The Business and Investment Center is part of the Information Services Department at the main branch of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County. The center provides timely and authoritative information for entrepreneurs, business owners, investors and job seekers. It is a source of information on finance, trade, demographics, imports, exports, marketing and more.
What is your business strategy?
Stuart Gibbs, Business librarian of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County: My strategy is to help local businesses and raise their awareness of library sources. We are committed to supporting our community through the selection of resources and helping businesses find their next potential step through education.
How have you managed to be successful in serving business?
Gibbs: The library measures success by how many people connect to us, program attendance, survey feedback, Book-A-Biz Librarian attendance, partnerships, use of mobile resources, customers sharing success stories, attendance at events outside the library, media coverage and increasing the number of reference questions received. By these measures, we are successfully reaching our customers.
What services do you provide as the business librarian?
Gibbs: I provide insight into the sources people need throughout the cycle of a business, such as books, magazines and digital sources that help business people with challenges find solutions and learn from mistakes. I’m here to be the connection to resources that can be helpful to your business in any shape or form.
How has the center changed since it opened in 1924?
Gibbs: It has changed a lot in almost 100 years. From card catalogs to digital searching, from physical books to all forms of media, to letter-writing and online networking, the Business and Investment Center has updated its services as the business community has changed.
How has it changed in the four years that you’ve been there?
Gibbs: The library has more people using our services digitally through email, e-books and databases. We have seen improvement in the number of people who have a working knowledge of what the Business and Investment Center is about and have expanded our programming to better suit community needs. Reference services now include answering more detailed questions than ever before and programming is changing to match specific needs in the community.
The library has more partnerships than ever. These include the city of Youngstown, Score, United Way, YWCA, Mahoning Valley Is for Entrepreneurs, Mahoning County Financial Stability Partnership, Volunteer Tax Income Assistance Program, Friends of the Library, Small Business Development Center at Youngstown State University, Business Association, Taft Neighborhood, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., Small Business Administration, Export Assistance Center at YSU and the Trumbull County Public Library.
What is the Book-A-Biz Librarian program you offer?
Gibbs: The program allows for any person to book an hour of time with me to look through sources to answer their questions and it allows them to pick my brain to find the answers they need.
What usually happens at these meetings?
Gibbs: Meetings vary depending upon client needs. Basically, I show them all the resources available at the library and how these resources can be used for their business. We look up specific information.
For example, if someone asks a marketing question I will go over various marketing resources available for free, as well as more costly options. We look at sample business plans and their marketing sections. I recommend articles and books that discuss a marketing strategy for their type of business. I engage them by asking them questions about their marketing niche. What is the typical client for your business? How much income do they have? What interests do those individuals/companies have? What new marketing strategies is the competition using? What marketing trends are happening in your industry? In return, I develop a list of sources that address these areas.
Can you share success stories?
Gibbs: All client stories are confidential, but two clients who have used our services agreed to share their stories.
A recent patron contacted the library to learn about resources that could help jump start her business, Help Me Monica. This service is aimed at helping seniors and others complete errands. She felt that competition from national businesses with endless marketing resources was impacting the success of her local business.
I met with her and showed her databases to help her market to the local community. We researched marketing ideas. She reports that with this information, she had great success after sending personalized direct marketing to potential customers. “Without the help of the Library, Help Me Monica, would not be in business today,” says says.
We worked with another client who was looking to open a larger auto mechanics shop. To look at competitive pricing, we researched the services most used by his target market by leveraging databases from the library. What we are able to discover in those databases was the target market that had brake services done the most frequently in the past 12 months. As a result of that data point, we are putting together a campaign that will provide customers a discount of some sort to get their brakes serviced by his business while he’s promoting the name of his shop.
How do you connect a person or business to the right resources?
Gibbs: It actually varies depending upon need. It could be as simple as showing someone the ReferenceUSA, a database, and how it works to list sales volume, competition, charting businesses and people by ZIP code, and more. It may be more complex by showing a customer financial spreadsheet templates and defining terms. If a person is trying to make a decision about buying a business, I might show them information about the industry, the particular business, person in charge and many more sources that could help them make a better decision.
What is your growth plan?
Gibbs: The Business and Investment Center’s growth plan includes reaching out to businesses and individuals and developing more programming that reflects trends and changes in today’s environment.
What else would you like the business community to know?
Gibbs: The library is a place to ask the questions that concern your business. For example, good questions to ask are:
- What resources can I use to better define my customer: age, family, investments, interests, beliefs, religion, vehicle ownership.
- Can I have a home-based business in Austintown?
- What trade shows related to food are happening in my area?
- Where can I find suppliers of a particular product?
- How can I expand into government contracting?
- What cultural differences should I be aware of when doing business in other countries?
- What magazines does the library have access to that cover my area of expertise?
The Business and Investment Center is here to offer materials to help our customers find the answers. Our sources have links to experts from all over the world. We show our customers where to look and sources to consider when making important business decisions.
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