Closing the Entrepreneurship Gap: Tools for Libraries
Strengthening communities is the business of libraries — and support for under-resourced entrepreneurs is key to that role. By addressing support gaps for high-need entrepreneurs, libraries are critical drivers for local economic recovery, resilience and equity, which is more vital than ever in the COVID-19 era.
Updated regularly, this toolkit offers strategies and resources to help libraries level-up as entrepreneurial hubs, including COVID-19 responses. Please contact email@example.com with questions.
Even for libraries that already provide some level of entrepreneurial services, there is always potential to strengthen that work and enhance the library’s ability to serve emerging entrepreneurs — particularly women, people of color, immigrants, veterans and individuals reentering civic life from the justice system.STRATEGIES1.1 Become familiar with local economic development priorities
Review elected and appointed leaders’ strategic plans, websites and recent speeches to learn what their priorities are, and the language they use to talk about those priorities.1.2 Map community and online resources for entrepreneurs
Research and create a list of available resources and service providers for entrepreneurs in the community, as well as free resources available online.1.3 Map the library’s existing entrepreneur support assets and services
Review and create a list of available library programs, services, staff expertise, collections and resources that can help entrepreneurs build on their business goals.1.4 Identify the target audience(s) for library outreach
Review demographic and business data related to the library’s service areas to determine what populations have the highest need for support.1.5 Become familiar with general entrepreneurial trends
Review recent data and reporting to gain a stronger general understanding of the needs, challenges and focuses of contemporary entrepreneurs, as well as trending lingo and buzzwords.DIVE DEEPERWatchReadReadReadUseExploreExploreExploreExploreExplore
Library staff may be hesitant to take on a new project area due to the demands of existing obligations. It is critical to actively help staff recognize how they can apply their existing capacity and skills to support the library’s entrepreneurship work. Libraries should consider if modifications to their staffing models could boost the entire team’s capacity to support entrepreneurial services.STRATEGIES2.1 Embed the importance of this work in organizational culture
Ensure strong executive leadership by setting the context for the work as both a library and community priority. Engage staff in the work early and often to gain buy-in and build knowledge. Find and leverage staff champions.2.2 Clearly define staff expectations and skills needed for entrepreneurial support
Incorporate entrepreneurial service expectations into staff onboarding, workplans, goals and reviews. Help library staff recognize how they can use their existing skills — such as giving presentations, building interpersonal relationships and networking — to serve the needs of entrepreneurs. And, provide clear guidance on new or advanced skills they will need to develop.2.3 Train frontline staff to serve as ambassadors for the library’s entrepreneurship services
Ensure reference desk librarians and other frontline staff feel comfortable and well-equipped to directly assist with simple entrepreneurship customer inquiries and promote the library's entrepreneurial support offerings.2.4 Have library staff participate in the same trainings as local entrepreneurs
Ask team members to take training courses offered in the community for entrepreneurs. Library staff will gain confidence with business issues, better understand community supports and network with potential members of the target audience.DIVE DEEPERReadReadUseModel
In addition to staff, libraries have valuable physical and digital assets that support entrepreneurs, including meeting spaces, learning tools and high-tech devices. Identifying ways to leverage and build on these resources can help the library maximize its unique capacity as an entrepreneurial hub.STRATEGIES3.1 Establish co-working spaces at the library where entrepreneurs can connect and create
Position library makerspaces and tech centers as both physical and virtual places where individuals can connect with other entrepreneurs, use vital technology resources, conduct research and meetings and carry out business as permitted by library policies.3.2 Review library policies and revise as needed
Review library policies to identify potential obstacles to desired entrepreneurial activity within the library, and implement updates as needed.3.3 Curate and package resources for easy access and use
Organize, promote and distribute resources through curated formats such as dedicated web pages, takeaway kits and special collections.3.4 Always offer non-digital access to resources and services
Ensure entrepreneurs can learn about and benefit from library resources and services even if they do not have internet access. Consider direct mail, phone-based, in-person, curbside pickup/drop-off, radio, TV and other channels for promoting and offering resources and services.DIVE DEEPERReadReadUseUseUseUseUseUseUseReadExplore
No one organization can serve every need of their local entrepreneurs. To maximize its capacity as an entrepreneurial hub, the library must intentionally identify, take ownership of and build on its unique niche within the local entrepreneurial ecosystem by leveraging strategic partnerships.STRATEGIES4.1 Participate in local activities and events to build relationships and identify potential partners
Keep track of events hosted by local government agencies, organizers in the business community and entrepreneur support organizations. Regularly attend meetups, classes and other convenings to network and build relationships with potential partners.4.2 Determine and demonstrate strategic alignment with potential partners
Review potential partners’ mission statements and strategic priorities to assess how they align with the library’s mission and goals. When performing outreach to potential partners, clearly communicate how the library can help the partner achieve its mission and enhance its strategic impact.4.3 Clearly define roles and responsibilities for partnerships
Map current gaps for the library and the partner and identify how the partnership will help to fill those gaps. Determine key “hand-off” points for collaborative activities and establish shared tools for coordinating work.4.4 Build a sustainable foundation for partnerships
