by Curtis Rogers, Director of Communications, Urban Libraries Council
Team members from Poudre River Public Library District have stepped up to support small business owners across Colorado during the coronavirus pandemic by answering a call for help from the state’s Office of Economic Development & International Trade. Overwhelmed by the high volume of inquiries about the Paycheck Protection Program, CARES Act and other relief funding during the initial outbreak of COVID-19, the OEDIT asked for help from the library staff in answering questions that come in on the state’s financial hotline.
According to PRPLD Business Librarian Matt West, the opportunity for the library to directly partner with the OEDIT arose at the perfect time. “Recognizing that [COVID-19] could last a long time, we were actively looking for ways to innovate and serve the community from a business angle,” says West. Matt is one of two PRPLD team members now answering calls for the state’s financial hotline. He is joined in this effort by José Luis Ramos, a member of the library’s community services team who focuses on supporting Latino businesses, entrepreneurs and other professionals within the northern Colorado area.
José Luis is the only person currently responding to calls for the OEDIT hotline who is completely fluent in Spanish. By responding to inquiries and following up with calls in both English and Spanish, José Luis is helping small business owners across the state overcome critical language barriers to receiving assistance.
Some of the most frequent discussion topics that arise on these OEDIT calls include questions about the CARES Act, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, Paycheck Protection Program, regular unemployment assistance (including special pandemic unemployment assistance) and loan forgiveness for businesses. While Matt and José Luis may not know the answers for every question, they leverage their experience with reference work to quickly guide callers in the right direction.
Another critical component of this work is helping to dispel misinformation in the business community regarding COVID-19 relief. “There are a lot of urban myths out there - many of them are not accurate. Many businesses can be set up to fail because of misinformation,” notes Matt. For instance, many business owners calling the hotline struggle with misinformation surrounding the needs for documenting requests for relief funding, and applications of those funds.
As librarians, Matt and José Luis also have extensive experience in connecting with people and establishing trust-based relationships. This skill set is vital for responding to inquiries for the financial hotline, as many callers are reaching out in a state of extreme need and duress.
Some of the people calling are in tears, or yelling. They’ve invested all of their life’s savings into a business months ago, and now that business is closed. They need money for rent. To feed their kids. They are in panic mode, and they need answers yesterday.
PRPLD Business Librarian Matt West
Fortunately, the infrastructure of the OEDIT hotline, and the dedication of its team members, allows for callers to receive prompt - if not immediate - responses to their questions. Matt, José Luis and other team members answering calls for the hotline coordinate their efforts using a shared online spreadsheet, which tracks callers, their questions and their call-back information. This tool allows for the team members to quickly follow-up with callers, even while they are all working remotely.
The efforts of PRPLD’s business librarians to support the OEDIT’s hotline is not only helping to bolster the state’s economy and small business community during this difficult time - it is also helping to raise public awareness across the state of the 21st-century public library’s essential role in supporting local economies. And, José Luis’ outreach to Spanish speakers is helping both the state government and the public better appreciate the powerful ability of libraries to break down equity barriers.
In addition to supporting the OEDIT hotline, José Luis has helped Latino-owned businesses navigate COVID-19 by presenting on webinars for the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. José Luis and the library’s Community Service team also offer guidance in Spanish via recorded videos on the library’s YouTube channel. These videos address topics such as the CARES Act, citizenship unemployment and other key issues. The first video in this series, which addresses Census 2020, has reached over 6,500 views.
José Luis Ramos presenting an overview of the CARES Act in Spanish on the library's YouTube channel
To learn more about Poudre River Public Library District’s work to support small businesses both locally and across the state, join José Luis and ULC for a webinar on “libraries helping businesses navigate the CARES Act,” which will be held on Monday, June 8 at 2 p.m. ET. Click here to learn more and register today.Register Today