Do Now

Add your local library to your economic development services

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This is brilliant. Economic development organizations often struggle to make an impact on micro-businesses, especially disadvantaged businesses and those in minority communities. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but two of those are because they lack experience and trust with that population, and they don’t have much to offer that directly meets their needs.

Who has both of those? Your local library.

I’ve critiqued economic development organizations before for their lack of awareness and understanding of the smallest businesses, the ones that anchor neighborhoods and support the people who never show up at Chamber meetings. EDOs are starting to get a glimpse of these business’s importance to their community, but they require a mindset shift that many EDOs seem to struggle with. And helping these businesses seems overwhelming. There’s just so many of them!

Libraries are particularly well suited to helping small businesses because they already work from deep within the mindset of helping the person right in front of them, no matter their supposed strategic importance to the larger community. And a modern librarian’s facillity with data sources and technology research means that they can often lay their hands on the stuff a small business owner needs faster than almost anyone else. And as this article shows, a lot of them can even create digital tools. And this stuff has value. As one library system found:

In St. Louis County, Gibson and the library team assigned a cost to everything from access to direct mailing lists of consumers ($1,500 value per user) to offering professional development training for employees ($1,678 per employee), and found that from 2019 to 2021, the library provided $122 million in value. 

Perhaps most importantly — and this is often hard for even well-intentioned economic development people to get their heads around — the library is a relatively safe space for many entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities. If your community’s history says that government economic development organions have tended to ignore or push out people who look like you, but the library is welcoming and helpful, where are you more likely to go when you need to learn about something?

So get with your library’s leadership, or even your local energetic research desk manager, and have a talk about what they see from the people who come to them. You might be looking at the start of a beautiful friendship.

From Bloomberg: “Demand for Baltimore County Public Library’s Entrepreneur Academy has grown since its first cohort graduated in 2019. Source: Baltimore County Public Library”

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