Innovative Ways Libraries are Supporting Workforce Development

Starting October 1, 2021 at 9 am ET we will hold an asynchronous discussion here in the Career Pathways Group on innovative ways libraries are supporting workforce development. 

This is a month-long event that will help prepare the adult education field for Entrepreneur's Day in November. We will explore websites, have guest-hosted discussions each week, and end with tips for connecting with public libraries for career pathways and workforce development initiatives.

I look forward to you checking in often and commenting and asking questions. Here's a list of our guest-hosts:

Megan Janicki
Project Manager, Libraries Build Business
American Library Association, Public Policy and Advocacy

Adam Pitts
Branch Manager
Gwinnett County Public Library

Sheldon Burke
Broward County Public Library

Taneesa Hall
Adult Services Librarian
Ferguson Municipal Public Library

Rachael Svoboda
Business Services Coordinator
Laramie County Library System





September through November are exciting months in the Career Pathways Group. September was Workforce Development Month, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and November is Entrepreneurship Month. Each of the months allows us to highlight various ways we can help individuals enter and progress along a career pathway, and how we can strive to have a more innovative, diverse, and inclusive workforce in America. 

Over the next few weeks, we will have the opportunity to chat with various guest speakers from all over the United States about the Libraries Build Business initiative. "Libraries Build Business (LBB) is a national initiative supported by to build capacity in libraries offering programming or services to local entrepreneurs and the small business community. The purpose of this initiative will be to answer the following question: What library-led entrepreneurship models will best help low-income and/or underrepresented entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses? recognizes that public libraries - with their nearly 17,000locations nationwide - are critical pillars of the community in supporting job seekers, small business owners and entrepreneurs alike. They have a critical role in addressing inequities in opportunity and there are numerous examples of libraries leading and partnering in local and state digital inclusion efforts."

On Monday, October 4, 2021 we will post some questions for our first guest, Adam Pitts. His Gwinnett County Library program was focused on easing barriers for returning citizens through entrepreneurship. We hope you will post questions and comments for Adam starting today and throughout next week. 




Hello everyone! I am the project manager for the American Library Association's Libraries Build Business initiative. I am excited to be joining you this month to talk about small business and entrepreneurship in libraries and the various community partners that play a critical role in this work! Equity, diversity, and inclusion are integral to our initiative, and as such, the thirteen public libraries in our cohort have demonstrated a commitment to supporting low-income and underrepresented entrepreneurs with their programs and services, specifically tailored to the needs of their local community. 

Libraries are natural partners for this work, with low-barrier services and access, they can leverage existing community trust to provide onramps and referrals to entrepreneurship, in addition to data, research, technology and equipment. In our cohort, libraries are supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs in a variety of ways: classes and workshops, one-to-one business consultations or coaching, networking, and free equipment and technology, to name a few. Are libraries in your community offering programs and services for aspiring and existing entrepreneurs? We would love to hear about initiatives in your locale. 

Looking forward to chatting with you this month! I'm happy to answer questions about Libraries Build Business and the role of libraries in the small business ecosystem. 

Entrepreneurship can seem like a scary endeavor for some people, especially people who have been incarcerated.

Tell us a little bit about your entrepreneurship program and how you help people realize how their skills and interests can become a business. What are some of the top skills successful entrepreneurs might need to create and sustain a business? 

Note to group members: You can read more about Adam's Gwinnett County Library program (that focused on easing barriers for returning citizens through entrepreneurship) and ask Adam additional questions in this thread all week long. 

Hello, Chrissie! Our program, the New Start Entrepreneurship Incubator, supports formerly incarcerated individuals who want to start a small business. The idea to offer a program exclusively for the justice-involved stemmed from existing partnerships with small business associations and reentry support organizations such as the Greater Gwinnett Reentry Alliance (GGRA). In 2019, for example, we hosted more than 40 small business programs featuring partners such as SmallBiz Ally, SCORE, the Latin American Association, and the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center. Later that year, GGRA facilitated a closed-circuit television presentation on library resources to 2,100 inmates at the Gwinnett County Jail. As we began working with justice-involved individuals, we realized that our library was ideally positioned to develop an entrepreneur development program tailored to the needs of this uniquely disadvantaged population. The formerly incarcerated face difficulties ranging from a lack of adequate transportation and affordable housing to societal stigma and employment barriers, so we wanted to create a program that would level the playing field as much as possible.

