Archive for Libraries and Economic Development

Sara Jones: Profile of a Library Innovator

by Christine Hamilton-Pennell
Growing Local Economies, Inc.
May 10, 2011

Sara Jones, Carson City Library Director

Sara Jones, Carson City Library Director

When Sara Jones took over the helm of the Carson City Library, she had a vision for how the library could become the face of the community. Along with her efforts to create the Business Resource Innovation Center (BRIC) and the downtown redevelopment project that includes a new larger library building, she has initiated several other efforts that have increased the visibility of the library.

First of all, Sara shows up. She attends community and political meetings and receptions, and offers to take on tasks that need to be done. She works tirelessly to put together mutually-beneficial partnerships among key business and community players.

Both Sara and Tammy Westergard, the library’s marketing manager, are not afraid to ask for support and funding for the library. Since they both already have connections all over town, these are not “cold calls.” Neither one of them will take “no” for an answer. According to Tammy, “Partnerships and matching funds are the name of the game. You can’t be shy and expect to get what you need.” Tammy says Sara has been particularly successful in obtaining grants and other sources of funding. “If there is money to be had, Sara will not leave it on the table.”

Sara has done grant-writing workshops for library audiences, and was recently asked to do such a workshop for the local arts council. She wasn’t sure at first whether her curriculum would translate into giving grants to individuals, but she said it turned out to be pretty simple: “Write a good proposal and show that you can deliver on it.”

Building upon the ideas of Elizabeth Martinez, director of the Salinas Public Library and former director of ALA, Sara and her staff gave a library card to every school child in Carson City. They offered a “reverse permission slip” by which parents could opt out of their child receiving the card (few did). She and her staff went to every classroom in the city to hand out the library cards. As a result, library use has skyrocketed.

Sara put three years of funding into the grant that funded the BRIC (a state library stimulus broadband grant) for a business librarian to staff the center. This soft money will allow them to demonstrate that the BRIC has been successful in meeting its goals. They keep detailed records of the center’s usage.

The library completed a strategic plan for 2009-2013, and Sara reports that the library has already met 75 percent of its goals. One of the goals involved restoring cut service hours with three fewer staff. One way she freed up the necessary staff time was to get all their materials labeled with RFID tags to reduce the number of times an item is handled.

Sara and Tammy are currently pursuing funding to purchase an automated library “branch.” It is essentially a “library vending machine” with a robotic arm that can deliver a book or media item from a collection of 500 items. The technology is experimental, and they hope to be a test case for the manufacturer.

As all of these examples demonstrate, Sara takes a “how can we do this?” attitude towards every project. As she herself acknowledges, she tends to wear rose-colored glasses and is an unflagging optimist. But with the dire state of Nevada’s economy, she reflects, “all you can do is try to do something about it. That’s all we have control over.”

©2011 Christine Hamilton-Pennell, Growing Local Economies, Inc.

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Carson City Library, Partner in Economic Revitalization

by Christine Hamilton-Pennell
Growing Local Economies, Inc.
May 10, 2011

Sara Jones, Director of the Carson City Library, is an entrepreneur at heart. The former state librarian took her current position because she wanted to have more influence at the local level. She had a vision that the library could be an integral part of Carson City’s community infrastructure and business support systems. The seed for developing a collaborative effort was planted when Jones attended my workshop, “Building Public Partnerships,” sponsored by the Nevada State Library and Archives. Sara also brought City Supervisor Robin Williamson and Carson City Economic Development Director, Joe McCarthy to the workshop. She returned to the library with a mission to serve Carson City’s small business community and thereby contribute to the area’s economic growth. Carson Nugget Casino

The state of Nevada faces enormous economic challenges. Its unemployment rate, at more than 14 percent (some estimate it is as high as 22 percent, if underemployment is included), is the highest in the nation. Its educational system is among the most poorly rated, with one of the highest dropout rates in the nation. The state budget is slated to be slashed by 50 percent. The economy in Carson City has faired slightly better than the state as a whole, but revenues are down, and both the government and the business community are hurting financially from the economic downturn.

