July 12, 2022

Libraries and Entrepreneurship: A Natural Fit

a public library
By: Sarah Williamson


Workforce and economic development are hot topics at libraries across the country—and many are tapping into ELI’s Entrepreneurial Mindset Training as a key resource. 

All public libraries in Georgia, Virginia, and Delaware offer free ELI training to staff and patrons. Many regional and local institutions do, too. For example, from the Mid-Continent Public Library in the metro Kansas City area to Spokane Public Library in Washington. 

Nashville Public Library joined these ranks in the fall of 2021 with its NPL Means Business initiative, which houses business training and resources together to better support entrepreneurs and small business startups. 

Corey Frederick, an adult services librarian who manages the Edgehill Branch Library, was one of the first staff members to attend ELI’s facilitation certification training. He started offering entrepreneurial mindset courses using the Ice House model within NPL Means Business. “Libraries love to organize information and connect individuals, and that’s what this does,” he said. 

He sees the Ice House course as a valuable steppingstone. Additionally, positioning entrepreneurs to benefit fully from offerings by other organizations like the Nashville Entrepreneur Center or SCORE. It introduces entrepreneurship in a way everyone can embrace—as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. It also creates a supportive, trusting atmosphere where participants feel empowered to present their business ideas and receive feedback on them.

Putting Problems and Passions in Context

Entrepreneurship education is a natural expansion of libraries’ mission, explained Duncan Smith, Chief Strategist for Public Libraries at EBSCO. EBSCO is a provider of information resources and technology solutions. EBSCO’s offerings include an eight-module online Entrepreneurial Mindset Training Course that incorporates the Ice House model. In addition, Smith facilitates ELI certification training for librarians who will be offering in-person courses.

“Every day they’re on the job, every public librarian is answering questions to solve problems for others or help others pursue passions—and every one of them has an entrepreneurial mindset,” said Smith. His background includes 40 years as a public librarian and launching a database business called NoveList that public libraries use to answer the question, “What’s a good book to read?” 

One of all libraries’ most important contributions to entrepreneurs is helping them do research. They also develop a realistic understanding of the viability of their idea. “Frequently, people don’t have the context for the problem they’re trying to solve or the passion they’re trying to pursue,” Smith said. “The Ice House provides a context that helps think that through.” 

Public libraries also support entrepreneurs in a multitude of other ways. They offer everything from databases of local demographic information to quiet, free work environments equipped with the latest technology. Additionally, they serve a diverse cross-section of people across all demographics. Because of this, public libraries are uniquely positioned to serve the entire economic development ecosystem. 

NPL Means Business

When Nashville Public Library introduced its NPL Means Business initiative in the fall of 2021, it decided to offer open access to the online Entrepreneurial Mindset Training Course to anyone. Frederick said this was true whether or not they have a library card as part of its mission to remove barriers to access to information. 

Likewise, its first live entrepreneurial mindset course in early 2022, in partnership with Belmont University (offered via online video conference due to covid), had a mix of participants. These include a recent retiree to a mother and her homeschooled child to former library employees to a pharmaceutical executive. 

The first hybrid in-person and concurrent streaming course kicked off in June. Nashville Public Library and the Nashville Hispanic Chamber of Commerce alternate hosting the weekly sessions. In which, they featured the Ice House curriculum interwoven with other business-related topics the Chamber has identified as key for its members. 

Nashville and Davidson County are in the midst of an economic boom. Therefore, there are many opportunities to apply an entrepreneurial mindset within the workforce. However, NPL Means Business isn’t limited to adults. Instead, Frederick is working with local high schools to introduce the entrepreneurial mindset as part of their business and marketing courses. He is emphasizing teaching students how to do research using the library’s databases and resources. He hopes the educational programs will eventually expand to summer internship opportunities with local businesses and organizations. 

Building an Ecosystem

“Nashville is doing a good job building partnerships and coalitions,” Smith said. “They’re creating a system of services and leveraging connections to support their participants.” He believes other ELI facilitators and organizations using the Ice House model can pick up their approach. These facilitators and organizations can, in turn, reach out to their public library systems. 

Smith points out that Nashville was the site of the American Library Association meeting. Collaborations between ELI and public libraries started to take root three years ago here. After a pause due to the pandemic, he sees exciting examples of growth. In the coming year, he’ll be working on professional development experiences for library staff to help them better understand the entrepreneurial journey. 

“Workforce development and economic development are becoming a higher priority for libraries everywhere,” Smith said. “This is a good foundational resource for libraries that have started seeing new populations from the business community and entrepreneurs.”