Companies can find wealth of free resources at public libraries
A public library might be viewed by business owners and working professionals as irrelevant to their needs. They might even see them as merely a place for young families, students and retirees to borrow books or as a place to hang out.
However, hidden behind the story-time programs and reference materials is a wealth of resources, including business journals, investment portfolios and marketing materials that often go underutilized, library professionals say. And many are available free at local tax-supported public libraries.
Sheila Sieradzki, vice president, community relations at Merrillville-based Centier Bank, has found the Elkhart Public Library an essential partner to the bank’s strategy to create connections with residents. Centier, which has several branches in the Elkhart area, recognizes making community connections and developing credibility is crucial, particularly when you’re a new business in the market.
Without a solid network and marketing plan, businesses can sink. Centier Bank circumvented this by leaning on the Elkhart library, Sieradzki said.
“We were paying for databases for marketing and prospect research,” she said. “When I found out that we could get (access to) those same databases—and even more—at the library, we canceled our bank subscriptions.”
Centier employees can use online library resources for business analysis, industry reports and directories for public and private companies—all they need is a library card.
“We can create B2B and marketing lists with the library’s online resources,” Sieradzki said.
Subscription databases provide access to high-level marketing tools, industry reports and business news. Libraries also can be a resource for classes on learning new skills, including social media or Microsoft Excel as well as provide access to computers, projectors, equipment and meeting space.
The greater Northwest Indiana area includes, Lake, Porter, La Porte, St. Joseph, Elkhart, Newton, Jasper, Starke, Marshall and Pulaski counties. They vary in demographics, and the public libraries that operate within them vary in size, which means, depending on the size of the community (and consequently, the library), resources will vary.
However, there is one constant: librarians are available to assist.
During the Great Recession, Elkhart, which is a major hub for recreational vehicle manufacturing, was in the national spotlight for having the highest unemployment rate in the nation at that time, a whopping 20 percent.
The community and RV industry have since recovered, and the public library played a role in revitalization and workforce retraining efforts.
Celine Maciejewski, reference librarian for the Elkhart Public Library, said in the past four years, the library has focused on working with businesses because, when educational organizations and businesses pull together, the entire community grows.
“The public library plays a key role in the development of businesses and vice versa,” she said.
Kiel Seats North America in Elkhart, a designer and manufacturer of passenger seats for buses, coaches and trains, has used the Elkhart library’s instructional classes to train its employees on Microsoft Excel.
The training was so well received that the library and business are partnering again for more workshops. Michaela Oberbauer, general manager at Kiel Seats North America, said the library has been very accommodating and “will be teaching our employees more advanced Microsoft Excel classes and customized lessons based on our data needs.”
Employees at Kiel will be able to work more efficiently and effectively as a result of these free classes at Elkhart Public Library, Oberbauer said.
Sieradzki said Centier’s relationship with the library grew stronger when they learned they had a powerful goal in common.
“We both want to bring value to the community,” she said.
In February 2018, Centier held a four-week informational session about finance and personal investment. Twenty-five attendees consistently came each week to learn about a topic in a digestible, easy-to-understand manner.
“We even had a grandmother, mother and grandson attend each week: three generations learning together,” Sieradzki said.
Expanding on this partnership, Centier joined with United Way; Lacasa, a nonprofit housing agency; and S.A.L.T. Sisters, a health-food distribution company in Goshen, to host August Empowerment Crocks in August 2018, a weekly program where attendees would learn something that could improve their lives.
Library resources and tools, budgeting and banking, basic home improvement, and how to feed a family of four for less than $20, were among the topics offered.
Centier offers a book giveaway with the Elkhart Public Library during the holidays. The bank asks librarians to select books for Centier to buy, which are then distributed to families who visit the bank.
At the end of the holiday season, any remaining books are donated to the library.
Because of the success of their relationship with Elkhart Public Library, as well as the business resources that employees can use, Sieradzki has encouraged other Centier branches across Northwest Indiana to reach out to their libraries.
Several are recognizing the potential in the partnerships.
“(Our) Highland bank has partnered with Highland Public Library to talk about pathways to home ownership, and our La Porte branch is in the process of creating a new series with their library,” she said.
Plenty to offer
The town of Brook in Newton County has a population of 1,300 residents—and a library. The Brook Iroquois Washington Public Library might not have all the amenities of a larger public library, but that doesn’t mean businesses still can’t find useful resources.
Businesses can borrow the library’s projector, movie screens and other technical equipment for presentations or other company needs. Businesses also can use the library’s free technology classes, as well as partner with the library to use the facility for meetings or special events, said Kristine Wright, director of the Brook library.
Shear Beauty, a beauty salon in Brook, used meeting space at the Brook library to host a spa day. Attendees made face and body scrubs, and learned a few styling tips and tricks from salon staff, Wright said.
DeMotte Public Library in Jasper County participates in the DeMotte Chamber of Commerce’s Shop DeMotte and Win initiative. To encourage residents to shop locally, prizes are given to those who present their receipts from local businesses at the chamber office.
But library patrons received a special voucher that awarded them $10 toward local business shopping each time they used their library card. The chamber reported that 90 percent of the Shop DeMotte and Win participants included a voucher from the DeMotte Public Library.
This successful partnership between the chamber, library and local businesses, helped the DeMotte Public Library win the chamber’s 2018 Non-Profit of the Year Award.
Deborah Kristoff, managing librarian at the DeMotte Public Library, said the library was excited to partner with the chamber and was happy many residents took advantage of the voucher incentive, used their library cards and shopped local.
“We want to encourage our local citizens to learn to appreciate what their local town DeMotte has to offer,” she said.
Sometimes the smallest things can make a big difference for a business. For example, businesses can post flyers in a library’s lobby and promote their fundraisers for charity on the library’s social media pages.
Jacqueline Lipski, librarian at the Hebron Public Library in Porter County, said the area has undergone many economic changes.
“So the library decided to step up and develop partnerships with businesses by being active in the chamber of commerce,” she said.
For businesses that have an ongoing partnership with the library, Lipski said the Hebron library can provide free-of-charge printing for their special event flyers. These seemingly small acts can make a huge impact, especially for small business owners, who are pressed for time and money, she said.