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Reimagining Business Reference in a Mid-Sized City

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Reimagining Business Reference in a Mid-Sized City

Rochester Public Library, N.Y.

Workforce and Economic Development | 2016 | Top Innovator

Innovation Synopsis

Use of the Rochester Public Library’s Business Division changed dramatically in the last decade. An aggressive outreach campaign has embedded staff in strategic locations outside the library and rebranding programs has brought business people into the library, resulting in significant ROI for the businesses and greater use of the Division.


Previously, Rochester’s “big three” employers (Eastman Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb) had their own libraries that provided R&D and market research to scientists and employees. In the last decade, all of these special libraries closed and many employees who were laid off as the companies downsized launched hi-tech start-up companies. These startups operated leanly, but still had a need for R&D and market research, and lacked the financial resources to access the necessary tools. The RPL Business Division had a wealth of resources, including expert staff, but very few people knew of its existence.

Key Elements of Innovation

A three-point service delivery strategy was implemented where service was delivered to the businesses on-site, online, and in the library. Business Division staff focused on market & venture capital research, small business development, and grant funding, with one expert librarian assigned to each topic. Currently, one librarian is embedded at Eastman Business Park, an industrial park containing 65 companies; another librarian curates business classes that regularly attract hundreds of people every year. Most importantly, our messaging was translated into the language of money. We successfully communicated to businesses that “We can save you money, and we can help you make money.”

Achieved Outcomes

Eastman Business Park tenants have access to the information necessary to grow their business, the library assists the Park administration in identifying and learning about potential tenants, and the library is marketed as a “concierge service” to attract tenants. The library has partnered with the Friends & Foundation of RPL to purchase new database products that have already provided a value of more than $700,000 in reports to Rochester businesses in the last 6 months. The library has become a “player” in the hi-tech and small business arena and is recognized as a valuable partner in economic development.