How can your library help constituents in the role of economic development? On this show Diane Luccy, Business and Careers Manager at the Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina, and Julie Brophy, Adult and Community Engagement Manager at the Baltimore County Public Library in Maryland, share steps our libraries can take to become valuable resources in economic development and help support thriving local economies.
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Adriane Herrick Juarez:
This is Adriane Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast, where we talk about libraries and leadership and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights in the profession.
How can your library help constituents in the role of economic development? On this show, Diane Luccy, Business and Careers Manager at the Richmond Library in Columbia, South Carolina, and Julie Brophy, Adult and Community Engagement Manager at the Baltimore County Public Library in Maryland, share steps our libraries can take to become valuable resources in economic development and help support thriving local economies. Enjoy the show!
Diane and Julie, welcome to the show.
Hi, thank you for having us.
Thank you, Adriane.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #1: It’s nice to have you today. We are going to talk about the library’s role in economic development. As we begin, will you please share why libraries are necessary resources in the arena of economic development? 01:30
I’m going to start out with that question. This is Diane. I’d like to begin by saying that the 21st Century Library in your community is an institution that holds a high degree of public trust. The library has become a welcoming, multifunctional space designed to be a learning destination for visitors to explore, collaborate, network, and learn new skills. Libraries boost their local economies by providing the necessary resources to assist customers who are either seeking employment, considering small business start-up or growth, looking to further their education, and seeking help with social services or other important needs. Libraries also serve as a crucial organization for underserved populations in your community who need free internet access, computer training, financial literacy, health and wellness classes and other programs. The library serves as the connector between the customer and the resources that they need to be successful and move forward. Julie?
Thanks, Diane. You know, I think I’d just like to add that libraries are one of the few or perhaps the only free space in any community. For many residents, particularly those that are underserved, or under-resourced, or marginalized, it’s the first place they come to for help. And the library’s role as connector is unique. You know, we don’t see ourselves as in competition with others. It’s all about getting individuals the help they need, and that holds true for our support of economic development.
I remember in a small business class we were offering an instructor from the Small Business Development Center who said to the group, Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the SBDC. Not even half of the participants raised their hands. So we were able to make that connection that benefited both the budding entrepreneur and the business support organization.
Diane also mentioned the public trust, and that’s wonderful, but also a huge responsibility that I know we all take very seriously. It’s also why libraries are an integral part of the economic health of the community. Unlike many other entities, community members see libraries as trustworthy institutions where they can get quality information, resources, and referrals.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #2: Julie, what are the ways that any library can articulate its role in local economic development? 04:05
One of the first steps in articulating your library’s role in local economic development is to find out what that library’s role is—where is your place in the community? For that, you need to start by gathering information. This could include reviewing data on the type and number of local businesses and industries, identifying key stakeholders in the business community, and finding out what roles the municipal and county governments play in supporting local businesses.
Now you can get them many different ways—data from the Census Bureau was useful. You could look at the business databases to which your library system may have a subscription already. They can be very useful as you find where your library fits in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
If you have the capacity to do so, a survey of aspiring entrepreneurs and existing small business owners can be hugely beneficial, particularly as you start this work. Like before creating our flagship business series Entrepreneur Academy, Baltimore County Public Library conducted an environmental scan of the region, identifying support services already in place. In the process we talked with several different partners who work in the economic development space and learned where their pain points were. Then we moved on to a survey of the local business community, during which respondents answered questions about what is needed to start a small business and, more importantly, what they wish they’d known before starting their business—that was key. We were able to follow this up with a focus group to delve more deeply into the questions.
But all of this information, the data, the surveys, the focus groups, those conversations with entrepreneur support organizations, it all led to the creation of this seven-week series we call Entrepreneur Academy. It gave us this chance to find our role in helping grow the local economy. That’s really powerful when we talk to partners and funders and our local government officials. We focus the work on bridging the gap, and telling them what we bring to the table.
Libraries can also support the business community by identifying local programs that already exist and publicizing library resources that can contribute to these projects. Diane has talked about how in 2005, the city of Columbia, South Carolina, developed a master plan of villages for the villages of North Columbia. Subsequent development has led in recent years to a thriving business district along what is known as the North Main Corridor. Richland Library was well positioned to assist those interested in opening new businesses in this district with tools providing demographic data, market research and identification of business competitors. By gathering data from your programs and stories from your participants, they can help you articulate your place in that ecosystem really well.
