Key measures of a healthy economy include, among other things, new businesses that create jobs and attract skilled workers. And while community leaders count on the corporate sector to stimulate economic growth, many experts are pointing to entrepreneurship as a means to build and support thriving local economies.
According to a report by the Kauffman Foundation, by 2020, about 50 percent of the workforce will be independent workers rather than salaried employees. As workforce trends shift, libraries are uniquely positioned to promote entrepreneurship, serving as hubs that connect individuals to the people, programs, tools and resources to develop a 21st Century workforce.
Librarians have strong connections to the communities they serve, including communities that have been historically disenfranchised. By creating entrepreneurial “ecosystems,” libraries can help individuals take control of their economic success, especially those who don’t know where to begin or have difficulty navigating multiple sources of information. Public libraries level the playing field by providing well-coordinated resources — often in partnership with other organizations — that support entrepreneurship every step of the way.
For example, KCLS has partnered with the Startup 425 Foundation to offer a series of workshops conducted by leaders and innovators who share their expertise on starting a business. Classes are held at five Eastside libraries and cover six topics: ideation, business plans, licensing, financing, marketing and networking. Participants can register for as many workshops as they want in whatever order and location they choose.
Similarly, patrons can take advantage of free counseling sessions with volunteers from SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives), who offer advice on how to successfully run a small business. As a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE is the nation’s largest network of business mentors and has helped millions of budding entrepreneurs across the United States.
King County has a strong philanthropic community and many individuals and organizations take advantage of KCLS’ Nonprofit and Philanthropy Resource Center (NPRC) at the Redmond Library to access free databases and other resources to obtain grants to support their cause. NPRC is a member of the Foundation Center Funding Information Network and provides an outstanding collection of philanthropy resources in the Northwest and nationally.
Emerging technologies and the growing maker and gig economies offer numerous opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Patrons who visit the ideaX Makerspace at the Bellevue Library can explore a variety of STEAM concepts through hands-on activities such as 3-D printing, digital music composition, robotics and virtual reality. KCLS will open a second Makerspace location at the Federal Way Library this year. The Makerspaces are supported by grants from Google and The Boeing Company, underscoring the high demand for STEAM training throughout job markets.
KCLS has always played an important role in helping individuals develop job skills. We are excited about expanding that role by offering programs and services that promote entrepreneurship and help build equitable and resilient local economies.
Lisa Rosenblum is the director of the King County Library System.