The Carson City Library is located near the historic downtown area. It is bursting at the seams in its 21,000 square-foot, 30-year-old facility. Jones recognized that the voters would never approve expansion of the library if its value to the community could not be demonstrated. In what proved to be a smart move she hired Tammy Westergard, who had previously worked for the city’s economic development agency, as the library’s deputy director.

Together, Sara and Tammy are an unbeatable duo. Tammy grew up in Carson City, and cares deeply about the health and wellbeing of her community. She has contacts in every sector of the city; on a recent visit, we toured the area in her cherry-red VW bug convertible and met people everywhere we stopped who knew Tammy. She is a dynamo—politician, deal-maker, and superb networker.

Tammy Westergard in front of BRIC

Tammy Westergard in front of BRIC


Sara and Tammy found an ideal opportunity to position the library as a key player in economic development. After attending the Building Public Partnerships workshop, they wrote and received an LSTA grant to develop a Business Resource Center that would house the Carson City Office of Business Development, Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and a library business resource center in a joint location in the downtown area. The idea proved to be a catalyst for the city—which was also planning to move its licensing and regulatory departments to a new location—to place their offices there as well. They found the perfect solution in an office building vacated by the state. The city decided to obtain the building and renovate it, in order to house its own departments as well as local business support organizations and a business resource center staff by the library. Thus, the Business Resource Innovation Center (BRIC) was born. It was conceived as a multi-function business center that would support local entrepreneurs from the ground up by providing a centralized suite of services. Sara and Tammy already had a history of developing partnerships across the city, so it was a natural next step to collaborate with them to make the BRIC a reality.
Sara Jones by quilt in BRIC

Carson City Library Director Sara Jones in front of BRIC artwork


Upstairs, the BRIC houses the city’s Building Division, Business Licenses and Permit Center, Planning Division, and Engineering Division. On the ground floor there are offices for the Carson City Office of Business Development, the Nevada Small Business Development Center, the Capital City Arts Initiative, and of course, the Business Library. The building itself displays numerous pieces of local art, connecting commerce with culture. According to Mayor Bob Crowell, “it creates a sense of place in downtown that is welcoming, available to everyone, and is quite lovely. I can’t think of a better way to do business.”

Mona Reno, part-time Business Librarian for the BRIC, is the first point of contact for business owners. She directs them to the resources throughout the building that will help them with their needs, including business research. A recent project Mona worked on involved a local business owner who wanted to know which manufacturers in northern Nevada might have use for his company’s products. She used ReferenceUSA to produce a list of potential clients in the state and create a spreadsheet for him.

Susan Antipa and Mona Reno at BRIC

Adult Services Librarian Susan Antipa and BRIC Business Librarian Mona Reno


Adult Services Librarian Susan Antipa divides her time between the regular library and the BRIC. She was both excited and apprehensive to take on this new role at the BRIC. “I’m learning a lot,” she says. “It’s a whole new world for me. I never thought much about business. It can be intimidating, but if someone asks for something, I want to be able to help them.” Having other business service providers in the building has given her experts to consult with when she gets stuck.

Since August 2010, the BRIC has served more than 3,000 clients, the majority of whom use the center to attend workshops and access the center’s computers, which offer several business resources such as ReferenceUSA and Business Decision. The response from local business owners has been enthusiastic. One client wrote out a check for $500 to the BRIC because he said he “had never received this kind of help before.”

Sara and Tammy have not stopped with the creation of the BRIC. They have also taken a leadership role in moving forward a downtown economic development project. The City Center Project is a public-private partnership that aims to “achieve long-term sustainable and focused economic growth by building a diverse, innovative downtown economy that attracts high-wage, high-impact jobs that provide opportunity and prosperity for the City’s residents, businesses and entrepreneurs throughout the entire community.” The “catalytic civic investment” for the project is a new state-of-the-art 60,000 square-foot library, known as the Carson City Knowledge and Discovery Center.

