5 ways libraries support entrepreneurs, small business owners

Did you know your library can be a great business partner?

“I don’t think a lot of small business owners or entrepreneurs even know what an amazing resource the library can be,” said Anne Pezalla, co-owner of Oak Park store Lively Athletics.

This National Entrepreneurship Week, February 16-23, we’re showcasing five ways the library supports existing and aspiring business owners.

Lively Athletics co-owner Anne Pezalla (right) connects with Business and Government Librarian Bridget Optholt (left) when thinking about ways to expand the business.

“I don’t think I could have grown my business as quickly as I have without the help of the library,” said Pezalla, who opened Lively Athletics in Oak Park in 2014.

In 2016, Pezalla decided to explore growing the business by adding a kids’ shoe department. She was participating in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program at the time.

“One of their suggestions was to contact our local business librarian, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Oak Park Public Library had one of those,” Pezalla said. “Bridget helped me access all kinds of online resources and catalogs so I could assess the market for kids’ shoes in our area. I was able to create a really, really accurate sales projection based on the data I accessed through the library.”

Access online resources »

2. Spaces to meet, collaborate, get work done

OPRF Chamber Women in Business
Members of the OPRF Chamber of Commerce Women in Business group meet up at the Main Library for networking, fellowship, and programming.

Providing public spaces to learn, collaborate, and create is a core library service for the community, including business owners.

For example, members of the OPRF Chamber of Commerce Women in Business affinity group meet up for networking, fellowship, and programming in Main Library spaces twice a month.

Cardholders can reserve large spaces for meetings and presentations, or smaller rooms for client meetings and team brainstorming sessions. The library also can serve as an office away from home, with space to work, WiFi, printers, scanners, and laptops available.

Reserve space »

3. Mentoring, coaching, networking

Retired business owner Rick Prescott (right) provides free business counseling to clients at the Main Library as a volunteer SCORE mentor.

Twice a month at the Main Library, aspiring and current business owners can schedule free, confidential counseling appointments with mentors from SCORE, a nonprofit association and resource partner of the Small Business Administration. The sessions are “an opportunity to bounce their ideas off an experienced business mentor,” said SCORE Chicago Chapter Chair Keith Coleman.

Mentors can help entrepreneurs figure out whether their idea is viable and sustainable, develop a workable business plan, and focus on finances. And if someone needs more specialized help, SCORE can connect them with its national network of mentors, organizations, and agencies.

For example, say someone is looking into starting an organic farming business. SCORE can refer them to one of its partners, such as a state department of agriculture. They’ll also connect the aspiring farmer with a SCORE mentor who has expertise in the farming industry. “We are usually able to match a client up with a mentor within 48 hours,” Coleman said.

4. Business books, subscriptions, databases

Did you know Oak Park business owners can get a library card? With a library card, you can access hundreds of thousands of business-related titles, subscriptions, databases, training, and more, all curated to help you learn new skills and run your business.

For example, with the Small Business Source, you can access a small business start-up kit, state- and industry-specific information, and step-by-step instructions on writing a business plan.

On the go? Listen to business audiobooks on your mobile device with the Hoopla and Libby apps.

Get a library card »

5. A dedicated librarian to help you connect all the dots

Business and Government Librarian Bridget Optholt specializes in connecting people with resources to grow and build their business. She can help entrepreneurs write a business plan, get a license, find training and seminars, navigate library collections and resources, and more.

As Lively Athletics’ Anne Pezalla put it: “Those getting into business for themselves should look to the library because they will be able to access resources that they could never afford on their own. Further, they’ll access the expertise of the library staff who are there and want nothing more than to see them succeed.”

Contact Business and Government Librarian Bridget Optholt »