session," I don't want to say they get priority, but I hope they do, to get a space. Because sometimes, spaces are hard to get, the libraries are busy.

Duncan Smith: Yeah, thank you.

Alta, I want to come back to you here, in a second, and talk specifically about some of your background in workforce development. A few weeks ago, EBSCO hosted a webinar for libraries on supporting job seekers, and we have over 2000 people sign up for that webinar, across the country. I suspect many of our listeners would be very interested in learning how you got resources to support, partnerships to support job seekers involved with libraries, if that's something that you can talk about a little bit?

Alta Porterfield: Oh, I could go on forever on that one.

I started with libraries with a Broadband Grant, the BTOP Grant, I started in 2010. And we started funding job centers in several libraries that had tremendous need. We started with looking at not just that they needed a job, but they also needed some other resources such as a GED, or a high school education, computer skills, upskilling in a lot of different areas. We could do everything, so we needed to get partners.

So talking to those other partners, and bringing them in to help us, helped the partners, it helped our patrons. And part of the thing with the patrons goes to what Janet was just saying, we have to listen. We have to listen to our partners, we have to listen to the patrons walking through the doors. When they say they need a job, it might be because they need a job because they have all these bills, they might not know where their food's going to come the next day, or their shelter. So you'd have to find out all the different reasons why they're looking for a job, and that included me to start working on social service needs, and that's how we brought all this into our wraparound services that we have today.

As far as the partnerships, as they grew other organizations, like the Department of Labor, didn't see us as a threat, but as an addition to what they were doing. We were able to offer more one-on-one service, as they were inundated with so many people coming in, that they were doing other types of things that we don't have the bandwidth for. We don't have the expertise, for instance, at unemployment insurance and all those areas, so we compliment each other. They give a lot of classes, to this day, in areas that we just refer to them to. So we have a wonderful working relationship, we're part of the WIOA, which is the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, as a partner. We're right at the table at all the meetings, and working with them.

Just so that the librarians on the podcast know, there is a group called Lives Work, and it was set up originally for people that worked with state libraries, working on the workforce piece. That group then extended to other libraries, and we were meeting until last Friday, weekly, during the COVID time, to start planning everything. And now, we've broken up into three focus groups. One of them, Janet is leading for the nation, on library's business. We're looking, and the other two areas are upskilling staff, library staff, to be able to work with training staff and all, so they can get ready for the ensilage of people coming through the doors, the tsunami of people in need, looking for jobs and basic needs, and all that goes with it. The other one is we're actually working on training, and seeing what we need to be able to provide for the libraries, for those patrons that are coming through the door.

So, we're involved in a lot of different ways in that area, and really excited about things that we're working together ... not as an individual, just in Delaware libraries, but nationwide, all the libraries together, planning, sharing our resources, and really get ourselves organized.

Duncan Smith: So Alta, you and Janet, you really are talking about partnerships and networking on all kinds of levels here, not only within your communities but within the profession itself. That's really outstanding, thanks for sharing that.

Janet Wurtzel: I think one of the things that I would like to add, that I thought of while Alta was talking, is that these may be unusual things for libraries, but we belong to the Chambers of Commerce in Delaware, the libraries have a membership. They have my name, and sometimes other people's names on, but I regularly go to Chamber events, sometimes just as somebody who's in the audience. I'll go to luncheons they have and things, and talk to the people at the table. And tell them, when I introduce myself, that I work for the libraries and it often gets a response of, "So what brought you here? Why are you here?" There is a lot of curiosity out there, when you put yourself out, of people wanting to know what's the library's role in this topic?

Also, the other thing that Alta and I are famous for doing together, is going to conferences and tabling, we actually get tables. We go to the Women's Business Conference, we go to all sorts of economic development, business development, workforce development, and we go to the Latino Summit. We go to all kinds of events, and have a table. It's not huge, huge, huge, but it's a larger than normal computer screen. Maybe three feet long, Alta, you think?

Alta Porterfield: Yeah, yeah.

Janet Wurtzel: About like that, and we bring it, we put it on the table, we bring our MyFi, and we hook up, and we start showing people things that are in the library. We're often hooking them in, starting the conversation, by things that they can use personally. We're showing them that they can use LearningExpress, we show them how they can help their kids with learning. The Latino Summit, within LearningExpress, there's the section that's all in Spanish. There's also a number of people at that conference who are working towards their citizenship, and there's that in there. We also show them things like Flipster, and online books, and all those kinds of things.

It, again, starts a conversation and we start doing that interview, and asking them questions. Oh, well we have this, this might interest you, we have that. We're just going through the screen and showing them just our online resources, which blows them away and gives them a new thought of the library. Because people still think it's their grandparents' library, that it's a book repository, so showing them that there are other things, and that the libraries are in fact keeping up with the times, and that they don't need to buy e-books, they can borrow them for free, just really blows them away.

