California small businesses receive help from libraries

Small businesses in California account for approximately half the state’s gross domestic product while employing half the state’s workers. New small businesses struggle, though, to survive in a highly competitive environment, and owners of small businesses often find it difficult to locate the information they need to secure bank loans, prepare marketing plans, and survey their competition.

Now in communities across California, public libraries are reaching out to small businesses and offering help. Using Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds, the California State Library (CSL) is working with more than 40 public libraries in the state to offer a range of services to small businesses. Libraries participating in the CSL’s small-business-reference program have access to two subscription business databases, which contain information about marketing, taxes, financial assistance, and the steps needed to start a small business. Participating libraries also can offer small businesses 24/7 online reference service, host seminars for small business owners and employees, publicize the service, the Small Business Initiative, and enhance their business collections.

Under the program, approximately 40 libraries have received between $7,000 and $10,000 in grants. In addition, each library is given access to two databases (a Web site) in Spanish and English, and its staff is trained to work with those databases.

The proposal submitted by Imperial County Library is especially innovative, according to Barbara Will, the CSL consultant who administers this grant program. It involves a high level of cooperation between the libraries in Brawley and Calexico to set up business reference services in Spanish and English, taking advantage of videoconference/Web technology to overcome the challenge of a small population in a geographically large county.

The business-reference grants were made in October, and Will reports that already “there is a lot of excitement” in small-business communities around the state. For the first time, in some cases, the public library is working closely with the local Chamber of Commerce, community colleges, and other business-support agencies such as the Small Business Administration. A website now exists for the program and may be found at

“One of the purposes of this program,” Will explains, “is to involve the public library more closely with its local business community. We think this is a dynamic way for libraries to demonstrate their community involvement in the 21st century.”




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