StartUP! orientationThe New York Public Library’s business library, SIBL, has been a hive of activity from day one. We opened in 1996 to queues snaking around the block. A recorded announcement asked the 2,000 daily visitors not to “run, push, or shove” as they poured into our entrance at 34th and Madison.
A decade later, average daily attendance figures decreased, hovering at 1,300. Understandable. We had trained 60,000 people to search library e-resources and the internet. Some information seekers clearly thought that they could make do with what they found on the web.
Fast forward to 2011. Once again, the place is hopping.
Often, all 500 of our wired reader stations on the library’s two floors are occupied. Lately, if you arrive in the early afternoon, you may be hard pressed to find a seat.
With more people in transition using SIBL as their office, demand for our small group meeting rooms has picked up so we’ve just created two more.
As audiences for SIBL’s programs by industry experts have grown, we’ve added technology to handle the overflow in adjoining rooms. The crowds are larger and more determined, too. This past Wednesday evening, when other institutions across town were cancelling their evening events, 44 stalwarts trudged through snow to SIBL where Ilana Eberson, president of the NYC Business Networking Group helped them Learn to Successfully Pitch Your Business, Without The Hard Sell.
Attendance at SIBL’s small business classes is also skyrocketing. For years, our three online classrooms with 15 workstations met the demand for hands-on practice searching premium business databases. Recently, for our Researching the 5 Ps of Marketing: Product, People, Price, Plan, Promotion class, taught by a SIBL librarian with years of ad agency experience, 30+ turned out. Fortunately, this and other market research classes rotate monthly.
Why this sudden spurt in demand?
Conventional wisdom has it that library visits spike in tough economic times. For job seekers, libraries offer a place to identify opportunities, research companies, hone skills, network with others, and get inspired.
Another likely driver of increased traffic is the 2011 New York StartUP! Business Plan Competition. Savvy souls who are not contestants are asking to sit in on the series of technical workshops required of the 400 budding entrepreneurs who've entered StartUP! I'm attending all of them in myself, buoyed by the determination, smarts, and true grit of the competitors. You can, too. The workshops run through April.
Then too, our partners—including the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) and SCORE—as well as service providers based in other boroughs such as the QEDC, CAMBA, and SoBRO—hold training sessions here at the Library. This has converted their clients to SIBL regulars.
Since the recession, SIBL has added two new services. Volunteer professionals offer free one-on-one career and personal finance coaching at Job Search Central and Financial Literacy Central. This one-stop approach to expert advisory services in the small business, employment, and money management space has created a terrific synergy.
Enough noodling about the why's of this surge. More important than the cause is the effect—a heady environment where entrepreneurial ambition, drive, energy are palpable. If I could, I’d bottle and sell what's in the air at SIBL. Instead, it’s my 2011 New Year’s resolution to capture what's special about SIBL's communities and shout it to the wider world. If I make good on my intention, I'll be reaching out on a regular basis. Stay tuned!