We, at Baltimore County Public Library, we used our social media to put a spotlight on some of our graduates of Entrepreneur Academy. This allowed us to stay connected with them and gather their stories while also promoting their business and our work. It’s important to have both quantitative and qualitative information to share with stakeholders in order to ensure our place is known in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #3: That’s great. Diane, what does a thriving local economy look like and what steps can our libraries take to help our communities get there? 07:07
I’m going to make a profound statement that in a thriving community, there is safety and trust. One of the greatest obstacles to a thriving community is the presence of an economic divide that excludes some members of the community from access to higher incomes and wealth building capacity. While the causes of such a divide can be difficult to untangle, educational disparities are a key factor.
In addition to the traditional role that libraries have played in supporting education through access to age-appropriate reading materials, they can help to counter economic disadvantage by providing instruction in entrepreneurship and small business creation for parts of the community that have typically lacked access to economic opportunity.
Virtual Library works to give underserved groups access to the means of business creation through a number of avenues. One of our very, very popular services that we offer is called the Library of Things. It’s a growing collection of circulating items, including crafting equipment, power tools, cooking supplies and much else. It’s available free for cardholders. This particular project began during the pandemic, initially had only four checkout items. It has grown to over 200 items and is one of the most popular services that we offer.
The library’s northeast location features a test kitchen that has offered free courses and ServSafe certification for restaurant, food preparation, and handling. The main library’s fabrication studio, a fully equipped woodworking shop, fiber work studio, and production stage, post-production lab, give entrepreneurs free access to resources that would otherwise be too expensive to purchase.
One story I like to tell is that we had two gentlemen who both came in at the same time and wanted to check out a camera kit. We couldn’t quite figure out why they wanted to check out that item at the same time. It turns out that they wanted to test the waters to see if they could start a photography business, in particular wedding photography—and they did. They started with their friends and eventually made enough money to purchase their own equipment and start that fledgling business. So, it’s a great example of how this made a positive impact for our local community.
Another important consideration is what libraries are doing to improve the education level and the local community. Many libraries, such as Baltimore and also Richland, offer access to LinkedIn Learning, Brainfuse, and other learning resources that are free with your library card. One important area here also to mention is that Richland Library is more than 150 public library systems across the United States that currently offer career online high school. It’s an online program that awards both a certified high school diploma and a career certificate in one of ten high-demand career areas for adults 21 and older who desire to move forward in their professional lives. The program is offered to students free of charge. Each scholarship is worth over $1,100, and they’re paid for either by the library—that was about five years ago, or now we have various nonprofits that are willing to pay for the scholarships to give these community members an extra boost.
Career Online High School is yet another way to close the economic gap, preparing students for better jobs, for higher education while supporting an underserved population that needs a second chance. We currently have 72 graduates, with eight more poised to graduate soon. It’s one of my passion projects that I work on here at the library.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #4: So many excellent resources and services. Julie, as I look at this, it seems like a big focus for any library to take on. How might we get assistance in this work and how can we ensure that we are being inclusive in the process? 11:24
You’re absolutely right. It is a big job to take on. It takes time and thoughtfulness and acknowledging that no one organization can take care of all community needs. So, it is important to create supportive relationships with other agencies and organizations in the community that have goals that align with those of the library. In addition to common goals, effective teamwork, clear expectations, consistent communication, trust, and mutual respect all go a long way toward developing a strong and effective, successful partnership.
But creating those successful partnerships to assist you can be incredibly challenging. Sometimes it’s about finding the right person in the organization. Sometimes it’s about finding the right way to work with them, and sometimes it’s just about timing. But regardless, it does take time to cultivate relationships and it takes thinking through what a symbiotic relationship looks like. Listening to your partner’s goal, knowing their mission, learning what their pain points are, can help develop a strong partnership, which can ultimately bring a lot of support to both public programs and also the staff who are offering these programs.
At times, it can be easy to go to the same organizations or partners, again and again. You know, it’s important to always be aware of what organizations are out there that, maybe, you haven’t worked with yet, and how they can help you reach new audiences.
At Baltimore County Public Library, we began developing partners with organizations that support the growing Latinx business owners—expanding the library’s reach. Through work with groups like the Latino Economic Development Center, we were able to create Academia de Emprendedores, which has helped us reach the growing Spanish speaking population in the county.
I think it’s also important to look to colleagues in the library field for help. Libraries of all different sizes, with all different sorts of budgets, and all different resources—levels of resources are doing this work in a variety of ways. There are communities and free workshops that are more focused on library support of economic development.
