To help small businesses get bigger, and better, libraries are committed to supporting local economies and building entrepreneurial ecosystems. In Ohio, the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County (PLYMC) and its Business and Investment Center (BIC) is doing just that and inspiring others to do the same.
PLYMC Business and Investment Librarian Ed Koltonski offers these tips for supporting small business success:
- Work with local groups that also support business development. The BIC works closely with many other partners in the area, including the Youngstown chapter of the SCORE business mentoring network, the local business incubator, and other public libraries. “I’ve been really surprised by how many groups and organizations are available for people who want to start a business around here,” Koltonski says. “There are so many resources that it becomes an issue of communicating instead of competing.For example, when he noticed his business planning classes were duplicating the efforts of the Youngstown Business Incubator, he changed his approach. Now the incubator sends its participants to the BIC to learn how to use the resource Gale Business: Plan Builder, which reinforces what they’ve already learned at the incubator. “It’s become a lot more of a symbiotic relationship,” Koltonski says. “We’re trying to bridge instead of silo.”
- Cosponsor your events. “I get so much more engagement if I cohost a program with the Youngstown Business Incubator or if I’m part of a program at the YWCA. We get to spread out the workload … and promote it more effectively,” he says. “If you have two or three different community partners, everyone is able to speak to their strengths, and there always ends up being a high turnout.”
- Offer a valuable takeaway. “The people who come in for a program have to leave with something, whether that’s a list of local contacts or a new Gale Business: Plan Builder user account,” Koltonski emphasizes. “As long as they leave with something of value … those are people I will typically see show up to another program.”
- Get outside of the library. Koltonski does a lot of showing up—giving talks about the BIC to other community groups and working with the chamber of commerce to spread the word about what the library offers.
- Be available to your constituents. Perhaps most important, “I keep myself very available by email, text message, and messenger app because I tend to be moving around quite a bit,” he says.
But what if a library doesn’t have a trained business librarian? As Koltonski points out, “A question is just a question. It doesn’t matter if it’s a genealogy question or a business question; there are tools for answering it. Yes, you’re getting a business question, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a business expert to answer it. You just need to be an information professional. Take your MLIS skills and apply them to learning about business resources.”
If you’re interested in learning more about how resources like Gale Business: Plan Builder can help your library support entrepreneurial success, visit gale.com/business.