Samantha Bonnette, Marketing and Developing Manager for the 21 libraries within the Shreve Memorial Library system, partnered with the Urban Libraries Council in Washington, DC to highlight current efforts in Louisiana to highlight how the public libraries can support the business community.
“When I first began working at Shreve Memorial Library, I was amazed by all of the services that modern-day libraries offer. Since then, I have come to greatly appreciate the plethora of services offered at and roles played by the library and now consider myself a true advocate of libraries. I have come to truly understand that libraries are vital centers of the community, a place where people come to learn new things, get needed services, exchange ideas, meet new people and pursue their dreams. At Shreve Memorial Library, we have stepped into yet another new role – that of the entrepreneurial support engine.”
Shreve Memorial Library is a 21-branch public library system serving the City of Shreveport and the surrounding Caddo Parish. Located in northwest Louisiana, the library system serves both urban and rural communities through its mission to transform Caddo Parish lives with resources, services and support to create a better world. Offering a variety of programs and services to meet the needs of patrons, the library’s innovative programming attempts to inspire the community to dream, discover and do whatever it is they choose to do, including starting their very own small business.
So how does the library do that? In a variety of ways, but first a little bit of history as to how the library found itself in this new role of entrepreneurial support engine.
In the spring of 2017, Shreve Memorial Library hosted numerous community listening sessions and town hall meetings to determine just what it is that our patrons wanted, needed and expected from their local library system. The information gathered contributed to a five-year strategic plan, in which the library identified five key service priorities. These priorities included creating and maintaining young readers, stimulating imaginations, having ready references, informing citizens and providing lifelong learning and information fluency for all patrons. The library’s strategic plan laid out a road map to achieving tangible and transformational outcomes in the lives of the people of Caddo Parish.
Using the strategic plan as a guide, library staff began developing programs and partnerships to address the many needs, wants and expectations of our patrons. We found that not only did our patrons view the library as a resource, but that they wanted to learn things that were applicable to their daily lives and the pursuit of their dreams. We began by offering classes in resume writing and interviewing skills. We partnered with area banks to provide financial literacy courses, teaching attendees how to manage their finances, create a budget and invest wisely. We even offered courses in home ownership, simplifying the home-buying process for first-time homeowners.
These programs were great, but we wanted to do more. As a key partner in the community, we wanted to offer support to those small business owners that also contributed to the vitality of our surrounding communities. In 2019, Shreve Memorial Library became a “Grow with Google” partner, offering small business workshops for business owners, students, veterans, educators and adults interested in learning how to grow their business and careers online. Workshops taught participants how to make the most of free tools and services offered by Google to increase their online presence and manage their business digitally. These initial “Grow with Google” workshops opened the door to the library’s role as an entrepreneurial support engine.
That door was kicked wide open in 2020 when Shreve Memorial Library was asked to be a resource partner for the Launch Network, a free online service that connects business owners with local organizations, tools and resources, creating partnerships that grow communities. The Launch Network provides an online resource navigator and telephone helpline that help business owners find the right contact for needed services, as well as an events calendar with local small business activities and a blog with stories and tips for starting your new business.
Initially, Shreve Memorial Library was simply listed as a resource for businesses to gain information contained at the library branches. Users of the platform would see that the library offered assistance in research, free computers and Wi-Fi for public use, printing and faxing service, and meeting spaces.
Pictured: Hamilton-South Caddo Branch Manager Hanna Hoang and Preston Langley of Launch Network. Photo Credit: Kirk Reedstrom
However, thanks to the initiative and forward-thinking of Preston Langley, Network Builder at Launch Network, and Shreve Memorial Library Executive Director John Tuggle, we were able to increase the library’s involvement in the Launch Network. Now the library is an active partner in the Launch Network, providing on-demand reference help and encouraging entrepreneurship through the library’s resource centers.
Reference librarians are now actively answering questions from referrals provided by the Launch Network team. If a potential business owner has a specific question that library staff can answer or research for them, an email is immediately sent to the library’s Small Business Resource Team to provide an answer quickly, in real time. Rather than adding an additional step of contacting the library for the Launch Network user, the library is now part of the team proactively providing the needed resource or information.
In addition, Launch Network has developed a list of the Top 10 Books for Entrepreneurs and provides copies of each book to the library’s largest branches, commonly known as resource centers. Each month, the libraries promote one title as the book of the month through displays and social media. Although one book is highlighted each month, all books on the list are made available to library patrons to check out whether in physical copies or online through services such Hoopla and Overdrive.
These examples are just a few of the ways Shreve Memorial Library is adapting in its role as an entrepreneurial support engine. To learn more about how libraries across the country and Canada are taking on this role, the Urban Libraries Council’s toolkit on Closing the Entrepreneurship Gap is a great resource. I am excited to see how Shreve Memorial Library, and libraries in general, continue to evolve to meet the needs of our communities, and I am even more excited to know that the library is playing a role in helping others to achieve their entrepreneurial goals.
Samantha Bonnette is the marketing and development manager for Shreve Memorial Library, a 21-branch library system serving Shreveport, Louisiana and the surrounding Caddo Parish. She is a proud alum of Tulane University and brings over 15 years of marketing experience to her role with Shreve Memorial Library. In addition to her work with the library, Samantha also serves as the Chair of the Board for Keep Louisiana Beautiful. She resides in Natchitoches, Louisiana (the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase) with her wonderfully sassy daughter, Ruby.