Our initiative provides a business education through in-person classes, online coursework, and a network of mentors and community partners. New Start is being offered in two six-month cohorts, the second of which began in July with 23 students. Our participants meet monthly to hear presentations by local business experts on topics such as mindset, drafting a business plan, basic financial practices, and marketing. Following each class, they complete online coursework and receive one-on-one support from volunteer mentors. To encourage retention, we are offering incentives such as Launchpad, a "Shark Tank"- style event in which students have an opportunity to pitch their business ideas to potential donors, and free books on entrepreneurship topics. We removed as many technology barriers as possible by lending laptops and hotspots to the students for the duration of the course. In addition, an Outreach Coordinator with a background in social work is available to assist students with overcoming some of the barriers associated with each of their unique situations.

For anyone - but especially for the formerly incarcerated - I believe the biggest challenge to becoming an entrepreneur is overcoming the fear of the unknown. We address this by making mindset the first topic covered. We were very fortunate to have Brendan Spaar, Vice President of GGRA, join us as our guest speaker to kick off both cohorts. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, Brendan is also formerly incarcerated, so he is able to connect with the students in an especially meaningful way. Our Month 1 curriculum also covers reasons to start a business and how to choose a business idea. In many cases, our students already have marketable skills and just need resources, support, and encouragement to turn their small business dreams into reality. In addition to core business skills, I would say perseverance and a willingness to take risks and learn from them are key traits of successful entrepreneurs. 

Adam, can you say more about building trust and rapport with the New Start participants? The library is such a great place to offer programs and services like these, because there is already some level of community trust. Anyone and everyone can go to the library, so this removes some stigma from receiving services, and it also eliminates many barriers since libraries are open to anyone. Still, is there any hesitance in building the relationships with staff or the business mentors? How do you scaffold that for success? 

I'd also love for you to share more about community stakeholder buy-in. How do you get the word out to the business mentors and get them on board? What about library leadership or community partners?


Hi Megan. Yes, past trauma combined with a reentry system that often sets people up for failure certainly contributes to feelings of doubt and distrust. Our New Start Outreach Coordinator, who has a background in social work, has been instrumental in building rapport and buy-in with the students. In addition to helping them connect with local social service organizations, she provides motivation and support through one-on-one phone calls and meetings. We use people-first language (e.g., "formerly incarcerated" instead of "ex-offender") in our program and have worked hard to educate the community about the challenges justice-involved people face, especially the stigma attached to incarceration. As we have learned, the formerly incarcerated come from all walks of life and represent a spectrum of educational and occupational backgrounds. Lastly, we have been mindful of privacy concerns and always ask permission before taking photos or video.

Community stakeholders have been overwhelmingly supportive of our project. Many of our mentors had already partnered with the library previously to host programs and workshops for prospective entrepreneurs, so when we approached them about mentoring our students, they were very eager to help. Our promotional video also helped get the word out. Library leadership assisted us by securing Launchpad panelists, including a local business leader, the publisher and editor of a local newspaper, and the mayor of Lawrenceville.

Thank you, Adam for sharing your experiences and expertise with us last week.

This week, we have Sheldon Burke from Broward County Public Library.

Sheldon Burke is an innovative, and creative business librarian for Broward County Library. He serves as the Senior Librarian for Broward County Library’s free co-working space, Creation Station Business. During the day-to-day operations of Creation Station Business, he provides accessible workspace for startups and established businesses, connects customers with free resources, and helps entrepreneurs with securing their patent and trademarks through the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

As a community leader, Mr. Burke represents the people of South Florida by serving in the Alliance of Entrepreneurial Resources Organization (AERO), the Greater Fort Lauderdale’s Alliance Partner Council, Florida Library Association Awards Committee, Florida Library Association Fundraising Committee, and the Florida Library Association Professional Development Committee.

