- Becoming an entrepreneur or starting a small business can come with many financial challenges.
- While most of us associate libraries with childhood memories of borrowing books and DVDs, libraries today are actually being used more and more by budding businesspeople.
- At their local branch, entrepreneurs can attend business and resume workshops, access databases to conduct business research, and find resources for filing copyrights, patents, and trademarks.
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Libraries have become a precious resource in the 21st century, they are social havens with a gold mine of offerings that go far beyond book and DVD borrowing. These days, many patrons can expect robust programming, free events, and dedicated collaborative workspaces, in a bright and welcoming space.
For entrepreneurs both budding and established, libraries provide a wealth of free resources.
A 2016 report by the American Libraries Association highlighted libraries as a place where people visit libraries to “transform new business ideas into reality.” At their local branch, those looking to build or grow their business can formulate business plans, utilise databases for business research, take classes to gain or enhance skills, receive resume advice, and more.
The association says that thousands of public libraries serve as “engines of entrepreneurship,” constantly developing new ways to advance entrepreneurial efforts. Some ways they provide for business owners include free classes, mentoring and networking opportunities, dedicated tools and workspaces, guidance in navigating copyright, patent and trademark resources, and access to specialised business databases.
Business Insider spoke with entrepreneurs who found refuge and resources at their local libraries to assist with building their businesses and becoming better professionals.
“If you’re trying to be the next Bill Gates… you can do it at the library.”
Alex “Nemo” Hanse, 32, founder of Foolies Limited Clothing
When people ask Orlando-based entrepreneur Alex “Nemo” Hanse how to make their businesses boom without breaking their bank account, he has an immediate answer: Visit the local library.
“All the stuff you want is there,” he tells them.
Hanse, 32, founded a clothing company in December 2010 called Foolies Limited Clothing, which is “all about encouraging people to live out their dreams, no matter how foolish it may seem,” he said.
When he thinks about the recent successes of his clothing brand, he acknowledges that libraries have been instrumental. At his local library in Orlando, which he visits regularly, he’s built skills, read dozens of books, and networked, all for free. He often sits for hours to read business- or skill-related books.
In 2015, he sat down at the library to read “Crush It,” by Gary Vaynerchuk, a best-selling author and entrepreneur. The book, he said, inspired him to release a new t-shirt and employ a new strategic social media strategy.
The “Be Inspired” t-shirt went viral online and was featured during Essence’s 2016 Black Women In Hollywood Event hosted by OWN Network. He later saw a video online of Vaynerchuk encouraging the book readers who felt impacted by the story to email him. Hanse did in 2016.
By 2018, Hanse was one of the few dozen entrepreneurs featured in Vaynerchuk’s next book “Crushing It!, How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence–and How You Can, Too.” And it all began at the library.
“Any time I need something … I’m checking out books,” he said, “The treasures of all things in life or conversations or dialogue or just stories untold are right there.”
Hanse is constantly talking up libraries. In Hanse’s 2019 book “Foolies Approves: Foolies Approved: How to change the world with a foolish dream and zero in your pocket,” he writes about how libraries are an extensive resource for people brand or business building. On Medium, he writes to readers they’d be “surprised what our local library has these days to help you level up!”
“YouTube is great and I love watching it to get something quick,” he said, but “there’s just something different about a written text.”
He’s read on advertising, graphic design, photography, shapes and symbols, entrepreneurship, and more. One of his favourite resources he’s used is the audio production studio at The Dorothy Lumley Melrose Centre through the Orlando Public Library.
“They have tools and things for business people, for entrepreneurs,” Hanse said. “So if you’re trying to be the next Bill Gates or the next Steve Jobs, spend your next six, seven hours every weekend for a year straight until you get all the business knowledge you need … You can do it at the library.”
“It’s nice to connect with other folks who are in the same space as I am, thinking through the same questions.”
Amelia Longo, 36, Philadelphia
When Amelia Longo crammed into a small room at the Free Library of Philadelphia last spring for an introductory workshop on starting a business, she was thrilled to look around the room and see at least 60 other eager, like-minded individuals all striving towards similar goals.
The workshop, led by a peppy, knowledgeable librarian, was “a good walkthrough of what resources are available (at the library) and what some of the steps are in thinking about starting a business,” Longo said.
“It’s nice to get an overview,” she continued, “but also to connect with other folks who are in the same space as I am, thinking through some of the same questions.”
Longo is a 36-year-old freelance strategic communications professional based in South Philadelphia and a long-time user of her local libraries. She visits her South Philadelphia branch weekly to have meetings in a no-cost space, or to get work done in a vibrant coworking area. She also volunteers with the library’s Friends group.
In 2016, she first visited the Free Library’s Parkway Central Branch looking to get business development assistance for a local tech startup she worked with at the time. There, she found the Business Resource and Innovation Centre, or BRIC, and immediately took advantage of the resources.
“I started out with a one on one meeting with one of their librarians who walked me through the different resources they had and gave me a free copy of Business Model Generation … (which) has this worksheet for planning your business or evolving,” Longo said.
The librarian walked her through resources including the online databases, and how to research and find potential clients and competitors. Then, the librarian connected her with Wharton Small Business Development Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, a centre that provided free support to small local businesses for 40 years before deciding to shutter its doors in 2019.
“(Librarians are) very useful in knowing what other resources are out there and making those connections,” she said.
Aside from business assistance, she’s gotten free headshots taken, had her resume reviewed, and attended more workshops and programming at the BRIC.
Philadelphia writer uses libraries for historical family fact-finding
Marilyn Dyson, 74, Philadelphia
At the end of January, Marilyn Dyson penned an email to the Free Library of Philadelphia president Siobhan Reardon.
“I’m sure this happens to many people every day with several of your librarians,” she wrote, “but yesterday was very special for me.”
The email came a few days after she visited her local library, on a vigorous hunt for a 1994 article in Crisis Magazine which featured her cousin, disputing claims of the controversial 1994 book The Bell Curve.
Part of Dyson’s life work has been to stitch together her family ancestry and gain an understanding of what life was like for those who paved the way for her. A lifelong writer, she then tries to retell their stories, in an effort to connect with her past.
Online, she said, the article “was going to cost me a lot of money.”
So, she visited the library instead, with a dash of hope and some details scrawled on a sheet of paper. When she arrived and explained her situation to a librarian, the librarian walked her to the library’s Newspapers & Microfilm Centre.
Soon after, they found the article on microfilm. And it was free.
It was a milestone finding for Dyson; a piece of a family puzzle she’s putting together. One of many the library has helped her to find.
Dyson, a longtime Philadelphia resident, said she visits her local Free Library of Philadelphia branch weekly. Like many, she uses the library for books and music records. She also advocates with a library group and teaches a weekly knitting and crochet class to children.
For her, the library has been an invaluable resource in aiding her with reliable historical insights and knowledge the internet can’t provide.
“When you go on the internet and do research you’re only going to get recent information,” Dyson said, but, “the library gives historic information.”
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