Public Libraries support local business

Michigan eLibrary Boosts Local Economy

By Gale Marketing Research Team

In June 2013, the Michigan eLibrary (MeL), a service of the Library of Michigan, added three Gale online resources – DemographicsNow: Business & People, BusinessInsights: Global, and Gale LegalForms – plus a collection of business-oriented GVRL eBooks to their portfolio.

The decision to purchase business resources for Michigan resulted in funding proposed by the office of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder as part of his “Economic Gardening” initiative to grow businesses in the state, which was then enacted by the Michigan state legislature.

Before MeL had these new business resources available, libraries had to buy their own. Many didn’t have the funds to do so, according to Deb Biggs Thomas, Michigan eLibrary & Outreach Coordinator at the Library of Michigan.

mel2 Often public libraries didn’t have the expertise nor resources to assist their communities with small business development, so they looked toward other business support organizations and perhaps even academic libraries to provide business knowledge to that demographic. Sheryl Mase, Statewide Library Services Director at the Library of Michigan, noted, “I’m not sure the business community knew they could go to the library to find the information they needed in the first place. They likely would have gone to the Chamber of Commerce or the SBDC [Michigan Small Business Development Center].” With MeL providing business-building tools at the state level, funding concerns by libraries are reduced, and small businesses owners or entrepreneurs have the resources and guidance that they need.

From grassroots to the governor’s Office
Michigan libraries’ quest to aid the state’s entrepreneurs began with grassroots efforts. Washtenaw Community College, for example, began work with business support organizations and reached out to public libraries in the county to help them through training and resources to assist their patrons looking to start a business. But the initiative was not without gaps: “There was a lot of encouragement from WCC to let people use the facilities, but they couldn’t meet the demand for training and provision of all the applicable resources on starting or growing a business,” says Sheryl Mase.

With a new focus from the Governor on economic development, grassroots efforts evolved into statewide initiatives for the library to help people in their communities get back to work. “With the economic downturn there was a huge push for workforce retraining in community colleges,” says Mase, “and we focused on resources for job development and support.”
The State Library advocated that public libraries begin to look at expanding their role in the community
to include economic development.

Boosting awareness statewide
The training on the new business resources was a key to the success.

  • Initially, MeL worked with the library cooperatives around the state, offering in-person training to library staff.
  • Those libraries reached out to their cooperative members and economic development organizations to bring in end-users for training.

The result? “They embraced it,” Biggs Thomas said. In two weeks, training on the new business resources in MeL took place at six locations around the state, with about 25 people attending per location. “Attendees were a cross-section of library staff and end users who had been working in economic development. The trainings were very successful!”

A webinar model for the training followed. “We put the webinars on our promotions page and push them out through our listservs and to our other contacts in economic development,” says Biggs Thomas. “Gale also created MeL-branded promotional materials, which help keep the resources in mind.”

Partners in economic progress
From the beginning, Gale business products were part of the library initiative. “We have a great history with Gale, and haveBusiness Resources Public Library always found value in the resources,” said Biggs Thomas. “We like that Gale partners with us on the same goals – to help Michigan improve economic development.”

Gale resources like DemographicsNow are designed around meaningful research results:
 “DemoNow allows business owners and those who work with them to do market research, find out where the location of a business should be, get contact lists, and real information for starting up a business. It is the actual meat, not just the how-to.” – Deb Biggs Thomas

Gale training and support also entered into the picture:
“DemoNow is an excellent resource, but can be challenging for new users. Gale partnered with Alteryx to create wizards to help people navigate without having to know the product in depth. A simple pathway! Gale heard our needs and was able to respond.” – Sheryl Mase

Going forward
In the six months since MeL added the new business resources, there have seen successes in the business/economic development community.
Gale’s DemographicsNow, for instance, has gotten rave reviews:
 “It’s such a powerful resource and has the potential to make a big impact in the small business, economic and entrepreneur sectors in the state.” – Deb Biggs Thomas

One patron, investment specialist Richard Truxall, attended a MeL training at Troy Public Library. He was so impressed by the business resources MeL offered that he hosted his own workshop at the Salem-South Lyon District Library, highlighting DemographicsNow.
“I use ReferenceUSA. This is better.” – an attendee of Richard Truxall’s workshop.

And would the Library of Michigan work with Gale again? “Absolutely!,” state Deb Biggs Thomas and Sheryl Mase:
 “It’s about bringing really clever solutions to the table and working together. And being a Michigan-based company, Gale has a commitment to give back through the resources and support provided through the Michigan eLibrary.” – Deb Biggs Thomas

Michigan’s public libraries now are considering the addition of Business Librarians to serve the community, and are reaching out to groups like SCORE, SBDC, SBA and regional economic development organizations to let them routinely know about the resources and the training – all delivered from their local library, using MeL’s powerful and diverse business resources, and accessible 24/7 from any Internet-connected device.

“Gale is partnering with us to do that. Wherever patrons get their needs met, we are there. We want
to see Michigan succeed!” – Deb Biggs Thomas

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