Broward's Libraries Build Business projectMaking Entrepreneurship in Tech Accessible (M.E.T.A) project focused on teaching participants the steps needed to create their own tech businesses. The project consisted of quarterly incubators, hosted by Black Valley Digital, a minority-owned educational and digital marketing agency. The quarterly incubator also included workshops that taught entrepreneurs to create sustainable freelance business models, price their services, and find clients. 

Here are my questions for Sheldon:

Many people may have heard the term “start-up”, but can you help us understand that term better?

Do all types of businesses or industry sectors need to explore patenting or is it more crucial in some businesses than others? 

Please add comments and questions for Sheldon throughout the week in this discussion thread. 





Thank you for the introduction and the very thought provoking question.

I think it is common for entrepreneurs to believe that startups are grand and costly. You often picture a unicorn tech company with several computer science majors in khaki working feverishly on the next Facebook. Startups have paradoxically been associated with grandness and large expense. In fact, as a part of its definition, Investopedia distinguishes start-ups as being mostly funded by family, and friends, venture capitalist, crowdfunding and loans. Such a definition puts a lot of entrepreneurs with great ideas off from starting their business. I however, do not think this is the case.

In fact, the focus for our quarterly business incubator is Freelance business. In this model, an entrepreneur can leverage their skills to gain clients and quickly have an in-flow of steady cash which can fund the expansion of their business. We believe this model works a lot better in tech and especially for underrepresented groups who may not have funds or may have barriers to access to funding to create a startup as described by Investopedia (let’s not even start on if they can get a fair shake from venture capitalists for funding).

On the subject of patents (this is not legal advice)-- not all businesses or industry sectors need to explore patenting per se. A patent does not protect your invention from being infringed upon and it does not prevent you from being challenged. Think of a patent as a sword. If you see your patent being infringed upon, you can easily show someone that you have a patent which you can send with a cease and desist. However, you can sell within the United States without a patent. Now, in terms of international trade, a benefit of having a patent with the USPTO is that you can get an item stopped from being imported into the US that may infringe on your patent rights.

I highly encourage all businesses to patent and trademark their inventions and brands since it can be a sword to fight against those who may infringe on your well thought out ideas, and it also adds prestige to your business and your personal brand. Personally it seems more appealing to me when an owner has their own patent. It seems so erudite. But, if I had to put an unofficial rule of thumb, I think the more traditional the structure of the business, the more you should patent your ideas, especially to get additional funding (Shark Tank anyone!). These businesses tend to be more visible and more likely to run into infringement. 

As for businesses that may not need it, I would say Freelancers in some cases have no need for a patent or trademark, and most of the protection can come from well written contracts with your clients which clearly state how your work may or may not be used (for example a graphic designer). Still, you probably want to trademark your logo and branding however, if you can show that you have used the branding before someone else, that should be enough protection (if you had your sword, you can forgo dragging it out in court by scaring off others before the need for litigation). 

Since this is not legal advice, I suggest further research on patents and trademarks. 


More on trademark, patent, or copyright:

Seven-step patent search strategy:

USPTO pro bono system:

Also consider visiting a patent and trademark resource center like the Broward County Main Library Creation Station Business

I agree, Sheldon, it is best to leave trademarks and patents to the experts. Thanks for sharing those resources so we can share reliable and trustworthy websites with adult learners that may want to explore this in more depth, but may not know where to start or how to know if a website is legitimate. 

You mentioned the term freelance. I know some entrepreneurs have full time jobs while they are working on getting their dream business off the ground. What about the term "side-gig" how might that be the same or different than "freelance"? Are there other terms new business owners and entrepreneurs use that might be good to know?


I can see where the two terms intersect and overlap.

