Skip to content “The perfect place to come together and learn more about business” – The Seattle Public Library Foundation
Aspiring small business owners learned about services including
SCORE Business Mentoring at an open house at the Central Library. (Photo by Anthony Martinez)

The library brings people together in many different ways. For many successful or budding entrepreneurs in Seattle, the donor-supported Library to Business program (L2B) provides essential connections to funding, information, and partnerships.

One afternoon in October, members of the local small business community filled a room at the Central Library for an L2B business resource open house, part of a series of connection opportunities that shifted online during the pandemic. The gathering was the first open house back together in person since 2020.

“The library is a community-friendly place,” said M. Angela Castañeda, director of the Beacon Business Alliance, who produces the series along with L2B’s supervising librarian Jay Lyman. “And we’re always checking, how can we make sure we’re really working in community?”

Prior to the pandemic, the Business Resource Open House program had been entirely in-person and popped up at different library locations quarterly. As COVID-19 disrupted many small businesses, Beacon Business Alliance and L2B adapted the program online.

The open house series has created a community of organizations that provide small business support. The events provide a chance for community members to learn about possible sources of investment, affordable contractor options, how to access market trends and demographic data, and much more.

Library to Business offers dozens of events, classes, and workshops per year, in addition to one-on-one appointments that Lyman and other librarians offer for closer consultation on business development topics. Patrons can also schedule direct appointments with experts in business law thanks to a collaboration with Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, one of many L2B community partners.

Ivette Aguilera, with El Centro de la Raza, partners with L2B to help Spanish-speaking clients find information to create business plans—all for free. “A lot of our businesses don’t have resources or access to capital without the library,” she said.

After taking an online course through El Centro’s program, Jessica Cervera learned about L2B and connected with Lyman. She attended the open house to support the launch of her food cart business, serving desserts from her native Yucatán region of Mexico.

“I always love to learn,” Cervera said. “This has so much useful information and people to meet.” Cervera spent time talking to Mike Seo of Shared Capital Cooperative, which finances community businesses focused on social impact.

Seo had attended a previous L2B workshop and came away excited about the connections it could form. “Before that I never thought about libraries as economic development centers,” he said. “But it can be the perfect place to come together and learn more about business.”

Jose Ortuzar of the White Center Community Development Association said that the connections between businesses and support organizations were especially needed during the pandemic and recovery. “The landscape of business support can feel fragmented,” Ortuzar said. “Having events with community creates points of collaboration and shares resources.”

A unique hybrid event before the open house provided another form of resource-sharing. Panelists in Seattle and in Hennepin County, Minnesota, discussed common challenges and lessons from their small business experience.

Avery Barnes was one of the panelists. She opened TASWIRA, an African art gallery and store in Pioneer Square, in 2019. Barnes shared how the information she learned in the L2B program helped shape her business.

“That’s incredible for me as a business owner, to connect with other people through my story,” she said.

Barnes noted the diversity of attendees at the panel and open house. She felt that spoke to the impact of the program on people who have the ideas and passion to launch a business, but lack traditional avenues of access without something like L2B.

“For my communities—business owners of color, young women owners—we often need resources to scale our businesses from,” she said.

L2B is geared to help everyone who walks in the door, and library staff make an extra effort to build trust and connections with people furthest from economic justice, said Lyman. “And there is a secondary goal that I call the ‘not so secret’ agenda,” Lyman added. “By bringing together the various partners to collaborate on the event, we all get to know each other’s programs better, and that strengthens our economic ecosystem of support. We make better referrals, and we sometimes discover gaps in service where partners find ways to work together to build programs to better meet community needs.”

Your gift to the Foundation supports increased connections to economic opportunity, education, and enrichment programs for communities across Seattle. From workforce development and career readiness programs for students, to job and life skills trainings for recent immigrants and refugees, the library connects people with the resources they need to thrive. Give today!