Programs broaden the scope of the library’s mission and bring in people who might not otherwise have discovered and utilized the public library. The combination of programs, library services, and library resources will help grow a new generation of library users.—Linda Andrews, Director, Hoover Public Library
My first official function as Business Librarian at the Hoover (Ala.) Public Library  was attending a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Before the meal, the attendees all met in a large lobby to “network,” which I discovered was part info-commercial, part interview, and part sales pitch. In this instance, I was trying to sell the library to mostly professional sales people. Needless to say, the experience was unnerving. Luckily Susan Spafford, my direct supervisor, was there. She grabbed me by the arm, told me to smile real big and hand out my business cards, which we had printed just for that occasion.
After stumbling through a few handshakes with sales veterans politely listening to me tell them how the library could help them increase their sales leads, all the attendees were asked to seat ourselves at one of the numerous tables in the dining area. After another round of introductions, I finally relaxed into a settled conversation with a gentleman named Joe Primm. Mr. Primm was on the board of the Chamber and was a business counselor for the Alabama Small Business Development Center Network  (ASBDC). He seemed extremely interested to hear that we were reaching out to the local business community. His organization, funded through the Small Business Adminstration , worked with potential entrepreneurs helping them refine their business plans and locate funding. After the entrepreneurs formed their business, ASBDC taught them the skills they would need to manage and maintain their business. After lunch, he wished me luck, handed me his card, and told me to contact him if he could be of any help to the library. I called him the next week.
Step 1: Planning
The Alabama Small Business Development Center Network is proud of our partnership with the Hoover Public Library. We have been able to help clients start businesses who we might not have helped otherwise if not for the “How to Start a Business in Hoover” program.—Joe Primm, Business Counselor, Alabama SBDC Network
The “How to Start a Business in Hoover” program was not birthed fully formed. It began as a general “Start a Business” program to bring attention to the library’s resources and ASBDC’s services. The library was relatively new to the concept of an ongoing program series that involved businesses.
All in all, our first business program was a success. Mr. Primm, along with an accountant and lawyer, spoke to twenty-five attendees. Afterward, over lunch, we evaluated the program. We wanted to draw more interest from potential attendees, and we wanted to differentiate this “Start a Business” program from those already being offered in the metro area. We needed to create a niche.
We discovered that our niche was our community, our location. The City of Hoover is one of the fastest growing cities in the region, and the sixth largest city in Alabama. In other words, “location, location, location” meant Hoover. Our library could not only provide a valuable program for potential entrepreneurs, but encourage them to locate to the city by streamlining the process. We asked the City’s Revenue Department to partner with us, and “How to Start a Business in Hoover” was born.
Step 2: Evolving
The program helps us gauge the new trends found in the local business climate which, in turn, helps us make decisions with tax and licensing matters. One of the biggest advantages of Hoover Library’s “How to Start a Business” program, is that it is proactive instead of reactive.—Patricia Allen, Revenue Officer, City of Hoover
Telling anyone, much less business owners, how the tax system works, and how much it will cost them personally, is never pleasant. I was nervous about the attendees’ initial reactions concerning the cost of doing business in Hoover, but something odd happened. Ms. Allen deftly explained not only how business taxes and licensing was set up locally and regionally, and the national historical context of each, but she explained what the attendees could do if they were dissatisfied. She became their advocate, and people became engaged. They started asking questions and requesting her business card. We were encouraged that forty people had attended our second annual “How to Start a Business in Hoover” program, but we still felt we were missing a large number of the demographic we were trying to reach with business programming.
The solution was simple. The Chamber of Commerce needed to be involved.
Step 3: Refining
The “How to Start a Business in Hoover” program is a great opportunity for the Chamber because it not only highlights what we do, but it encourages people to open their small business in Hoover. And when they do open their business, they already know us. We met at the library!—Bill Powell, Executive Director, Hoover Chamber of Commerce
Partnering with the local Chamber of Commerce is a good idea for any public library, regardless if business programs are offered. The Chamber is usually the first stop for new businesses—and, in many cases, residents—looking to relocate to a new city. A library that has a presence in its local Chamber will be part of that welcoming committee. New business owners and residents, desiring to be a part of their new community, will realize the vital role their public library plays in their work and leisure time.
Hoover’s Chamber of Commerce helps form the core of the library’s “How to Start a Business in Hoover” program, along with Hoover’s Revenue Department, the library, and ASBDC. With the core in place, the program could be tweaked to address any new issues that potential business owners may face. Because of the popularity of the program, ASBDC agreed to hold at least one more class a year on whatever subject matter we thought might be of interest to our patrons.
Step 4: Expanding
On average, the “How to Start a Business in Hoover” program attracts approximately forty-one attendees. The program was a springboard for a number of business-oriented programs we offer our patrons year round. For instance, through our partnership with ASBDC, a program on exporting will be presented by the Alabama International Trade Center in March 2013. Serendipitously, a recent local news segment featured the expanding exporting business in the state of Alabama. Also, the Hoover Public Library is quite proud of our ongoing partnership with the Construction Foundation of Alabama (CEFA). We host quarterly programs on career training. These timely programs have addressed a need found, not only locally, but nationally as well. These are just a few examples of the programs we offer our patrons on a regular basis.
Step 5: Climbing the Steps to Build a Ladder
What a great program! As an aspiring entrepreneur who lives and works in Hoover, it took a lot of the guess work out and presented everything in an easy to follow format.—Angela Moran, Program Attendee
The Library As Consultant
When first starting the “How to Start a Business” program, it was seen as a supplement to the library’s existing resources on starting a business. Now, both the program and resources are interchangeable in the sense they supplement each other. During the program, the library’s books and databases are highlighted for “further reading.” In helping patrons who scan the catalog and databases for information on business start-ups, the program can be seen as a supplement, or personal “consultation.” In the months following the library’s annual “start-up” program, the Business Department consistently saw an increase in its circulating collection, an average of 22 percent. This trend can also be found in the usage pertaining to ReferenceUSA, a county-wide business database. The program and its related resources are two valuable resources that patrons can access from the library.
The Library As Corporate Team Member
Reaching out to the business sector involves slanting the many skill sets librarians employ in their daily work environment. The reference interview requires networking with a smile and business card. The library’s books are training courses designed to help you increase sales and improve management, and the library’s 24/7 databases are apps specifically created to help you find information on companies you are considering investing in or maybe have an interview with for a new career. As a part of a company’s corporate team, the bottom line is helping your “coworker,” the library patron, with any sales lead, management issue, and product line they need help in finding or producing.
The Library As a City Partner
With the current economic climate, there is no better time for libraries to show local and regional governments their worth in the community. A library hosting a program to educate their patrons on how to open their own business is great. However, a library hosting a program to encourage and educate patrons on how to open their own business, and to start that business in the library’s community, is not only great; it is smart. The library is not only generating its own PR within the city, but it’s building its own funding base. Libraries have a vested interest in the economic life of our towns and states. Each and every library’s survival depends on it!
Step 6: Using Ladders to Form Bridges to the Library
Becoming a destination spot involves hosting programs that are individualized and unique. People can spend their time in a variety of ways, and it is becoming easier to access content and entertainment from home. Why should your patrons walk through your doors if they can access what you offer from their computers, iPads, or TVs? They should walk through your doors because what you offer is unique to your location and to them as individuals. What you offer is professional, but personal, and cannot be found anywhere else … but in your town … at your library.