The Importance of Public Libraries to SMEs

Stephen Fear discusses the importance of public libraries to SMEs and start-upsPublic libraries were once considered to be outdated institutions. However, there has been a recent resurgence; with the image of the public library transforming from outdated and old fashioned into an important resource for SMEs, start ups and entrepreneurs.

One of the most significant benefits of public libraries for businesses are the resources they can offer. Not only do they provide free internet access, which in itself is an essential tool, but many libraries have dedicated business centres that can offer a range of tools, resources and advice to entrepreneurs and business people.

These dedicated business centres offer a range of services from helping to develop business plans and researching prospective markets and clients to networking and advice on protecting intellectual property.

Keeping business overheads low and maintained is essential, especially for new businesses starting out. Many small to medium-sized enterprises fail to understand this and can often rush into renting office space that they see as essential, in a bid to come across as a “proper business”. However, spending unnecessarily on office space is one of the easiest ways to see overheads steadily rise, and with ever-evolving mobile technology, entrepreneurs are increasingly working whilst on the move. This flexibility, aided by technology, has lead to an increase in ‘third space working’ that has allowed business owners to cut down on their fixed costs; with public libraries proving to be a particularly prevalent choice as a work space.

The business landscape has changed dramatically in recent years and SMEs nowadays have a wealth of free or low-cost options where staff can work, socialise or hold meetings. Being out of the office once meant that executives were forced to hop between high-street coffee shops in order to access the internet and check their emails. Now the face of ‘third space working’ has altered into a much more proficient operation.

Many public libraries have free wifi for research and email access, as well as areas to hold informal meetings. Most libraries also offer more formal meeting spaces specifically catered to entrepreneurs and business people wanting to meet clients, employees and network with similar organisations.

In recent years, the role of the public library has dramatically transformed into a hub offering advice and resources to budding entrepreneurs, SMEs and start up businesses. However, it is essential that aspiring business people understand the options available to them. These libraries could be falling at the last hurdle by failing to promote their business and enterprise resources and it is essential that up-and-coming business minds understand that one of the most powerful and useful business tools could be found in their local town centre.

Stephen Fear is the British Library’s Entrepreneur in Residence and Ambassador

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