Diane and I are both part of a group called Libraries that Build Business. We meet monthly, virtually monthly, but also communicate on a Slack channel and provide finding different ways, and different colleagues with whom to bounce ideas around or ask advice, that can be incredibly helpful to let you know that you’re not alone. You’re not alone in this work. You got support out there, and as we all know, librarians love to share.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #5: We do love to share, and that’s a great thing. So, Diane, how should libraries ensure sustainability in economic development work for ongoing success? 14:08
There are five key areas that I’d like to touch on. The first one is advocacy. It’s important to inform public library users and the community as a whole about library services and their value. How will your library be supported if your customers don’t know about all of the resources that the 21st Century Library has to offer? It should be a major focus of all libraries to demonstrate how free public library services, including Internet access, help to close the digital gap in order to improve the lives of people in our community.
Libraries offer support to those in need of essential programs designed to help with workforce development and entrepreneurship. It’s crucial to ensure that libraries have sufficient resources, that include things like funds, space, and staffing to continue offering these important services. Program participants can also become some of your library’s strongest advocates, so keep a connection with these past participants through email, social media, or even networking opportunities.
Baltimore County Public Library has offered spotlights on its Instagram account for graduates of their Entrepreneur Academy. In their spotlight, the customers are asked to talk a bit about their business and how attending Entrepreneur Academy and library support have benefited them and made a difference.
Perhaps most important in this area is to secure a place at the table for library leaders where important funding and policy decisions are made. In the case of Richland Library, Community Partners have played a huge role to build support and grow our community collaborations. We started back at the beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020 with weekly meetings that eventually evolved into monthly meetings to give a status update on the organization, what programs they were offering, stage of opening, and that has evolved into a monthly community spotlight that is now available on our website.
We love to promote what’s going on with our partner agencies. In fact, the other day I had a customer, and he reported that he works for a local organization called SC Works. I said, You’re not going to believe this, but our current spotlight is on your organization. Here, let me show you. So, it was like the perfect moment.
The other thing we want to focus on here is continuous improvement. You might ask yourself, How do you know that you’re having a positive impact on customers? If you’re not doing this already, use those exit surveys and program evaluations, and be sure to ask participants what they liked best about a particular program or service, and what they would like to see offered that is not part of the library’s current offerings.
Many libraries across the United States participate in pilot programs. I know we do this here at Richland, to try new ideas and then debrief after a few months to see what’s working and what’s not. Please consider other options, if that first idea didn’t turn out exactly as planned or anticipated.
Three other areas—funding, of course, is a big challenge for public libraries across the country. What you want to do is reach out to the Friends of the Library and perhaps their foundation for financial support. We’ve also looked to local government agencies, including technical schools, banks, and nonprofits who might be willing to fund a particular project that you are considering.
One example is our amazing City of Columbia Office of Business Opportunities. They are a big supporter of Richland Library, and they have offered funds for both the 2022 and 2023 Summer Entrepreneur in Residence programs.
Scaling is another consideration because libraries are located in urban, rural and suburban areas. What we recommend is to start small. Select one particular service that you feel will be successful. Address that need to the best of your ability, and build on that success. You’re not going to start out of the gate offering everything. That would just be a very frustrating experience.
Okay, one example of a service that was created in response to local community need,
here at Richland Library, was our social work department, which started in 2016 as a pilot project with one staff member. It has grown to a full service department with eight staff members. They assist customers with various needs, such as food vouchers, affordable housing, legal assistance, Medicaid and SNAP (food stamp applications), Social security, disability, and other services.
Staffing and capacity is also super important. You want to take a look at your staffing at various locations. Also consider the role of the reimagined librarian. You need to make sure that you’re providing training opportunities for your staff to develop an appropriate mix of skills, to feel comfortable to address these changing needs of our customers.
Questions you might ask yourself would be, Will you rotate programming throughout the system, or will you focus on just one of your locations as your services hub? Will you use volunteers from the community? We call them here subject matter experts to teach computer classes, offer career guidance, or business mentoring, or other services. Remember, too, that outreach is also an important way to serve the community. These processes will look different for every library system, so be creative in your thinking and your strategic planning.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #6: I’m glad there are creative ways to ensure sustainability in these efforts. Julie, Is there anything else you would like to share? 20:27
Yes, both of our systems, Richland Library and Baltimore County Public Library, were selected to be a part of the Library’s Build Business cohort. That’s how Diane and I met. It’s a national initiative of the American Library Association, supported by Google.org. It’s intended to build capacity in libraries, offering programming or services to local entrepreneurs and the small business community, and prioritizes low income and underrepresented entrepreneurs.
