By Donna Olson
Information Specialist, Howell Carnegie District Library
Howell Carnegie District Library in Howell, Michigan, was typical of many public libraries, struggling from the poor economy before we decided to infiltrate our business community on the grassroots level. Like many libraries, we provide Internet access, résumé classes, small business development resources, and much more. But we have gone a huge step further by bringing together a range of community and county organizations to have a coherent, complete range of services available to our community.
I am Donna Olson, Howell Carnegie’s information specialist and our library’s point person for organizational partnerships. I work with partner agencies including Michigan Works! (Workforce Development Agency), Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC), SCORE, and SPARK (economic development), as well as local colleges, chambers of commerce, networking groups, schools, and businesses.
Local businesses think of Howell Carnegie as an invaluable resource. But that wasn’t necessarily the case before the library formed its partnerships. We realized we weren’t getting out the word about our facilities and services. We re-examined our community service plan and saw big problems. We had a tight budget, but worse, we had target audiences unaware that we could help them. Recognizing that the situation probably wasn’t unique to Howell, we reached out to other libraries, businesses, investment and employment counselors, and academia to figure out how we all contribute to local workforce development. This ad hoc group became Library Biz Connect.
Here at Howell Carnegie, we have leveraged what we do best to promote workforce development while reducing staff workload and incurring minimal additional expense. We host our partners’ workshops at our convenient, welcoming location, and share the work of marketing. We post new openings on our job board daily. And we help whoever comes in find just the information they need—in print or digital form.
Library Biz Connect members benefit from the knowledge and training we share with each other, which in turn helps us meet the resource needs of community residents and developing small businesses. Steve Feinman, district director of SCORE Michigan, relates, “The focus of the library staff is not on what the library thinks small businesses need. It focuses on what the business community is saying it needs. It is business-centric to help small businesses in Livingston County succeed.”
Libraries are logical places for workforce development services, providing a needed service in a non-threatening, open place that most residents are already comfortable using. “I direct many clients to the library to access the expertise and assistance of the local librarians,” says Nancy Johnson, satellite director, Livingston SBTDC. “The library is part of the conversation as a requirement for building a business or marketing plan, because it can help people compile detailed lists of potential customers.”
The Library of Michigan supports libraries and agencies in the state in their workforce development efforts by providing online resources geared toward literacy, retraining, and small business development. These are funded through the Institute of Museum and Library Services Grants to States funds. “It only takes one piece of information to make or break a business venture,” says Stewart Brannen, Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Cleary University. “I advise entrepreneurs to make the librarian their best friend.”