2019-08-29 19:03:33

Most people know their public libraries as the place they go for a good book or a quiet space to work, but did you know the St. Louis County Library also has resources that can help small businesses and entrepreneurs save up to $1,000 a month?

In May 2018, the St. Louis County Library joined the Urban Libraries Council’s effort to extend support for local entrepreneurs.

The effort focuses specifically on women, people of color, immigrants and veterans. Through this initiative, the library hosts outreach events, instructional sessions and a small business and nonprofit expo. Nationwide, 12 public libraries are a part of the program through the Urban Libraries Council; three are in Missouri with the other two in the Kansas City area. 

This month, the county library will be doing its first small business collaboration with Etsy’s craft entrepreneurship program. Assistant reference manager Lauren Hoerr is spearheading the collaboration.

“I personally love Etsy (an e-commerce site with a focus on handmade items), and I’m on there all the time,” Hoerr says. “So, the fact that we get to partner with a company that I personally love — and they obviously are huge advocates for the communities that they’ve put out these programs in — is just a great opportunity.”

The library will be the first in the state to offer this program, and Hoerr believes the small business community here could thrive with this support.

“I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of people in the area that have these great ideas, and I think that they would be great in both the communities that they live in or St. Louis in general,” Hoerr says. “I know that the barrier to entry to get them started with a small business is really difficult, especially if you’re not sure what you’re doing. So I’m a huge fan of helping people that have great ideas.”

The St. Louis instructor of the course, Danielle Favreau of Tesla Baby Studios, got her start on Etsy in 2009 and has become the largest silicone bead supplier in the U.S.

Requirements for the Etsy workshop include not having made an Etsy sale and having a bank account. Most of the participants make crafts such as paper products and soaps, but others sell antiques. By the end of the program, each person will have a store created in Etsy with products listed.

While the fall Etsy workshop is already full, the county library plans on offering a spring Etsy collaboration. Details have yet to be announced. The library’s foundation has supplied about $2,000 to pay Etsy’s licensing fee. 

Like most other local libraries, the county library offers many services for local small businesses, including online classes on topics such as writing a business plan, pitching a business, marketing, search engine optimization and training staff. The library also holds a business expo at the end of every year, has regular programs and offers free resources to make marketing and prospect lists.

Perhaps most popular is its book-a-librarian program, which allows people to have one-on-one time with a librarian who assesses a business and then walks it through the best databases the library has to offer.

The library’s book-a-librarian program has increased in demand by 115 percent since 2018.

Reference manager Jennifer Gibson, who is in charge of the small business initiative at the library, believes her decision to become a librarian was driven by a desire to better the community.

“We love being able to help people into financial independence, help people that maybe aren’t able to find jobs or get hired as easily, help them to be able to become their own bosses and find ways to create that income for them and for their family,” Gibson says. “It really ties into the core mission of public libraries of supporting the community, helping a community thrive, and, you know, we’re sort of helping drive the economic development, too, of the area.”

Gibson and Hoerr say a small business owner can save up to $13,000 per year by using free library resources.

Not only does the St. Louis County Library offer services for small businesses, but it also extends this support to nonprofit organizations. It holds online grant writing classes and helps nonprofits generate marketing lists to identify potential donors. 

An upcoming event for all patrons is the “Building Your Dream Business” workshop. (The event Sept. 5 at headquarters is full, but spaces are available at various branch events.)

The library is not alone in its abundance of resources for local businesses and entrepreneurs. In fact, Gibson encourages all residents to reach out to their local library for support. 

Among other local libraries, for example, Six Mile Regional Library District in Granite City also has resources for small businesses and entrepreneurs in the form of a small business database, books and Reference USA. The Southwestern Illinois Chamber of Commerce offers free lectures for small business owners, as well.

“We’re very big advocates of just advising people to contact their own local public library and just asking because they will probably be surprised,” Gibson says. 

Where St. Louis County Library 1640 South Lindbergh Boulevard • How much Free  More info  slcl.org; 314-994-3300

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