Libraries are recognizing their shifting role as not only an information repository, but a community resource and work space. Some, like mine, are even choosing to specialize in business and career services.
Let me just start off by saying that I am 100% biased in favor of libraries, at least in part because that’s where I work for my “day job.” But listen, it’s not just a place to go check out dusty hardcovers or classic films anymore (although, was it ever really just that? Even my childhood village library had current subscriptions to Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly and access to the Interlibrary Loan system, which meant I could get pretty much any book I’d ever heard of, new or old). Libraries around the country are offering ALL KINDS of programming and activities, and many — like mine — are hiring librarians that specialize in business, or programming, or technology. Some are even hiring social workers to help assist homeless or mentally ill populations (or just people who have questions or need some help with community resources). And so many of them have services in the building that exceed the public computer terminal for checking your email.
My library, for example, has what they call “creation stations,” a set of four dual-monitor computers with the full Adobe Suite on them, plus a scanner and a silhouette machine (think Cricut or other programmable paper-cutting machines). Back before I subscribed to Photoshop at home, I digitized my Streetcar painting on one of those machines — and grabbed a copy of a Photoshop manual off the non-fiction shelf to figure out how to do it. I had to scan in the painting in sections (since it was too big for the bed of the scanner) and use the “Photomerge” feature (which is a thing of magic in its own right).
Besides these, the library offers regular (free) tech classes on everything from how to use basic Windows functions on up through how to use the drawing tools in Adobe Illustrator.
If I may brag a little, my library also has a dedicated “Launch” space for entrepreneurs and students to work, as well as a regular series of business development lectures, seminars, and round-tables. Just last month, they offered their first ever “Start and Grow Your Business Expo,” with local and municipal organizations that could provide info on funding, marketing, legal and tax policies, etc. I even found a pamphlet geared specifically toward arts funding and exhibition. Not only that, but we have a dedicated business librarian, whom I was able to schedule a one-on-one meeting with — I explained to her what I’ve done so far in my business and what I hope to eventually accomplish, and she helped me to decide some next steps for doing so (and looped in our programming librarian, who happens to be really involved in the local arts scene and was able to send me some great info on that).
Yes, I live in a decent-sized university town (population somewhere around 80k) and our library is pretty well-funded. But even smaller libraries, as I mentioned, have access to the Interlibrary Loan (ILL) system, so if there’s something you want to borrow that they don’t have in-house, they might be able to get it from another library. Plus, if they know there’s a demand for certain types of resources or services, they’re pretty clever about finding them.
Librarians are also invaluable for connecting you to other resources both online and in the community (my city has a Small Business Development Center, I recently discovered — thanks to the library, of course — whose sole purpose is to help people with EVERY aspect of starting and running a business). If you live in a small town but are near a big city, take a trip to their library — often, their events and resources are available in-house for anyone to use, and a lot of times neighboring libraries have agreements with each other that allow patrons from one to borrow materials from the other.
Speaking of materials, I haven’t even mentioned the books yet. There are a few that I’ve read, and a few more in my “to-read” pile, that I’ll share next time.
Are you a patron of your local library? What kinds of programming or resources do they offer your community? If you’re not sure, go check out their website! You might be surprised by what you find.