Many libraries also provide meeting rooms and private work spaces; online jobs skills, workforce development, and entrepreneur training; learning resources; the ability to check out laptops or hotspots; and of course books on every topic imaginable.
Public libraries support small businesses in ways as varied as the stories of the individual entrepreneurs whose vision and hard work launched the businesses in the first place.
One of these ways is the free high-speed wi-fi available at all 411 public libraries across every county in Georgia. This connectivity enables individuals to get online and get work done. Many libraries also provide meeting rooms and private work spaces; online jobs skills, workforce development, and entrepreneur training; learning resources; the ability to check out laptops or hotspots; and of course books on every topic imaginable.
It was the Clarkesville Library’s gardening section that helped Kelli Dunlap find the knowledge she needed to start a more sustainable life. She left her job in higher education and moved with her family from Florida to rural Clarkesville, Georgia, to start a flower farm.
“I was daydreaming about living closer to my extended family and starting my own business,” said Kelli. “I’ve always loved gardening, and during our weekly trips to the library, I’d wander to the gardening section. It was through these books that I discovered a community of gardeners and farmers that I could learn from to start my business. The library offers a wealth of books and resources that continue to help me learn more and grow my flower farm.”
She currently sells flowers through her business, Farm of the Rising Sun, at two retail locations – a local produce market and a gift shop. She and other local growers are hoping to start a farmers market. During the busy summer and fall growing months, she puts up a roadside stand on the busy road near her home.
Her summer crop included dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, gladiolas, and snapdragons, grown under or along the high tunnel on her property. She, her husband, and two young children share their five acres of land with a family of chickens, five roosters, a cat, and a dog.
It was her first spring growing tulips and daffodils at volume, and she plans to double or triple her plants for next year. Life is much slower and more meaningful for her outside the office world.
The know-how gained from the library, a member of the Northeast Georgia Regional Library System, helped Kelli create a better life for her family.
“Flowers offer a love language, a feeling,” she said. “I see it when I hand off flowers to a customer, or when someone sends me a message of gratitude. In our small town, word travels fastest by word of mouth, and that has helped me a lot.”
On a recent weekday, she took a mason jar that she had neatly wrapped in brown parchment paper and filled with zinnias, snapdragons, and other flower stems to the library as a thank-you gift. The flowers sat prominently on the front desk, and as patrons checked out books, many asked the staff where the arrangement came from. As Kelli browsed books nearby, individuals would walk over to ask directly where they could buy her flowers.
“Georgia’s public libraries play such an important role in supporting local economic and workforce development efforts in many innovative and uniquely local ways,” said State Librarian Julie Walker. “Our libraries connect small business owners and job seekers with library resources to learn skills and grow businesses.”
Kelli and her husband have recently purchased a second business to provide dog boarding services. “You can probably guess where I’ve been looking for resources to learn more,” she said.
Free library wi-fi and meeting rooms help entrepreneur build business
Gary Kuhlmann launched Spyderserve Web Services as a side project in 2007 and then as a fulltime business in 2015. The high-speed wi-fi access, as well as spaces that he could use to work and meet clients, available at the South Georgia Regional Library in Valdosta helped him get his start. Spyderserve Web Services helps other regional businesses with their websites, email, and more in south Georgia and northern Florida.
“I could check out a key for a private work space at the library,” said Gary. “I worked there two to three days a week until I finally leased an office in 2020. I still go there for meetings; I even bought my house in part due to its proximity to the library!”
The library also has a business resource center equipped with meeting spaces and computers, as well as laptops available for checkout to use at home or within the building. The local chamber of Commerce partners with the library to host classes on small business start-up, sustainability, and other topics.
“Small business owners should know that their local library likely offers workshops to teach you about starting and operating a business,” said Gary. “The library helped me so many times with having a place to meet clients, as well as a quiet area to work when needed. Add in the quick and easily accessible internet, and the library pretty much has everything business owners could ever need.”
Leaders Build Leaders series offers start-up guidance
The Rockmart Public Library, part of the Sara Hightower Regional Library System, offers patrons customized guidance through the business start-up process through a series of workshops called Leaders Build Leaders.
“This program is a blend of community need and patron request,” said Karen Thompson, branch manager of the Rockmart Public Library, located an hour west of Atlanta. “We partnered with our local chamber of commerce to create a program that helps new start-ups through the process of establishing their business and then connects them with community resources to help them succeed.”
Participants so far include a cleaning company, massage therapist, personal shopping company, and consulting agency, among others. The program meets monthly and features presentations from area businesses.
The success of the series has inspired other branches in the library system to explore offering similar programs.
“Rockmart’s community rallies behind small business owners, and a healthy downtown business community impacts the city at large,” said Thompson. “We want our community strong and our patrons successful. The library can play a key role in this cycle.”
Trade skills training first of its kind at Library
The Clayton County Library System offers patrons free access to trade skills training through Interplay Learning.
Interplay offers online, on-demand courses featuring virtual reality and 3D simulations to learn how to be an electrician or plumber, repair commercial and residential HVAC, conduct facilities maintenance, and many other disciplines. Courses are available in English and Spanish.
“Interplay Learning is a great fit for our community,” said Marquita Gooch-Voyd, former assistant library director with Clayton County Library System. “This program introduces rising high-school seniors to an alternative path of education if they don’t want to pursue or cannot afford a college degree.”
Because the library’s Interplay licenses have continuing education credits, program participants can submit the credits to a trade school and shorten the time required to complete a trade program. These courses are also applicable for already certified trade people to receive recertification.
Georgia Public Library Service, the state library, supports local economies by providing resources to all 411 of the state’s public libraries such as the free online Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative and Learning Express Job and Career Accelerator and by providing crucial high-speed internet and Wi-Fi access. These statewide resources complement the local offerings by many libraries.