Connect with multiple individuals within the partner organizations to ensure the relationship’s long-term sustainability. Consider using a memorandum of understanding or other signed agreement to establish an ongoing infrastructure for collaboration.4.5 Enlist support from partners in communicating the library’s role in the ecosystem
Partners have connections to organizations and individuals who are outside of the library’s normal reach. Be sure to ask partners to help spread the word about the library’s entrepreneurial support offerings through their regular communications channels.4.6 Explore regional public library partnerships
Identify other area public libraries serving entrepreneurs or located within the entrepreneurship ecosystem. Engage library staff in conversations to collaborate and amplify regional efforts and resources.DIVE DEEPERReadReadReadReadUseUse
Libraries are uniquely positioned to provide underrepresented entrepreneurs with access to knowledge and a social support network that will empower them to make their business dreams a reality. Yet, without active and intentional outreach, libraries cannot expect underrepresented entrepreneurs to engage with the library or see it as a go-to resource.STRATEGIES5.1 Meet the library’s target audience where they are
Identify and map out where members of the target service population live, work and connect, such as neighborhood events and social media pages/groups. Join community members in these spaces, and work with partnered organizations and community ambassadors to make introductions.5.2 Tailor outreach to entrepreneurs at specific points in their business development journeys
Are members of the target audience predominantly in the early stages of conceptualizing a business? Or are they mainly established business owners who are exploring funding opportunities? Ensure library messaging and services align with the progress of target entrepreneurs in their business development journeys.5.3 Build from one-on-one connections
Listen to the needs of individual entrepreneurs and connect them to library services/resources that they are unfamiliar with (e.g. co-working spaces, classes) to address their specific needs. When existing library offerings cannot meet needs, engage entrepreneurs in co-strategizing and co-creating new supports.5.4 Ensure messaging is relevant and understandable
Be sure that the verbiage used in library outreach and programs is relevant to, and easily understood, by the target audience. Avoid business or library field jargon. Translate materials into the languages that are the most familiar to the target audience.5.5 Help entrepreneurs take their business online
As illustrated through the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners from all backgrounds need support for transitioning their businesses online, such as launching an online store or social media presence. Libraries can use their role as digital literacy providers to support skill-building and digital knowledge for entrepreneurs.DIVE DEEPERUseUseUseReadWatchRead
Becoming a hub for entrepreneurship requires thinking like an entrepreneur by adopting a mindset of continuous discovery and nuanced change. The library's initial ideas for programs and services should evolve as the library deepens its connections with the intended service populations.STRATEGIES6.1 Continually assess the needs of populations being served
Use interviews, one-on-one coaching sessions, surveys and informal conversations to identify the priority needs of the library’s target audience for entrepreneurial support, as well as the needs of the community at large.6.2 Use the S.M.A.R.T. goals framework
S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound. Establish S.M.A.R.T. goals at the outset to help track and measure progress.6.3 Take a “whole-person” approach to helping first-time entrepreneurs
A “whole-person” approach focuses on each individual’s unique strengths, challenges and vision for success.6.4 Look to other library systems for inspiration and peer comparison.
Keep an eye on the work of leading library systems in the field for fresh ideas, and look at the activities of similarly sized systems both in your region and nationally to help gauge your team’s work.6.5 Define both short-term and long-term metrics for entrepreneur services at the library.
To ensure you are meeting the needs of entrepreneurs, define metrics for what short- and long-term success looks like for your programs. Engage with local partners to determine their success metrics to align longer-term outcomes.DIVE DEEPERModelReadReadReadUseUse
Libraries have not traditionally been viewed as a key player in entrepreneurial ecosystems. To change that mindset, libraries must take on a more proactive and consistent role in promoting services and successes to diverse audiences, including the public, government officials, business community leaders, local media and other stakeholders.STRATEGIES7.1 Brand the library's unique value proposition
Identify the library's niche in the local entrepreneur ecosystem and build a brand around it. Draft a short, compelling statement — an "elevator pitch" — about the library’s value proposition. Use that language across the library's messaging.7.2 Create audience-specific messaging collateral
Develop messaging materials, such as flyers, emails and signage. The language and platforms used for the messages should be geared toward specific audiences.7.3 Build sustainable direct messaging channels
Ensure the library is sharing information consistently with local leaders, whether through newsletters, regular check-in calls, partnered convenings or other channels.7.4 Foster earned media coverage
Regularly send out press releases to local media contacts about key developments in the library's support for local entrepreneurs. Build relationships with reporters through regular follow up and widely promote any media coverage.7.5 Maximize reach
Promote the library’s entrepreneurship support services and successes to as many people, partners and media outlets as possible, at every opportunity. Distribute informational materials at events and leverage social media to reach and engage new audiences.DIVE DEEPERUseReadModelListenListenReadModelModelModel©2023 Urban Libraries Council
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This toolkit builds on the work of ULC's Economic Opportunity action team and Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs collaboration with the Kauffman Foundation.