State business owners are finding a new source to help develop and grow their small and/or startup company in an unusual place — their local library.
Launched in June, and coordinated through the Michigan eLibrary, the new initiative provides a number of resources through MeL, which is administered by the Library of Michigan in partnership with Michigan’s libraries of all types. Among the resources are databases that provide comprehensive business and demographic information, attorney forms and documents in Word format, tools needed to develop data-driven insights, and reference ebooks. The resources are available and free to all Michigan residents through the website mel.org/bizandjobs.
Amy Lee, the business resource center coordinator at the Canton Public Library, says she has been working with a half dozen business owners in the past month and expects to do more one-on-one sessions in the near future.
“Not everyone can afford to hire a consultant to work for them,” says Lee, noting that the majority of people she meets with are in the researching and planning stage of their business. “A lot of small businesses have to do it for themselves.”
The availability of these databases is the result of funding allocated by a state program to grow businesses in the state. According to Gov. Rick Snyder, in order for these businesses to grow and thrive, “they need to have targeted research databases which will assist in that growth.”
Marilyn Gordon of Canton is one of the business owners who has benefited from the availability of these online resources. Four years after establishing Mediatude LLC in 2009, Gordon had noticed a growing trend in negative articles relating to social media and high school athletes and decided she wanted to expand her business to include this new demographic in her media coaching company.
“I was asking, ‘How can I find all of the high schools in Michigan,’” Gordon says. “How can I find all of the coaches and their contact information?”
Gordan, who also teaches business classes at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, says she was referred to the Canton Public Library, where she was taught how to use the business resources — specifically, DemographicsNOW — available via MeL. By using these databases, she says was able to find the information she was looking for as well as learn more about her competition in a given area.
Deb Biggs Thomas, outreach coordinator, says MeL coordinated training sessions with the resource vendors — Gale/Cengage Learning and CIVICTechnologies — at several libraries throughout the state in August. Thomas estimates that of the state’s libraries, only about 20 percent already had access some or all of the resources now provided through MeL.
Biggs says that the response has been positive. Just last week, she received a testimonial from a reference librarian at Howell Carnegie District Library, who said a local attorney was using one of the databases with clients after attending a demo at a recent meeting. As she noted, “it has become very valuable to his business.”