The Austin Public Library Joins a Nationwide Initiative to Help Entrepreneurs Launch Businesses with Focus on Women and People of Color

Starting one’s own business may soon become the most viable path to achieving the American dream. It is projected that by 2020 half of all workers will be independent freelancers, responsible for their own fortunes and well-being.

Knowing this, the Austin Public Library is partnering with 11 other public library systems from across the U.S. and Canada to explore ways libraries can reach and engage entrepreneurs in their communities – particularly people of color, women, immigrants and veterans. This effort is being led by the Urban Libraries Council, a membership organization of North America’s leading public library systems, as an extension of ULC’s collaboration with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to strengthen libraries’ capacity to support entrepreneurship.

“The library plays an important role in building businesses and our economy,” said ULC President and CEO Susan Benton. “This experience will shape current thinking about how libraries can support entrepreneurship and create new opportunities for all community members.”

"Independent workers and small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the heartbeat in many of our communities, stated Roosevelt Weeks, Director of Libraries for the Austin Public Library system. "Partnering with the Austin Economic Development Department, we want to make sure small businesses in Austin have the tools they need to succeed.”

Participating in this initiative, the Austin Public Library will develop partnerships with local businesses and organizations as well as the Small Business Program of the Austin Economic Development Department to offer workshops for starting and growing a successful small business and will create a space for resources needed by entrepreneurial startups. Here’s a list of upcoming business classes at Austin Public Library branches throughout town: library.austintexas.gov/event-tags/smallbusiness.

Entrepreneurs play an increasingly important role in growing local economies as technology continues to transform the labor market. However, barriers to resources and information prevent many individuals from pursuing or achieving entrepreneurial success. Public libraries are uniquely equipped to reach populations who are underrepresented in today’s entrepreneurial economy and most in need of guidance.

Coordinating efforts with the Austin Public Library, 11 additional public library systems will pursue the following projects to explore new approaches to reaching and engaging entrepreneurs in their communities:

  • District of Columbia Public Library will develop a strategy to target library resources and partner-led programs toward citizens returning from jail seeking to become entrepreneurs.
  • Durham County Library (N.C.) will provide access to free co-working spaces that will feature innovative technology, resources and relevant programming.
  • East Baton Rouge Parish Library (La.) will develop a program to connect their business librarian to established and new entrepreneurs, to provide them with customized library resources to meet their specific needs.
  • Enoch Pratt Free Library (Md.) and Baltimore County Public Library will develop a program supporting economic independence through entrepreneurship for small, minority- and women-owned businesses by providing access to a collaborative network of library resources, services and partnerships that offer education, training and support services.
  • Kansas City Public Library (Mo.) will work to bring multilingual small business and entrepreneurship programs to immigrants and refugees in Kansas City.
  • King County Library System (Wash.) will develop and implement a holistic and equitable approach to addressing the needs of immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs through research into local economic development plans, sector strategies and demographics.
  • Mid-Continent Public Library (Mo.) will develop its Food Ed program that concentrates on the first steps of starting a food business.
  • St. Louis County Library will explore new ways to grow its monthly educational series that engages local entrepreneurs with outreach events, instructional sessions and a small business and nonprofit expo.
  • Toledo Lucas County Public Library (Ohio) will develop a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges facing aspiring women and immigrant entrepreneurs as well as how those obstacles differ for aspiring male entrepreneurs, and will analyze strategies to attract and effectively serve both groups.
  • Toronto Public Library will develop an entrepreneur-in-residence program and perform community outreach to newcomers in the community, focusing on women and refugees.

The Urban Libraries Council also released a Leadership Brief titled Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs, which you can read here.

About the Small Business Program
The Small Business Program is a division of the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department and is committed to providing opportunities and resources to small businesses to help them grow and prosper in a competitive business environment.

About Austin Public Library
The Austin Public Library provides knowledge, technology and inspiration to the Austin community. The Library is a hub of books and education, a meeting place of minds and an incubator of ideas. For more information call 512-974-7400 or visit library.austintexas.gov.

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