Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Finding business stories in libraries

June 20, 2019

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From lending out tablets to helping immigrants launch businesses, public libraries offer a lot more than books. Look at libraries through a business lens. (Photo of a library by Genaro Servin via Pexels, Pexels License)

As communities evolve, so do the libraries that serve those communities. Here’s a look at library-related business angles to consider.

Library funding

The current administration has not been friendly to public arts funding, including libraries. Federal funding isn’t libraries’ only source of support, but many states and local governments have also reduced library budgets. How is your local library system faring in this climate? Are librarian protesting budget cuts, like they have in Seattle? Are they reducing library hours or staffing? Or are they expanding services and upgrading tech despite budget cuts like this library system did?

Libraries reaching underserved communities

Many librarians see their role expanding beyond stewards of books. They see themselves as community advocates and champions of literacy, even for those who can’t get to a library branch. Librarians in Neeah, Wisconsin (and other places) conduct outreach on a bicycle-powered bookmobile. Other libraries are positioning themselves as entrepreneurship hubs, especially for those who might not have access to startup incubators and accelerators. For instance, Toronto Public Library in Canada has an entrepreneur-in-residence program and performs community outreach to newcomers in the community, focusing on women and refugees. San Antonio Public Library in Texas has an Entrepreneurship Resource Center located on the first floor of its main branch.

Library of things

As part of the library of things movement, many libraries now help patrons save money by providing free or discounted museum passes or renting out items like gardening tools, tablets, or musical instruments. For instance, Santa Maria Library in California has sewing machines, while Cary Memorial Library in Massachusetts lends out telescopes and digital cameras. Does your library offer any unusual items? What’s most popular and why?

Reporter’s Takeaway

The American Library Association (ALA) is a great resource for any library-related story.

The Urban Libraries Council may be able to help put local library stories into the context of broader national trends.

A professor of library science or library management may provide another point of view for library-related stores. ExpertiseFinder lists 25 experts on library-related topics.

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