A side-gig is usually a part time job to supplement your income. For example, I had an Etsy store for years  to supplement my part time work as a library specialist. While it was not the case in this instance, a side-gig can also come from freelancing. For example, if I had amazing graphic design skills, I could freelance and work for clients outside of my 9-5 job. Additionally, I am supplementing my income so it is both a freelance business and a side-gig. 

Now, if you were to lock yourself into employment with one company outside of your regular employment then it would be considered a side-gig. However, because you are not free to work with whomever you want (you are with the one company) it would not be freelance. 

Another term a business owner or entrepreneur may want to familiarize themselves with is bootstrapping. The term was used a lot during our workshops hosted by General Assembly. Bootstrapping is when a business is started with little outside investment and is funded almost solely by the owner or by the income generated from the business. It is a stressful, and difficult way to start your first business, however, entrepreneurs tend to come up with creative solutions to business problems and don't have any loans or share dilution of their business. Ebay, Facebook and Apple are examples of companies that started through bootstrapping. 

This week we welcome Rachel Svoboda from Laramie County Library System in Wyoming

Rachael  is the Business Services Coordinator at Laramie County Library System in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Ms. Svoboda graduated from the University of Wyoming College of Business and is a Standing Tall Member of the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership. She is a graduate of Leadership Cheyenne and the Wyoming Library Leadership Institute (WLLI). A Wyoming native, she has held positions around the state and region. Ms. Svoboda brings real-world business, management, and leadership experience from years in the hospitality industry to her position.

My questions for Rachel are:

Whether people are in a rural or urban area, there’s probably always an opportunity for a new business. Are their some things people need to consider if they are in a rural versus an urban area?

Does the research phase of starting a business look different between urban and rural areas?

Feel free to add additional questions for Rachel to answer this week!




Hello Chrissie and the LINCS community!

Regardless of where you are starting your business, building your business model asks the same questions: Who are your customers? Where are your customers? How will you be able to provide your service/goods to your customer in a timely fashion? When starting a business in a rural area, delivery needs a Plan A, Plan B, and a Plan C. Preparation for the worst case scenario needs to go way beyond inclement weather.

Several years ago, I met a small business owner at an SBDC Exporting event. They had a great product that people all over the world were buying BUT there were not enough HAZMAT certified drivers to get their product from northern Wyoming to the west coast for shipping. I remember thinking, ‘this is silly! Surely we can fix this.’ Now as we look at the backlogged west coast ports, we can see the fragility of the supply chain and how many ways it can be interrupted.

One of the greatest challenges we face in rural communities is connectivity, literally, physical access to quality broadband. My folks live 15 miles outside of Casper, WY and they had to buy a dish for internet service. You cannot rely on cable TV or cell towers as options for internet access because sometimes neither is available. Think about the rancher or farmer that needs hundreds or thousands of acres to produce their goods – how can they make the most profitable decisions without up-to-date information on the markets? This is actually one of the stumbling blocks Wyoming Library to Business is addressing. We are providing brand new laptops with webcams to as many rural public libraries as possible. We know that all of our rural libraries have quality broadband and our goal is to empower small businesses to discuss their plans with experts across the state and speak with customers around the world. I know it seems simple but sometimes the way to move forward is to start with assessing the basics.

David Rosen recently published an interesting article on Digital Navigators. COVID has definitely brought about an awareness of the number of rural communities that just don't have access to broadband internet which causes individuals and businesses to fall behind everyone else. In the article, David mentions some libraries providing digital navigators. Has your library appointed someone as a digital navigator or are multiple library staff supporting your efforts to help people get laptops and access to the internet?

Thank you for the article Chrissie; I was unaware that there was an actual term. Digital Navigator sounds more professional than 'other duties as assigned.' :)

Yes, nearly all of our staff work with patrons as they learn how to download ebooks, print documents from their email and even how to use a mouse. Pre-COVID our Adult Services staff (or volunteers) hosted one-on-one computer assistance six days a week. And we created a space next to our reference desk for an adult "Learning Computer" that allows patrons to work on a skill and still have a staff member close by for questions. We have not explored finding laptops or internet access and that is an interesting idea.

