By David Topoleski, Linda Fayerweather and Jason Kucsma
Toledo Lucas County prides itself on reaching out to immigrant-, women- and veteran-owned businesses — from start-ups and mom-and-pop shops to experienced mid-sized companies and prospective businesses as well.
The Toledo Lucas County Public Library was thrilled when ULC announced that there would be a learning cohort dedicated to expanding the entrepreneurship services offered by the library. Our system has a century-long history of serving the business community, and this learning cohort has given us a chance to enhance the work that we’ve been doing and expand our reach in the Toledo and Lucas County business communities. At the core of our library’s strategic plan is the question, “What does success look like in Toledo and Lucas County, and how can the library support that?” This cohort has been a perfect opportunity for us to push ourselves further.
We began our work in earnest in early September, when the temporary closure of our Main Library for renovation presented us with an opportunity to explore what kind of impact our expert business team could have on our community without the added responsibilities of staffing a public service desk. Our Business Technology Department’s manager and the department’s business specialist librarian formed an outreach team, receiving some clerical assistance to facilitate their work from other staff.
Expanding our reach required defining which communities we thought might not be identifying the library as a go-to resource for them. So, for our part in this cohort, we are focusing on reaching out to immigrant-, women- and veteran-owned businesses — from start-ups and mom-and-pop shops to experienced mid-sized companies and prospective businesses as well.
We sometimes fall back on the assumption that a press release, flyer or a mention on our website is enough to get the word out, but there’s no substitute for a handshake and face-to-face communication with community stakeholders.
In the short time the team has been working in this cohort, we’ve already learned a lot — both with our work in the community and from colleagues in the cohort. First and foremost, communication is paramount. We all hear from our community members and even community leaders, “I had no idea the library did that!” We sometimes fall back on the assumption that a press release, flyer or a mention on our website is enough to get the word out, but there’s no substitute for a handshake and face-to-face communication with community stakeholders. Our team has “action cards” that our marketing department developed — sort of like an enhanced business card that spells out some of our services for businesses and provides contact information. After our recent meeting with the rest of the cohort in Austin, our team has been handing out these cards to patrons or clients we work with and asking them to share the cards with their colleagues.
We’ve also learned and discussed with our colleagues that it’s OK to recognize the value that we provide for our community. Maybe it’s because we’re drawn to librarianship for its public service aspects, but we often shy away from boldly saying that what we have to offer to the community is valuable. If we aren’t saying that about ourselves, how can we expect our community to say that on our behalf? We can’t, so we’re working as a system to be more intentional about owning the fact that our knowledge, skills and abilities are worth valuing.
No matter where each of the participating organizations is in our process, we’re able to learn from each other.
The most important lesson we’ve learned so far, though, is that no matter where each of the participating organizations is in our process, we’re able to learn from each other. It seems counterintuitive that organizations at various levels of progress could find ways to meaningfully connect on how we’re rolling out these services. Though we’ve been providing business services for decades, we’ve learned a lot from libraries that are just dipping their toes in these waters and we’ve learned from libraries with more mature programs in this space than ours. As we move forward, we’re excited to continue this sharing and learning process with our cohort partners, to expand our outreach, to strengthen our services and to further promote our library as a vital entrepreneurial hub.
David Topoleski is a reference librarian and manager of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library Business Technology Department; Linda Fayerweather is the library’s business technology specialist; and Jason Kucsma is the library's deputy director.
For more information contact, David Topoleski at firstname.lastname@example.org.