Libraries as Entrepreneurship Hubs

The Dallas B.R.A.I.N. can only hope to achieve its goal of building an inclusive entrepreneurial community because of the vision and resources of the Dallas Public Library (DPL). In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 87% of Americans believe libraries should definitely or maybe offer programs and services to help small businesses. In 2014, the DPL created a small business center with funding from Sammons Enterprises Foundation and the Friends of the DPL. The approximately 3,800 square foot space includes new modular tables and chairs, and 1,200 small business titles and databases. Designated desktop computers provide access to business planning, legal and market research software. A suite of laptop computers are available for workshop participants in the adjacent Hamon Training room. The center occupies a prominent place in the Business and Technology Division which occupies the 5th floor of the Central Library downtown.

In 2015, learning about the opening of the Small Business Center, the City’s Office of Economic Development proposed a partnership that to combine OED business support resources with the library’s physical assets. OED staff moved into the Central Library to help bring new programming and provide small business customer support. Both departments realized the importance of creating a downtown hub for small businesses. Our combined work in 2015 was building the online and process tools to increase programming at the downtown library. At the same time, it was clear that the entire DPL system of 28 branches across Dallas were an unparalleled asset. These branches could serve as platforms to market small business resources to Dallas’ diverse communities. They are also the venues where support can be brought right into each community.

Library personnel are also a vital asset in supporting small businesses. Library staff have extensive experience helping people articulate their learning needs and they facilitate assess to the necessary information. Libraries traditionally have been places of self-guided, continuing education. My colleague Mark Gilman calls them open universities. The culture of collaboration and learning they support is a natural fit for supporting an inclusive, entrepreneurial community. The libraries are in every neighborhood, they are open and free to all residents, have training and meeting spaces and they have a skilled staff who are experts at information discovery.

The model being used by the Dallas B.R.A.I.N. is to learn about each neighborhood branch: demographics, businesses and entrepreneurial needs and interests. Then we use that information to recruit partners to deliver services at those branches. Dallas B.R.A.I.N. staff help with workshop and event marketing and logistics while partners deliver the content. If you want to find out how to get involved in building this citywide entrepreneurial support platform let us know at [email protected]. Also early this year, we will have information sessions where organizations can join our network so they can start delivering programming through our library branches.