Calling All Entrepreneurs
“When I first became a librarian, there were two tasks I totally rejected—outreach and programs,” says Elizabeth Joseph, the coordinator of information and adult services at the main branch of the Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT. “Now, they are the very reasons I come to work.”
Her change in perspective was borne out of necessity. Stamford, a longtime business hub, has taken an economic hit. More and more people who can’t find jobs have turned to the library for guidance on becoming entrepreneurs or small business owners.
“We seized this opportunity to be an active partner in the process,” says Joseph.
Despite being down two librarians, when the library received an $11,000 grant from the First County Bank Foundation to enhance the library’s small business services, Joseph reached out to local businesses, the nonprofit small business education organization SCORE, and several other groups to create the Stamford Small Business Resource Center. It opened in November 2013.
Located in the main library, the center holds an extensive collection of print and digital materials and serves as a collaborative space for brainstorming and networking. It also offers classes, two satellite collections at the county innovation center and business council, and a Skype-a-Librarian service.
Since then, both program attendance and database usage have grown. The Greater Stamford Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has joined the partnership. And the program has become a model for the state.
“[Elizabeth] has the unique ability to take a deficit or challenge and turn it into an opportunity,” says Ferguson Library president Alice Knapp. “She doesn’t let problems such as staffing or funding get in the way of providing superior library service.”