Librarian Twitter (yeah, that’s a thing) recently blew up over a now-deleted blog post on Forbes suggesting that public libraries should be replaced by Amazon and Starbucks in order to save taxpayers money and boost stock prices. I could (and frequently do) spend all day singing the praises of public libraries and debunking the arguments in this post. Namely, the public good isn’t always measured in immediate economic benefit. Sometimes access to books, art, technology (literacy, air conditioning, storytime, educational toys, research help, English classes, job hunting resources …) is worth spending some money on for its own sake.
But all this aside, free public libraries really do have a positive impact on the local economy. While the library isn’t a business itself, it offers a wide variety of resources to help small businesses start, improve, and grow. Here are just a few examples.
1. BOOKS! Obviously.
While you can certainly spend all of your time at the library picking out your favorite multigenerational starship novels, there are so many good business resources to be found in book form as well. Need help with marketing? Accounting? Want to boost your technical skills? Not only does your local library have resources in all these areas, but through the magic of interlibrary loan, you can even access books they don’t have. And these days, you don’t even need to physically go to the library in order to borrow books; you can literally download them to your e-reader, tablet, or phone without bothering to put on pants. And since they return themselves automatically, you’ll never find yourself with another late fee.
2. Free access to peer-reviewed journals.
Ah, the power of science! No matter your field, there are scholars out there doing research that can impact your work and help your customers understand the importance of the work you do. If you want to keep up on the latest developments without having to slog through too many scams, peer-reviewed journals are a must. Unfortunately, unless you’re associated with a college or university, they tend to be hidden behind a paywall. Short of just browsing abstracts and hoping for the best, what’s a cash-strapped small business owner to do? Enter your public library. Many will have subscription services for patrons to use, often from the comfort of their own computer.
3. Industry magazines.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a tech startup or a social services nonprofit: industry magazines are a great place to track trends and get new ideas that you can adapt to your circumstances. Some come with association memberships, but others follow a more traditional subscription model. Before shelling out for a monthly delivery, check with your library. Also check for local newspapers and general business magazines, which can offer a different kind of support.
Want to hold a free community workshop? Meeting up with your SCORE mentor during an hour when the local cafe is swamped? Work from home and need a place to work on your website for a few hours without dirty dishes forlornly calling your name from the kitchen sink? The library has you covered. Different libraries have different rules about who uses their various spaces and how (so be sure to check), but it’s almost always a better deal than trying to rent space in a restaurant or hotel.
This is the secret ingredient that makes libraries so powerful. Librarians are magic. They can connect you to resources you never knew existed. They can order things on your behalf. They know how to work technology. They have the forms you need to file your taxes. They’re equally well-versed in the latest from the Chamber of Commerce and in the Chamber of Secrets. They’ll read to your child for half an hour and they’ll clue you in to your town’s key social media influencers in under half a minute. Librarians are like McGuyvers of knowledge, pulling out the exact bit of data you need using nothing but three mechanical pencils and a used post-it note. Just stop by the reference desk and ask for help. You’ll be astonished at what a good librarian can do for you.
We don’t support libraries only because they’re useful for growing businesses, but anyone in business would be foolish to ignore the resources libraries provide.
If you haven’t been in ages, it’s time to dust off that old library card and stop by. You might be surprised by the vibrant community institution it’s become.