It's again, finding ways to get into other people's space, and finding out what their needs are, and showing them what you have.

Alta Porterfield: That pays us so many dividends in so many different directions. So as you're showing them, you're really ... Like you said, the reference interview we're showing them one thing, and then they some comments and all of a sudden, we'll break off, "Oh, well let me show you this," and it goes in one direction to the next. And then, they start talking about what they do for a living and all, and it just goes on, very quick. It's not a long conversation, but really from there, we hear many, many ... sometimes they'll email us back, and to refer us to somebody else, and all of a sudden we have this great relationship with someone that was just literally walking by our table and we lured them in. Basically, with a "Let me show you something!" We're not exactly shy.

Janet Wurtzel: We aren't. We never stand behind the table. Here's another clue, we always stand in front of the table because we're there, using the computer. But, even if we didn't have the computer with us, we never stand behind the table, we always stand in the aisle way in front of the table.

Alta Porterfield: And we don't sit, we stand the entire conference.

Janet Wurtzel: Yes.

Alta Porterfield: Yes.

Janet Wurtzel: Yeah.

Duncan Smith: So the two of you just alluded to some very interesting things, here. One, at the beginning of the podcast, you talked about how your personalities were very suited to networking, and that you're natural networkers. So if you were going to coach someone like me, who's shy and introverted, and doesn't talk much, what tips would you give me for about how to get started safely, in networking and partnerships?

Alta Porterfield: So, I would love to take that. In the beginning, I was teaching a lot of classes to patrons, helping them with jobs, and one of them was networking as a way to get a job. It's really important to network because a good portion of how people get their jobs is by networking. I was thinking, how am I going to help people that are more introverted? Especially when you don't have a job, your insecurity starts showing up on top of that. They might be an extrovert, but still are insecure about talking. So I read a couple of books, hey I'm in a library.

There was a book, "Networking for Introverts." I read a couple of them, one was that was the title. What they said was an introvert is the absolute best networker. Janet and I can work the room like you wouldn't believe, but we're quick, we'll get the business cards, we'll get back to them and all, but we don't necessarily have that deep relationship building. We might get a lot of really quick hits, and have to really work later to have it develop into something. Where an introvert can have a longer conversation with the person, and really walk away with a true relationship that they can build on from there.

So with that, it's more of just being comfortable with yourself. You know your own pace, you know what makes you feel comfortable. So as far as you were saying, networking a room, you can always go into an area where there's only one person by themself that you might want to talk to. Or, you can do the opposite, you can actually get into a group of people that are a large group, and go in and just make a comment that, "It looks like you're having a deep conversation here," just let yourself in. Then, you could listen, and hear, and talk, and be able to say a few things. And before you know it, you'll start feeling comfortable. I guess, the thing is you have to feel comfortable with your own space. You can't try and mimic another person's personality, it's just not going to be authentic, you're not going to feel comfortable, it's not going to work.

Because what you want in a partnership is trust and authenticity, and that's what's going to show through. It's hard work.

Janet Wurtzel: Being prepared, I think, helps make you feel more comfortable, too, so having your introduction ready. In business, especially when people are starting businesses, and they need to be able to explain their businesses, we have them create different descriptions. They'll have what we call is a 30 second elevator speech, so they've got 30 seconds to introduce themselves. To not only say their name and their title, or where they work or whatever, but just a couple of quick nuggets that are interesting about what they do. The more you do that, the more you'll start to be able to adjust that to who the audience is. You'll start to find oh, I'm going to this event, so this event is about this topic, I can specifically talk about my role related to that topic, which is more likely to garner some communication because you're adjusting your introduction to what the topic at hand is that people are interested in.

Having that kind of intro, being prepared with that, makes you more comfortable so you're not stumbling over what it is that you do. There's also ways to start to help other people by ... One of the things, when people are telling me what they do, my brain just automatically starts doing this, I start thinking about oh, they need to know this person. Oh, they need to know that person, oh they need to know this person. I very rarely walk out of any kind of event that I'm going to with people without, at least, three cards where I've written on, "introduce to so-and-so." I do it by email, call them e-introductions, and I tell each of them something about each other, and why I think they need to connect and talk. So then, they usually start talking via email. I also sometimes, depending upon what the introduction is about, will invite them both to coffee.

So I start building that network, and doing that kind of thing for a person who's shy is, a lot of times, more comfortable where you're only with a couple of people. But, you're really building a relationship with them, now they really have value for you because you've now introduced them to someone else, and that someone else is potentially going to bring some value to them, bring some value to the table. I mean, I do that all the time.