Through the BRIC and the City Center Project, the Carson City Library has become embedded in the City’s economic, political, and community structure. It is a vital force for economic and community revitalization in turbulent times, and serves as a shining example of how public libraries can stimulate the local economy through innovative leadership and public-private partnerships.

View the Community First video on YouTube that was directed and produced by Tammy Westergard with help from a local high school student. It highlights the role of the proposed new Carson City Knowledge and Discovery Center in creating economic and lifelong learning opportunities for Carson City citizens and businesses.

Read the entire case study in our e-book, Creating an Entrepreneur-Friendly Public Library, for sale on our website at http://www.growinglocaleconomies.com/efriendly.

©2011 Christine Hamilton-Pennell, Growing Local Economies, Inc.

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Economic Gardening with Public Librarians

by Christine Hamilton-Pennell
Growing Local Economies, Inc.

The research component of an economic gardening initiative must be implemented by professionals with skills in both business research and strategic business counseling. Successful programs need to find a way to marry and coordinate these two functions. A logical place to look for partners with business research skills is in the library world. Librarians in both public and university libraries know how to search for and find information, and usually have access to one or more business databases through their own library or a larger consortium. Several libraries are involved in economic gardening initiatives in the U.S. A couple of them are profiled below.

One of the first economic gardening initiatives to seek the assistance of local libraries was in the city of Greeley, Colorado. Economic Development Manager Kelly Peters approached librarians at High Plains Library District and the University of Northern Colorado Libraries to assist with business research for clients of their Economic Gardening program. Two public reference librarians stepped up to the plate and volunteered to do research projects for the businesses. Peters found that the public librarians, even though they had limited knowledge of business research at the outset of the project, were eager to learn. Along with two business librarians from the local community college and university, they created a small learning group that began meeting regularly to discuss business research tools and techniques. They also met with the businesses they were assisting to hear first hand what the business owners needed. The librarians completed three large research projects in the first six months, including one supporting the county airport in its efforts to recruit aviation-related businesses to its industrial office space.

When Peters left the City of Greeley to become the Chief Operations Officer of the Rocky Mountain Innovation Initiative (RMI2) in Fort Collins, Colorado, she again approached business librarians at the Poudre River Library District and Colorado State University Libraries to assist with research for RMI2 clients, who comprise high impact scientific and technology start-up companies in Northern Colorado. The Initiative was formed by an alliance of Northern Colorado municipal governments, academic institutions and economic development organizations. Anne MacDonald, business reference librarian at the Poudre River Library District, assists with the business research. She reports, “I love the projects and truly think this—economic, market and industry research for local economic development efforts—should be in the job description for any public library business librarian.”

A more recent entrant into the economic gardening field is the Douglas County (Colorado) Libraries. When the Douglas County Economic Development Manager, Meme Martin, approached the Chamber of Commerce at Highlands Ranch to host a pilot economic gardening (EG) program, the library took a seat at the planning table and became part of the initiative.

Rochelle Logan, Associate Director of Research and Collections at the library, serves on the steering committee for the Economic Gardening project. She says it is a natural partnership. “One of our goals at Douglas County Libraries…is to reach out to answer the community reference question. It’s a natural fit to partner with local economic development entities such as the Highlands Ranch / Douglas County EG program” (Your Hub-Roxborough, June 25, 2008). The library was already providing classroom space in three of its locations for business start-up workshops offered by the local Small Business Development Center.

The Douglas County reference librarians received training in basic business strategy and information sources, and began promoting reference services to start-up business owners through the library. They purchased additional business database tools and began conducting more in-depth business research on behalf of the EG center clients.

“We are extremely excited about the partnership we have with the Douglas County Library System and the Chamber’s Economic Gardening program. Douglas County is very fortunate to have the Douglas County Library System as a resource. They continue to stay on the cutting edge,” reports Steve Dyer, President, Chamber of Commerce at Highlands Ranch. They are now a year into the collaboration and the librarians report having completed more than 20 successful research projects for local business owners so far in 2009.

© 2009 Christine Hamilton-Pennell

Growing Local Economies

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