Public libraries have been with me every step of the way in my self-employment journey. I remember visiting the tiny Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, library when I was first dreaming about starting a business. Compared with today, the offerings for would-be entrepreneurs were pretty skinny, but reading biographies of several pioneering women entrepreneurs inspired me and helped me believe I could create my own business, too.
Years later, when I was invited to give a talk at my branch library in Minneapolis about my book Making a Living Without a Job, I began by declaring, “The library is an entrepreneur’s best friend.”
I absolutely meant it.
In every place I’ve lived, I’ve gotten my library card before I got my driver’s license.
So it always comes as a surprise to me when I talk to a would-be or struggling entrepreneur and discover that they don’t tap into the treasure trove that’s waiting for them.
If you haven’t visited a library for a while or you always head to the same section, check out all the ways a library can help you build your self-employment enterprise.
- Nonfiction titles exist on every aspect of starting and running a business.
Besides personal accounts and biographies, how-to books abound. Want to know what all the fuss about branding is? Thinking about selling articles to magazines? Want to tap into new trends?
There’s a good chance that somebody has done you the favor of writing about it.
Unlike much of the information you can find online, library books tend to be edited and sources verified which adds to their credibility.
- Get inspired with a novel.
Mysteries, especially, often feature entrepreneurial characters in leading roles. Often these entrepreneurs are amateur detectives as well. You can learn a lot—almost accidentally—about antiquarian book selling from John Dunning or catering from Diane Mott Davidson while solving a murder or two.
In fact, the main characters of many novels are self-employed which suggests to me that people who work for themselves are simply more interesting.
- Make friends with a reference librarian.
I am certain that if they didn’t love books so much, many of the folks running the library reference desk would be private detectives. They love tracking things down—the harder the better.
Got an idea for a research project? Ask the reference librarian to show you the grant directories. Want to be a public speaker? Inquire about Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations to get ideas. Need statistics for a presentation? The reference desk is a great place to start your search.
- Make drive time more valuable.
My library has an entire room devoted to audio books. Many wonderful fiction and nonfiction titles are available on CD and make fine companions for road trips or while running errands.
As Minnesota Public Radio used to remind me, “Get out of your car smarter than you got in.”
Audiobooks can help you do just that.
- Visit a new universe.
Browse in a section you don’t normally explore. Investigate some magazines that you’ve never read before. Spend an hour investigating materials in the reference section.
This is what Seth Godin calls “zooming” which he defines as “stretching your limits without threatening your foundation.”
- Attend a talk.
If you have access to a fairly large library, chances are they offer free programs as part of their community service. My library often features authors talking about their writing careers as well as programs on everything from finding your ancestors to travel talks.
- Create an in-depth research project.
Build a passion into expertise by learning everything you can about a subject. Don’t just dabble; immerse. Start with your library’s collection and see how far it can take you, but don’t stop there. Enlist the reference librarian to help you uncover addition information that you haven’t found on your own.
Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borge once mused, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until you get there to experience the pleasure a library can bring.
Barbara J. Winter is a California-based writer and speaker who insists that wherever she lives must have easy access to an international airport, a great library and Trader Joe’s.