The project launched in 2020. Other things happened in 2020 as well, that made it a little interesting. But during the course of the LBB project, the ALA team and a cohort of thirteen public libraries worked together to answer questions, pilot projects, develop resources, and we share these learnings with the wider library community.
The initiative itself is diverse in terms of both the libraries participating and the entrepreneurs. The LBB cohort libraries represent twelve states. They include urban, suburban, rural and tribal libraries of all sizes. The projects that the libraries have undertaken have impacted more than 15,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs across the US. We’ve served a range of entrepreneurs, including individuals re-entering the workforce after incarceration, primarily Spanish speaking sidewalk vendors, rural entrepreneurs, tribal members, and minority-owned tech startups, just to name a few.
The community itself—I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in this work at all to look up the resources the cohort put together. We’ve created a tool kit. There’s the marketing tool kit, a playbook, and a book itself. Join us in our monthly virtual community meetings, or on our Slack channel, or both.
The library community we continue to build around economic development has become incredibly helpful to all of us. On behalf of Diane, I think we’d like to give a big shout-out to Megan Janicki, our LBB project manager from ALA, for all the work that she did in pulling the group together. But it’s a great place to talk with people who are in various places with their libraries on this journey to supporting economic development in their areas.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #7: Thank you for sharing that with us. Diane and Julie, do you have any favorite management or leadership books or resources, and why? 22:42
Yes, I have mentioned the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, I believe, a couple of times, and I just wanted to define who that individual is. We have three Entrepreneurs-in-Residence: One in the spring, for four months; one in the summer, for two months; and one in the fall for four months. They offer free one-on-one sessions with small business owners from the community. They also offer targeted programming, and it’s just a great resource for our local community.
Each of these Entrepreneurs-in-Residence provide a list of their favorite books. Here at Richland Library, we like to have book raffles as part of the EiR programs. Our summer entrepreneurial residents were, Rashonda Pratt—has a couple of favorites that I wanted to mention: One is called Win the Day, by Mark Batterson, and At Your Best, by Carey Nieuwhof.
My two suggestions are Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek. If you know the why, you’re going to want to be motivated to do the project, not because you’re being told you have to do the project. That’s how I look at it. The other book is Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins.
I would totally second Diane’s Good to Great, which really helps you rethink success and how you get there. Additionally, one of my favorites is called Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work. This was written by Alison Green, who wrote a work advice column for many years. Ask a Manager is a great book about what to say when there’s a difficult conversation to be had because really, who likes a difficult conversation? Nobody.
I’m always looking for tools, because unfortunately we have to have them. Plus, she kind of includes some questions or scenarios she received as a columnist. Some of them are— I’m going to say, outlandish and lend themselves to sometimes giving you a perspective on what you might be really going through. I also really like the accompanying blog and companion podcast. She wrapped up the podcast in 2019, but it’s a great listen, and the blog continues on. I’d highly recommend Ask a Manager.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
Question #8: Thank you for those. Diane and Julie, In closing, what do libraries mean to you personally? 25:07
Well, first of all, to me, libraries are places of discovery. My first memory of going to a library was way back when I was about 3 or 4 years of age. My father would take me, not my brothers, just me, to Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to get books for both of us. So, I credit my father for instilling in me the love of books, reading and libraries.
Later, as an adult, after spending several years as a teacher, I realized that I was ready to begin my second curve as a librarian. If you’ve read the book From Strength to Strength by Arthur Brooks, I highly recommend that book as well, because it talks a lot about finding your second curve. So, in summary, for me, I would say that my work is my passion and helping others is my purpose.
Well, in thinking about this, what libraries mean to me personally has changed over the years. You know, as a kid it was about checking out some books, doing some reading. As a teen, if I’m being honest, I really didn’t see the library as part of my world, but I was still reading and loved a good mystery suspense thriller, and would often read whatever my mom was finished with. But as an adult, as someone who has worked in public libraries for more than twenty years, I’ve seen what public libraries mean to the community—a free place that’s truly open and welcoming to all. I think that’s what libraries mean to me, personally. Everyone is welcome. Come as who you are. Libraries mean community.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
I appreciate you both sharing that. It’s true. Libraries mean so much to our communities, and what you’re talking about today in the way libraries can help local economies and create economic development takes us even further down that path toward really opening doors for people, so that they can get involved in libraries in ways they may not have ever imagined. So thank you for being here. This is valuable information and I’m grateful you shared all of this with me and with our listeners. 26:52
Thank you so much for having us.
Adriane Herrick Juarez:
You’ve been listening to Library Leadership podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes, tune in to Library Leadership Podcast.com, where you can now subscribe to get episodes delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
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