Top 3 Library Services for Your Small Business

December 15, 2016 • 6 min read
Ahmad El-Najjar

Ahmad El-Najjar


When we think about the library, we tend to think about books. Lots and lots of books. Which is actually pretty accurate. What we might not always remember is that libraries are one of the greatest (and most under-appreciated) free public resources for small businesses owners, with a variety of library services designed for local businesses.

And, why wouldn’t the library be an entrepreneur’s go-to resource center? After all, the public library is where we catalog our collective knowledge, and the resources for small business success are part of that. But, how, if you’ll pardon the pun, do our libraries stack up as an small business resource?

Like colleges and universities, similarly under-appreciated small business resources, public libraries stack up pretty well. It’s hard to beat the value for the cost. In fact, as a small business resource, libraries are kind of a big deal, if we look at the numbers.

If you live in America, there is a public library near you. Across the fifty states, there are nearly 17,000 public libraries in operation. Seventy percent of these libraries offer free wi-fi, making them a rare community resource, especially in low-income areas. And at 5,400 of these libraries, patrons can take free technology courses.

But, these numbers pale in comparison to the library services provided to small businesses and job seekers. Every day, more than 300,000 job seekers use the library to get help finding work. Every month, a staggering 2.8 million entrepreneurs use the library for resources to support their small businesses.

In other words, the library is (or should be) your friend.

To get a better idea of how exactly our public libraries serve the small business community, we turned to our local partners over at the Seattle Public Library.

Public library services for small businesses

in the libraryIt all starts with a library card. With this little piece of plastic, you, and nearly two-thirds of all Americans, have free access to near limitless knowledge (—in addition to a wealth of entertainment options for you thrifty business folk). So, if you don’t already have this invaluable asset in your wallet, be sure to contact your local branch library and get yours.

Now that you’re carrying some serious plastic in your wallet, you can start accessing the delightful world of unfettered knowledge. As we mentioned earlier, there are almost 17,000 public libraries and each offers a rich variety of resources. To give you a sense of what’s on offer, we’ll look at the Seattle Public Library’s small business resources.

The Seattle Public Library (SPL) focuses on three key areas for small business development and has robust programs for each. The SPL provides tools and support to help you:

  • Know your industry
  • Improve your business skills
  • Find referrals to other business assistance organizations

Know your industry

Whether you’re an existing business or starting a new one, knowing your industry is a necessary foundation for success. Libraries offer you deep industry knowledge through various trade and industry research journals. These journals span just about every niche and even micro-niche.

They’re a great starting place, as you can find answers to questions like “What new technologies are impacting the microbrewery market?” or “What’s the growth rate of the bakery café market?” or even, “How much do juice bars typically spend on advertising?”. Small business owners need answers to questions like these in order to size up the competition, analyze their likelihood of success, or even draw up (or revise) a business plan.

Additionally, these same resources provide insights into your customer demographics through analysis of census data and market research. Knowing the ins-and-outs of your market from competition to potential customers is the best place to start for any new venture or plans to grow an existing business.

Improve your business skills

alphabetical libraryWhether it’s funding, marketing, or operating your business, the SPL has you covered. The SPL really goes above and beyond in this category, with resources like permitting guides and government forms, as well as free access to all sorts of tech courses on, with just your library card number and PIN.

Those are just a few things you can do online or on site (with the help of a friendly librarian, if you’d like). But the SPL also hosts numerous free events for small business owners, on general topics like operations to specific industries. In addition to the weekly free business information hour with a research librarian with expertise in business, the SPL host workshops and seminars galore. Have you been dreaming of starting a small food business out of your kitchen? Well, you’re in luck—there’s a free six-week workshop to help you learn how to start a small food business.

Business assistance organizations

Another area of small business assistance, and maybe one of the most important, is connecting owners and entrepreneurs to the organizations that can help make their dreams a reality. No matter what kind of business you have (or have in mind), no matter whether you’re low-income, whether the business is woman-owned, minority-owned, or none of those things, there is a business assistance organization out there for you. The SPL partners with a host of regional business assistance organizations in order connect small business owners with the right kind of help.

Many of these business assistance programs provide mentoring, training, assistance with funding—and just about any of challenge a small business owner might face. Better yet, these are the crème de la crème of business assistance organizations. They’ve been vetted by the SPL and typically receive federal, state, or local funding to serve the small business community.

Last, the SPL, like all public libraries, makes it easy to contact their expert staff of librarians and volunteers, who can answer whatever questions you may have about library services for businesses. For those in the Seattle area, you can always take advantage of their Ask a Librarian service by calling 206-386-4636 or sending an email.

We focused on Seattle here, but your local branch will have similar offerings, or at the very least, the ability to point you in the right direction.

Find out what library services your local branch or main library has waiting for you!

Berkeley Public Library Jobs & Small Business

Multnomah County (Portland) Public Library Small Business Resource Center

New York Small Business Resource Center at the New York Public Library

Oakland Public Library Jobs & Small Business

San Francisco Public Library Small Business Center

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