- The American Libraries Association (ALA) will distribute a $1.3 million grant across 13 selected libraries, including the public libraries of Los Angeles, Baltimore County and Providence, RI, for the development of entrepreneurship centers.
- The Libraries Build Businesses initiative was created as part of a Google-backed effort to boost the number of libraries with business centers, in an effort to support low-income and underrepresented residents.
- The initiative is designed to serve 15,000 people over an 18-month period by providing a framework with common metrics to evaluate the program's success; creating a "playbook" for libraries based on the program learnings to better serve entrepreneurs from diverse groups; and building a peer-learning network for librarians who want to develop similar programs.
Libraries have played a key role in cities during the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) by reaching hard-to-count groups for the 2020 Census, sheltering people experiencing homeless, bridging the digital divide, and more.
Libraries are also one of the largest platforms in the U.S. for "empowering aspiring entrepreneurs," according to the ALA. Almost half of the nearly 17,000 U.S. public libraries provide free services for entrepreneurs including access to capital and business coaching.
"The library is the hub of the community," Diane Luccy, business and careers manager of Richland Library in Columbia, SC, told Smart Cities Dive. And that role is becoming even more pronounced as libraries prepare for potentially more demand than what they experienced during the Great Recession.
The Richland Library, one of the cohort libraries working with the Build Businesses project, has plans to invest some of its $140,000 in grant funding toward an "Entrepreneurial Launch Pad." The program is designed to support businesses led by women and people of color with services like an entrepreneur-in-residence program, networking and customized learning, and an "Entrepreneurial Library of Things."
The Library of Things offers high-quality equipment to business owners like podcasting supplies, photography kits, video editing equipment and even a woodworking and textile-makers space. Providing those often-costly tools and services can help "remove barriers and level the playing field for diverse entrepreneurs" Luccy said.
The program is also designed to encourage entrepreneurs in Columbia — a city of about 133,000 people — from seeking opportunities elsewhere, according to Luccy. There's always the concern that a business owner might move to a bigger city to reinvent their business or stay afloat, but this latest initiative can hopefully help individuals pivot their businesses in Columbia amid the pandemic, she said.
"We don’t want our entrepreneurs to leave," Luccy said. "We want them to stay in Columbia and we want them to thrive."