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Entrepreneurs go to the library: Libraries offer classes and other resources to help people start businesses
[November 02, 2006]

Entrepreneurs go to the library: Libraries offer classes and other resources to help people start businesses

(Orlando Sentinel, The (FL) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Nov. 2--Arling Salcedo is a big fan of public libraries.

In her former job working with disabled children and adults, Salcedo said, she often brought clients to branches across Central Florida. And she regularly visits the Casselberry library to check out books in Spanish and English for her two young sons.

But when her husband launched a lawn service with a partner a few months ago, it didn't occur to her that the library could help until, by chance while visiting the children's section, she spied a poster advertising classes for entrepreneurs.

"I didn't know they had this," the 35-year-old Salcedo said recently outside a library meeting room where her husband was attending a class on writing a business plan. "It's going to be very useful."


Central Florida libraries are joining a nationwide trend to gear more of their resources to people who want to start and grow a small business.

From rooms that can be reserved for meetings to computer classes and access to online business databases, libraries offer entrepreneurs a variety of resources -- all free to library cardholders.

In the age of Web search engines, where anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can delve into territory once dominated by professional researchers, libraries nationwide are reinventing themselves to meet changing community needs.

But public perceptions have been slow to catch up, librarians say.

"Libraries have evolved, but not everyone . . . has evolved with them to know that we're a lot more than books these days," said Orange County Library System spokeswoman Tracy Zampaglione. "The library isn't just a place where your wife takes the kids."

To concentrate its focus on entrepreneurs, the Orange County library recently launched a portal on its Web site that is targeted to businesspeople.

Know Your Business, at www.ocls.info/knowyourbusiness, provides links to online databases such as Dun & Bradstreet and Research USA, as well as information on computer classes offered at the library and links to downloadable e-books of business plans.

The library also has meeting space and computers available for entrepreneurs on a shoestring budget, as well as Wi-Fi Internet access so patrons can use their own laptops while doing research in the library.

"Before Google, everybody needed a reference librarian. Now a lot of people can look things up themselves," Zampaglione said. "We have to remain relevant."

In Seminole County, the library began zeroing in on entrepreneurs two years ago. It hired a librarian to work exclusively on business services, partnered with the local Small Business Development Center to offer classes, and launched its Business Matters portal at www.seminolecountyfl.gov/lls/library/business.

On a recent evening, Salcedo's husband and about three dozen other people gathered at the Casselberry library for Business Plans 101, a nuts-and-bolts class taught by business librarian Ginny Howerton and Robert Goetz, manager of the SBDC at Seminole Community College.

While some of the participants already owned a business and others were just beginning to explore ideas, Cindy Neilsen and Ann Berkowitz were there to wrap up the final details for a gift company they hope to launch soon.

For Neilsen, 48, and Berkowitz, 60 -- friends who met at church -- the library class was one of the final pieces in a monthslong research process.

"Some of the things you know, but some of the things you haven't thought about," Berkowitz said of the business-plans class.

And the fact that it's free?

"That's great," Neilsen said.

Sara Isaac can be reached at 407-420-5564 or sisaac@orlandosentinel.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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