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Five years ago Pete Emahiser was trying to launch his logistics business when he encountered a roadblock that often plagues start-up firms.
He needed IT services, but his budget wouldn’t cover that kind of expertise.
“I have an extensive background as a [transportation freight] broker, but I didn’t know how to set up a computer network,” said Mr. Emahiser, owner of Toledo-based Tadmore Transportation.
What he did have, though, was a library card.
So Mr. Emahiser stopped by the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library’s business-technology department to see if he could get some help.
Assisted by the library’s resources, Mr. Emahiser said he was able to take Tadmore Transportation, a firm that loads freight for other company’s trucks, from nothing to $1 million in sales in 2014. This year he expects $3 million in sales.
“Honestly, without this sounding too Horatio Alger-ish, the truth is we couldn’t have done it without the library,” Mr. Emahiser said.
In this age of Google and Bing, and cloud-based web services that handle accounting, payroll, and ecommerce, it might seem that a library has become an anachronism in the business world.
But for small, medium, and even large businesses, the local library system has resources that remain incredibly useful, and the only price for them is a library card.
“The library has things that [other businesses] would pay big bucks themselves to get,” said Linda Fayerweather, the library’s business technology specialist.
For example, the library has a subscription to ResearchUSA — an online database with information on millions of businesses and consumers.
At $50,000 a year, Mr. Emahiser couldn’t afford that for himself. But he was free to use the library’s.
“I was able to go into the business segment and filter out things by region. Suddenly, I had a very specific industry call list, something that would have taken months to do on Thomson’s or Manta” databases, Mr. Emahiser said.
The library has five other databases offering information on topics such as executives (Plunkett Research Online) or media advertising rates (Standard Rate and Data Service). It also has a large variety of printed publications with useful information on demographics, business franchises, financial data, business news, and other topics.
“The thing is, even if you can Google and obtain information online, it’s not always organized. And once you’re there, there’s usually a huge, huge cost to getting a subscription to a magazine or a business journal you might want to see,” said Rhonda Sewell, a library spokesman.
Having free access to those services and journals is a big reason why the library remains popular with small business, Ms. Sewell said.
“We have specific databases that you really can’t access unless your business is willing to pay a monthly fee. We have moved into the era of technology and digital resources … and it’s not going to cost you, the business owner, anything,” she said.
For many decades the library kept a large assortment of business periodicals, reference materials, and business textbooks.
And it still has them. Mr. Emahiser, for example, recently borrowed books about Microsoft’s Office 365 software to better understand the program that he uses at his business.
But several years ago the library realized that area business owners could use a little more help. The city-county library system began expanding its assistance to other aspects of business that have proved useful to those either starting up a company or those just trying to keep their company afloat.
Along with Internet access, job-search tools, and language assistance, the library even has 3-D printers which some businesses use to make prototypes of products, library officials said.
One popular area of assistance is tools to develop business plans — a necessary item for any business owner trying to get financing.
The library offers access to the Gale Business Plans Handbook, which is a compilation of plans for different types of businesses. It also offers cardholders access to Business Plan Pro software that can help write business plans beginning to end
“The great thing is all the lending institutions have this software, so it’s compatible,” said David Topoleski, manager of the library’s business-technology department. “But what’s really neat about it is it prompts you for information and has databases of a lot of other other plans. It helps you through the process step by step. It lets you do market research and figure out the local climate and national climate to show a bank how they are going to get their money back.”
The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library also happens to be a patent and trademark center for the U.S. Patent Office.
Since securing patents and establishing trademarks are key expenses and necessities for any business, the library began expanding its knowledge of the patent-trademark route and offering that expertise to business owners.
Ms. Fayerweather teaches business owners how to use the online system at the library to research patents and trademarks.
The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library is a patent and trademark center for the U.S. Patent Office. An intellectual-property attorney regularly consults with business owners.
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But the library goes a step further. Every first Tuesday of the month it brings in an intellectual-property attorney to discuss with business owners the finer points of filing trademarks and patents.
“We basically talk about how important it its to protect your intellectual property. Or how a trademark can outlive you,” Ms. Fayerweather said.
Every so often the library conducts workshops on various topics to assist business owners with useful information, Mr. Topoleski said.
During the winter, it did a series on using Linked In, the online business networking social media service. It also conducted one on businesses for people over age 50.
The topics of the library’s seminars usually come in response to suggestions by business owners.
As a former small-business owner, Ms. Fayerweather herself provides an unadvertised service: use of her large network of area business contacts to provide specialized advice for business owners who need it.
“I did a lot of consulting with small business so I have a strong network of people I know out there in a variety of areas. I’ve been here 20 years,” she said.
As an example, a woman recently went to Ms. Fayerweather seeking help to start a bookkeeping business. “I connected her with a bookkeeper I know who could give her advice. It’s that kind of connection that I bring to the table for people who come to the library looking for assistance,” she said.
Sometimes, the assistance provided by the library isn’t even found in the business-technology department.
John Amato, owner of Jupmode, a Perrysburg screen-printing and T-shirt company, said he needed old images and periodicals to supply the content for a line of vintage T-shirts he planned to sell.
He found what he needed — including content for his best-selling “You Will Do Better in Toledo” shirt — at the library.
“For many of the shirts we do now we’ve used the archives at the library to do our research. For that purpose, it’s been a tremendous research tool,” he said, adding that he has found useful photos, clippings, postcards, and old newspaper issues at the library.
“For us, it’s been a lot easier going to the library than hunting and pecking online. And the employees there can kind of give you guidance as well,” he said. “We have asked for information on Toledo city slogans, and they’ll come out with a binder on Toledo city slogans.
“They have information that’s difficult to find otherwise,” Mr. Amato said.
“You can go online and search newspapers and images, but it’s just more direct when we go to the library. And they have all sorts of historical records and family lineages. It’s fascinating all that they have there,” he said.
“Who else would have all that?”
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.
Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/Retail/2015/04/26/Library-card-is-key-business-tool.html#rgIKbsl2MJBlFkc1.99