Library Hack: Resources for Local Businesses

Posted on October 28, 2014 at 6:00 am

By Brian Vander Veen

Library Hack: Resources for Local Businesses by Brian Vander Veen | Spokane County Library District

Earlier this year, the Spokane Business Library went live at spokanebusiness.org. A collaboration of the Spokane County Library District and the Spokane Public Library, the Spokane Business Library consolidated the two library systems’ digital business resources into a single one-stop portal.

Up till now, however, to use the resources on spokanebusiness.org, you first had to physically visit your nearest county (for Spokane county residents) or city library (for residents of incorporated Spokane) to sign up for a card. But now, SCLD has introduced a special library card for business owners to streamline the process of accessing spokanebusiness.org resources.

In upcoming months, our librarians will take these cards out to the community—to chamber meetings, trade shows, and other business-related events—and make them available to local businesses and other organizations interested in using our digital library (you can also pick one up at any county library). The cards can be used immediately to access our online business resources from your home or office computer, no additional registration or inconvenience required.

Library Hack: Resources for Local Businesses by Brian Vander Veen | Spokane County Library District

There are some limitations: if you want to borrow physical items from SCLD, you’ll still have to visit one of our ten locations and register the card. And a select few of our digital resources, like our downloadable eBooks through Overdrive, are still limited to verified county residents. But, with our new library card for businesses, you’ll be able to use any of the spokanebusiness.org resources described below, instantly, without leaving your office.

Getting Trained for 21st Century Business: Gale Courses and Microsoft IT Academy

The web has been a huge boon for those seeking to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to run a successful enterprise, but all that unstructured information can be frustrating and time consuming to process. A traditional course, on the other hand, can provide the necessary structure if, say, you need to brush up on your computer skills or learn the basics of bookkeeping, but formal courses can also be expensive or prohibitively inconvenient. Fortunately, spokanebusiness.org provides a couple of alternatives.

Gale Courses is our most diverse resource for online learning. Its courses cover everything from human anatomy to web design to creative writing, but Gale also has outstanding offerings for the small business owner, with course titles such as “Creating a Successful Business Plan,” “Small Business Marketing on a Shoestring,” “Introduction to QuickBooks 2014,” and “Using Social Media in Business.” All the courses are six weeks long, require only about two to four hours a week, and offer opportunities for instructor feedback and online class discussion. New sessions start every month, so you never have to wait long to begin.

If you want more in-depth technology training, however, you may also want to take a look at Microsoft IT Academy. Through a partnership between Microsoft and the Washington State Library, along with funding from the Washington State Legislature, SCLD has been able to offer access to Microsoft’s eLearning platform for technology training.

The courses only cover Microsoft products, obviously, but the variety of the offerings is impressive, from the essentials of Microsoft Office and Windows 8 to more advanced topics like Windows Server administration, Visual Studio app development, and more.

Understanding Your Market: ReferenceUSA and DemographicsNOW

Business owners today have never had more information available at their fingertips for making data-driven decisions for business planning and marketing, but making practical use of all that data remains a challenge. Sure, it would be nice to have one’s own private market research analyst, but small business owners are more likely to have to take a DIY approach. In our digital library, we have a couple of tools—ReferenceUSA and DemographicsNow—to help entrepreneurs and small businesses do exactly that.

Map from DemographicsNow showing percent of adults by census tract who purchased vegetable seeds or starters in the most recently surveyed year | Spokane County Library District

Map from DemographicsNow showing percent of adults by census tract who purchased vegetable seeds or starters in the most recently surveyed year.

Both tools are ostensibly huge collections of data: the former, a sort of digital white pages with information on millions of U.S. businesses and residents; the latter, a massive compilation of survey information from sources like the U.S. Census or the Simmons National Consumer Survey. But beyond just the raw data they contain, these resources also give you advanced tools to filter and process that data in order to gauge consumer demand, develop lead lists, analyze local market segments, or get a detailed look at your competition.

Between these two resources, the kind of detailed information you can retrieve is impressive: You can, to name some specific examples, produce a color-coded map of Spokane showing consumer demand for vegetable seeds and starters by area, view detailed profiles for all the wholesale bakeries in Spokane County including net sales and estimated expenses, download a spreadsheet of residential addresses of known photography enthusiasts within one mile of your business, and much more.

These tools are powerful but a little complex, and mining their true value does come with something of a learning curve. Our librarians, however, are always happy to help: If you think your business might benefit from a little data about your market or your competition, you’re welcome to book a librarian to walk you through the details.

Keeping Current with Your Industry: Business Source Complete and ProQuest

Last year, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Year Ahead forecast declared 2014 “The Year of the Paywall,” following the recent trend of newspapers and other periodicals beginning to limit at least some of their content only to paid subscribers. Whether they restrict you to a handful of articles before prompting you for a log-in or limit your access only to the current issue, paywalls can be frustrating, especially if you’re trying to conduct in-depth research.

On spokanebusiness.org, however, we have two resources — Proquest and Business Source Complete — that provide access to industry news and information not otherwise available for free on the web. On Proquest, SCLD business card users can access articles from a number of subscription periodicals, such as The Wall Street Journal or Spokane’s Journal of Business, as well as an extensive collection of trade journals for specific industries.

Likewise, Business Source Complete provides online full-text access to articles from popular business publications like Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review, as well as industry profiles, company SWOT analyses, market research reports and more. And both databases provide advanced options for searching their content, while avoiding the dubious content that can often clutter an equivalent Google search.

If any of that sounds useful to you and you don’t yet have a library card, you are of course welcome to stop by any SCLD library and pick one up, but also keep an eye out for our SCLD librarians at your next chamber meeting and ask us about the new SCLD library card for local businesses. Also, if you have questions or need help with any of these resources, feel free to contact us or make an appointment if you want more in-depth help.

Bio_BrianV

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