A New Library Resource for Solving Problems and Pursuing Passions
Location: Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee
Number of branches: 21
Launch of NPL Means Business: 2021
Nashville is booming, and the ripples affect everyone. These include the public library system, which serves the city and surrounding Davidson County. Planners expect the metro area to grow by 140,000 people in the next 20 years, up from 700,000 today. Its residents are predominantly English-speaking, with a substantial Spanish-speaking segment and the nation’s largest Kurdish population. Also, there’s an ongoing influx of new companies and new residents to work at them.
“The library’s users extend across all demographics,” said Corey Frederick, an adult services librarian who manages the Edgehill Branch Library. The community around his branch is a microcosm of Nashville Public Library’s system as a whole. It ranges from the affluent 12 South neighborhood to apartment-style, government-funded housing. One thing all the community’s residents share is a desire to be part of Nashville’s robust economy. For some, the path runs through traditional full-time employment. But others are interested in the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to solve problems for community members. Nurturing that entrepreneurial mindset presented Nashville Public Library with its own opportunity to serve everyone, regardless of their demographic background.
NPL Means Business launched in the fall of 2021. The initiative’s goal is simple: to help entrepreneurs and small business owners find resources through the library. But to successfully leverage resources, individuals need to understand and explain the context for their idea. That’s where the library system saw an opening to offer another level of support.
Nashville isn’t alone in recognizing the benefits of adding entrepreneurship education to its repertoire. In a recent survey by the Public Library Association, 55 percent of libraries said economic recovery for job seekers and small businesses is an area that’s ripe for partnerships. Duncan Smith, Chief Strategist for Public Libraries at EBSCO, has worked with many such institutions before, during, and after the pandemic. Additionally, his company offers information resources and technology solutions. One of his go-to suggestions for libraries looking to support small business startups is the Ice House model from the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative.
“Every day they’re on the job, every public librarian is answering questions to solve problems for others or helping others pursue passions — and every one of them has an entrepreneurial mindset,” said Smith, who has been a public librarian for 40 years. “When I went through ELI’s facilitator training, I saw my life’s journey flash before my eyes.” That experience inspired him to help establish a partnership agreement between EBSCO and ELI.
The Nashville Public Library team explored its options for building an ecosystem for people starting on their entrepreneurial journey and found that the Ice House model was a good fit for its NPL Means Business initiative. Smith—an entrepreneur himself during his career as a librarian—facilitated the certification training Frederick attended.
“The Ice House model is situated as a precursor to anything else that [our partners like] the Nashville Entrepreneurial Center would offer or anything you would take through SCORE,” Frederick said. “It’s a steppingstone before people invest time and money in other courses.”
To ensure there are no barriers to would-be entrepreneurs, Nashville Public Library doesn’t require a library card to access its online Ice House training course. Also, the system offers copies of the book “Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur” in English and Spanish. Its first live Ice House workshop happened virtually over the winter in partnership with Belmont University. Then, the second workshop kicked in person in June 2022 with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“NPL Means Business is so new, it still has its fresh car scent,” Frederick quipped, but he’s pleased by the response to the initiative and the Ice House programs. For example, more than 70 people inquired about the first live session, which NPL capped at 12 participants. Those who attended “were demographically all over the board, from a recent retiree to a mother with her homeschooled teen to former library employees to a pharmaceutical executive. It made the discussion each week a really enjoyable experience.”
Frederick, a former teacher, had his own a-ha moment during the sessions as he saw how much the teen benefitted from the content. He reached out to his former principal at East Nashville Magnet High School. He then discussed adding the Ice House model to its marketing pathway program and business classes. He’d also like to add education about the library’s databases and how to use them for research. In the long term, Nashville Public Library intends to partner with more public schools, business academies, and other educational organizations throughout the city and county.
“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’s also impressed with their commitment to ensuring equitable access to all residents, even those who live outside the library’s service area. Indeed, Frederick said, the library offers cards to residents of surrounding counties who commute in for work, and it offers digital access for only $10 a year.
Frederick is optimistic that the library’s internal staff support for NPL Means Business will continue to grow in the coming years. “Libraries love to organize information and connect people,” Frederick said. “And that’s what this does.”
In the short term, Smith will be offering professional development experiences to help current staff throughout the library system 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.”