One of our LBB Cohort members is working with Cell-Ed to increase ESL skills. I think it could be a great addition for libraries looking to expand their Digital Navigation services.

I am unaware of any differences in the research phase of rural vs. urban businesses. Utilizing the business model to vet the idea before creating the business plan, and partnering with the SBA, SBDC, or Women's Business Center, will significantly improve addressing potential issues. The bottom line is use as many of the free resources in your state as possible; let the business experts assist in the creation of the business.

Welcome, Taneesa Hall. She is an Adult Services Librarian at Ferguson Municipal Public Library.

Taneesa grew up in the heart of the Ozark Mountains near Branson Missouri. She went to college in Oklahoma and completed a bachelor's degree from East Central Oklahoma University. She started working full-time at Christian County Library in Ozark Missouri in 2003 as an executive secretary. She was promoted within the system and held the title of Library Specialist and Local History Coordinator when she left. She moved to the St. Louis area in 2016 and accepted a position at the Ferguson Municipal Public Library. Taneesa completed her MLIS in 2019 and was promoted within the Ferguson Library from Library Assistant, to Circulation Lead, to Adult Services Librarian. She has nearly 20 years of experience working in small libraries, both rural and urban. She enjoys cooking and baking, dog training, reading, gaming of all sorts, and gardening.

The Furguson Municipal Public Library created The Entrepreneur and Job Skills Center to provide equity and access to technology, equipment, and resources to grow skills, start businesses, and market products and services in the community.

My questions for Taneesa are:

How important is it for someone to have worked in an industry before starting a business in that industry? What are some pros and cons of stating a business by yourself versus having a partner?

A reminder to community members, this is our last week of the asynchronous discussion, so make sure to get your questions and thoughts posted. 

Hello Chrissie!  We are a small independent library located in the St. Louis Metro area and have many similar problems that our rural library friends might. Because of high poverty rates in the area and the digital divide, access to the internet and other technology is poor. Because we are a small library, resources including building space, library budget, and staff time, are limited. 


We approached our program, with this in mind. Our patrons most needed space and technology to get connected. We started by renovating a space where entrepreneurs might hold professional meetings with advanced technology.  We offer free, reliable, and stable internet access for entrepreneurs and job seekers. We are supplying tech in the form of chromebooks and professional headsets to hold virtual meetings. We are offering databases and other online resources to help guide entrepreneurs through the process of getting started and offer short one-on-one consultation sessions to help guide entrepreneurs to the resources they need. We have collaborated with the city planning department to help them to avoid pitfalls.


How important is it for someone to have worked in an industry before starting a business in that industry? I think it is incredibly important to have worked in the industry first. If you have worked in the industry, you can anticipate those little hiccups and what-ifs that occur on a daily basis and plan a solution to them in advance. 


What are some pros and cons of starting a business by yourself versus having a partner? 

Some of the pros might include: Sharing the burden of both start up costs and expenses of time, having a sounding board to work out problems with, having help with startup paperwork and other set up tasks and each partner brings their own knowledge and set of skills to the business. 


Cons might include: there is a high potential for conflict that might put strains on a relationship, liability issues,  decisions must be made together, and all profits must be shared


Although we have been focused on libraries that have been supporting entrepreneurship programming, libraries are great partners for a variety of workforce development initiatives. The Public Library Association recently had a webinar focused on how libraries are helping to address digital skills gaps. This webinar was part of a series: Public Libraries: Partners in Workforce Development and each webinar has a variety of resources and links that may be helpful to adult literacy practitioners and their local workforce partners. 



November is National Entrepreneurship Month. Our guests this month, from libraries across the country, have given us so many wonderful resources and ideas to share with adult learners around determining if entrepreneurship might be a viable career path. Additional resources related to Entrepreneurship Month can be found on the Economic Prosperity & Entrepreneurship website. There is a toolkit, a few resources focused on women entrepreneurs, and Start Your Own Business activity guide from Smithsonian Institution. 

We would love for our community members to share on this discussion thread any entrepreneurship activities or events that they will be holding during November.