This week (April 9 -15, 2017) is National Library Week, and today (April 11) is National Library Workers Day. While both are cause for celebration of all the meaningful contributions that public libraries make to our communities, they also present an opportunity to highlight how your local library can provide valuable tools and resources that your small business can leverage (often for free) for a wide variety of sales, marketing, research, and other business needs.
About National Library Week
National Library Week (#NationalLibraryWeek ) was first officially celebrated in 1958. Sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA), it is billed as “a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use and support.” This year the theme of the week is “Libraries Transform,” (#librariestransform) which is designed to highlight how libraries are changing to better meet the technological as well as social needs of their local constituents.
National Library Workers Day (#nlwd17) was first celebrated in 2004, and was created to enable the public to recognize and celebrate the contributions made by librarians and other library support staff throughout the year. Not only do these dedicated professionals help keep the library doors open, they help people navigate and make the best possible use of the many resources libraries have to offer.
Leveraging Libraries for Your Small Business
Over the years library resources have gone far beyond books. In fact, your local public library should be a go-to source for many common business needs. The following are 5 ways your small business can leverage the library:
Industry specific directories are a fantastic way to put together targeted lists for sales and marketing. These directories put a wealth of contact information at your fingertips that would be extremely time-consuming to gather yourself. They used to take the form of giant books, but more and more are moving to subscription-based online databases. And, those subscriptions can get expensive! Many libraries have access to these directories, and while in some cases you need to go to the library to use them, in others you can obtain online access right from your own computer if you have a valid library card. Start by checking your library website to see what’s available. If you’re not sure about the information available, put together a list of the type of customers you want (manufacturers, martial arts schools, restaurants, etc.) and the type of information you want to screen by (annual sales, location, # of employees, etc.) and ask your librarian for some suggestions.
Sure, you could stop at Starbucks while you’re on the road to pick up free wi-fi, but you’ll likely end up with a $5 cup of coffee to go along with it, and you won’t have access to a printer, copier, scanner, or fax, nor will you be able to get help if you have connectivity problems. Just about every city, and even small town, you find yourself in will likely have a library that provides all of those basic office functions. If you’re having computer problems, or can’t get a task done via just a mobile device, you’ll probably be able to use a library computer, which might have high-end software such as Photoshop in addition to standard Office Suite applications. While you’ll need to pay for copier use and pages you print, access to wi-fi and computers is typically free. Librarians are great resources for help with connectivity problems, as well as with using unfamiliar programs. Popping into a local library is a great way to print a boarding pass if you can’t get a mobile pass on your cell. And, you might just find yourself with a pretty good (and free) cup of coffee too.
Whether you need to research rules and regulations for your industry, local ordinances affecting your office or storefront, or federal regulations regarding employee rights or ADA requirements, your local library is a far less expensive first stop than is your local lawyer. The entire system may seem impenetrably opaque to you, but your local librarian (particularly if you have access to a law library associated with a college or university) can likely pinpoint the information you need with ease. This isn’t a substitute for legal advice, but it is a shortcut to very useful information you can use to either make a decision yourself, or to seek very specific legal advice (which is likely to be less costly that asking a lawyer to address a broad question).
Product Design and Modeling
3D printing can be a great way to create prototypes for new product designs. It can also be a good way to create replacement parts for everything from industrial manufacturing equipment to automobiles. And believe it or not, 3D printers are finding their way into libraries across the country. Once you know the printer model your library has, you can easily obtain free design software and project templates online. Once your design is finished, simply take it to the library and “print” it—for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a 3D printer for your business.
Public libraries are more than resource repositories, they often function as community centers and gathering places. Libraries routinely host social get-togethers such as book clubs and concerts as well as educational lectures, panels, and roundtables, and discussions about local concerns such as politics, the school system, or zoning. Attending (or even sponsoring) these events is a great way to promote your small business within your community. If there is a chance to show your expertise, take it. If there is a way to use your resources to help your community, do it. Even just using a social setting to let people know about you and your small business can be valuable. While “always be selling” is a bit harsh for this type of venue, “always be educating” fits right in with the public library mission.
Supporting Your Local Library
Now that you know how much libraries can do for your small business, be sure that you do what you can to support them. While incredibly valuable public resources, public libraries are often strapped for funds. So, make your library one of the recipients for donations of books, office supplies and equipment, software, computers, and mobile devices your business no longer needs. (And cash, monetary donations are always needed too.)
For National Library Week you can also participate in several social media events designed to thank and recognize libraries and library workers. The National Library Workers Day website invites you to “Submit a Star” to recognize a library worker for his or her outstanding qualities and/or performance. You can browse the full list of “Stars” here.
The ilovelibraries.com site invites you to post a text, photo or video to Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook with the hashtag #expertinthelibrary that completes the sentence, “My Librarian is an Expert in…” It is accepting entries from April 8 through noon (CT) on April 15, and one winner will get a $100 Visa Gift Card. You can get templates for an entry here.
Finally, use your skills (or make it a team project) to help your local library to tell the public about all they can do (and are doing) to assist and transform the community. The ALA is sponsoring a video challenge as part of National Library Week. The video should tell a story of how a library or librarian helped a person with a problem and created a happy ending. The library may win a $50 gift certificate; but the real prize is letting people know about the good work being done. Videos should be officially submitted here (this page also provides the details you’ll need to create your video), but should also be shared on social media using with hashtags #librariestransform and #NationalLibraryWeek. Winning videos from last year’s challenge can be seen here.
Has a library or librarian helped create a “happy ending” for your small business? If so, take the time to get the word out this week (the story will not only help promote the library but your small business too), and remember to support your local library this week and all year long.
Did all this talk about libraries get you hankering for a good read? If so, check out these Tip posts for some suggestions:
- 12 Summer Reads for All Small Business Needs
- Small Business Lessons from Shakespeare
- The Best of 2016 Best of Lists (Best Books of 2016)