Alta Porterfield: I think Janet brings up a good point, too, is that as far as that, she's fabulous at the introductions. I mean, sometimes they'll be emails on one that she's doing, and it's like wow, she is so good at picking out different things on each person, and why they would be good to meet with each other.

One of the things is that it's sharing. People need to share information so it's not just one sided. You meet someone, and you hear about some of their interests or some of their needs, and it could be something totally different from what they're working on or what their company is. Just at the last meetup, one of the advisors is a veteran, working for Veteran's Services. They were mentioning about with the COVID, they were so worried about students and how they're going to get tutoring, and help with homework, and all like that. There was an article that came through that I thought would be great for them, and then I shot it off to them. Just a couple words and boom, off.

How wonderful for people in the library field, right? They're researching, reading things, seeing articles. It shows that you care about them, and you're listening to them, and it's not just about a business relationship. It's about developing them, and knowing them as a person, and that pays so many dividends down the way. When you go into an event, if you get an email list of whose attended sometimes, that's very helpful to know who's there. So if there's a certain person you want to meet, you make sure you know a little bit about them, even if you can Google what they look like, if you don't know what they look like, that's helpful. It sets down some of the barriers that you might be worried about because you see them and you think of them as somebody you know.

Janet Wurtzel: Well, in terms of approaching, I think Alta mentioned it, if you're in a room there's always people around that are by themselves. Approaching that person so you're only having to have a conversation with one person is really good. When I'm talking in a group, I try and give people signal to open up the group so there's space between us, so people can walk in and glance around from time to time. If I see somebody looking around, looking lost, I'll just motion them with my hand to come on over, come on in, you're welcome. So look for people that are extroverts, like Alta and I, because we will pull you in and help you along.

Duncan Smith: That's really great. I appreciate both you sharing that. I feel much better about, now, walking into a crowded room, and seeing that room as potential for helping me improve library services in my community, so thanks for that.

You guys have shared an awful lot with us.

Janet Wurtzel: I told you, we talk a lot.

Duncan Smith: An awful lot today. So in closing, I'm going to make you work a little harder. I want, what's the one thing you want our listeners to take away from each of you today?

Janet Wurtzel: I guess what I would say, Alta and I preach this all the time, is network, network, network, and you're building relationships. Even though Alta made it sound like we go into places and just zip around and take business cards, that's not really true. We do stop and have conversations with people, we do things very intentionally. If we walk into a place where we're going to sit down and have a meal at a conference, we won't sit at the same table. The director, who is an introvert, will often try and sit with us and we're like, "Go meet some other people, I've got this table covered. I'm going to meet all these people, I'm going to be fine. You can sit over there, and you can meet all those people."

We look to go sit at tables where we've never seen any of those people before. So network, network, network, find ways to help them, introduce them to other people as you build your network and you will have great value to all those people. And when you need something, and you call them and say, "Can you help me, and come in and do a workshop in my library about whatever," they will be thrilled to help you.

Alta Porterfield: I would say that, when I first started with the libraries, I was really gung-ho with trying to promote libraries, and how can I promote libraries, and thinking of all these ways. I was too much into that mode.

So when I stepped back from that mode and thought, the way I can really help libraries is by doing more listening of what everybody else needs, and what their concerns are, and what they want. And then from that, I can then be slower and more intentional in what I talk to them about, and help them out with. So I think that going to more meetings, being a part of your community and things that interest you, that might be help to the libraries in the long run. Meaning that I did go to some of the Chamber of Commerce events, but the business piece isn't my arena, mine is more of the social service end, and job related area, so I worked more in that part.

You need to feel like hey, I'm going to put in the time, and I want to be part of this, and I'm going to listen and hear what you need. And I'm going to actually be on committees, and actually help with things and say, "I can help you with that area." Then they know you really are a part of what they're interested in, and they'll want to be a part of who you are, and they'll see more value in the libraries, and they'll come into you. Then all of a sudden, you really are a team.

That's my takeaway, is really you have to invest the time in all these different areas. It's just not hey, they'll want to come to us because we've got a free space, or we've got computers or the resources. You need to invest the time to let them know that you really are interested in helping them.

Duncan Smith: I want to thank both of you, Janet and Alta, for sharing so much information about this very important topic because I think partnerships, moving forward for libraries, are going to be critical to our success. I realize that you've basically said everything that you have to say on this subject today.

Janet Wurtzel: No, we could keep talking actually.

Duncan Smith: Right, right, right. But, I would like to reserve the right to call you two back, to continue this conversation in the future.

Alta Porterfield: Okay.

Duncan Smith: Good. All right, thanks. Tammy, over to you.

Tammy Ross: 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 click the link that we've shared in the episode description.

Thanks for checking out Long Overdue: Libraries and Technology. Be sure to tune in for the next episode in our series.

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