Small businesses have huge resource in local library, chamber, and partnering organizations

The costs for a start-up or maintaining a small business are often anything but small. Being an entrepreneur or business owner can be expensive. Community members and library card holders have access to a large resource within Kent District Library (KDL) and its partnering organizations, including the Grand Rapids Chamber and Kent Intermediate School District. With access to technology tools, databases, software, training and certifications, these resources can have a big impact on the small business community.

Hannah Lewis is an economic and workforce development outreach specialist at KDL, and works with small businesses and local chambers of commerce, and orchestrates programming for community needs in Kent County. 

“Starting a business is a very daunting process, and the library is a very common starting point for a lot of folks who are trying to figure out how to get started. KDL has a community resources webpage on our website, so folks can start looking at good resources,” Lewis says. “For example, if you’re looking for a microlender, you can actually work with an organization called Grow that can help you with that process. The library can help you make those initial connections.”

It can be costly to run a small business, but the amount of resources that the Kent District Library and its partners.
Online resources

The library offers online resources including digital access to, Linkedin Learning, customer service development, certifications, Microsoft 365 products, and more. The resources are free online for those within the KDL service area. 

“We have an institution card, so businesses, themselves, can sign up for library cards, so they can access digital resources,” Lewis says. 

Another aspect important for many small business owners and entrepreneurs is networking. 

“Businesses really want to look for peers, and it can be kind of hard to know who else is in the area that has the kind of experience you’re looking for. The library is a great space where you can meet and network. We have a lot of study rooms. A lot of businesses start without a physical place, and study rooms are a great way you can do your business. Some of our branches you can be in there from sunrise to sunset. Others you can reserve a set amount of time to be in there, and that space is totally yours.”

People talk during a KDL Work Hub open house.


KDL also partners with the Kent ISD Great Start to Quality, providing professional development opportunities for child care providers.

“We host online early childhood essential courses for free,” Lewis says. “These courses are needed for childcare providers to keep their licenses up, so they can stay in business. The classes are also open to anyone with an interest in early literacy and childcare development.”

Jaime Mueller is program director for Great Start to Quality Kent Resource Center, part of the Kent Intermediate School District (Kent ISD)

“For the last several years, we have partnered with KDL to provide infant toddler-focused professional training for licensed childcare providers,” Mueller says. “Anyone can attend the training, but our focus is to provide them for licensed childcare providers, because the state requires programs and providers to a certain amount of training hours per year. As a Great Start to Quality Resource Center, we’re charged with offering and hosting those professional development opportunities.”

Before COVID, the classes were held in-person at rotating library branch locations. Topics include childhood behavior, safe sleep practices, developmentally-appropriate practices and activities, and more. The past few training sessions have remained virtual classes, and attendance has been good, says Mueller. Next year’s model will be a hybrid one, offering virtual and in-person classes. 

“Infant-toddler care is difficult to navigate sometimes, and there’s not an abundance of resources out there, so these classes definitely provide much-needed training, information and resources on those topics,” Mueller says.

They also work in tandem to support the Success Basics events and programming that helps support the Kent County initiative. The initiative focuses on children’s development through five categories: love, talk, count, play, read.

“We love working with KDL. It’s a great connection and partnership,” Mueller says. “I think they do a lot of really amazing things in our community, and we’re just very thankful to be a community partner with them.”

KDL also has a new partnership with the Grand Rapids Chamber, which launched last year.

“The Grand Rapids Chamber was looking to be able to use the KDL space, and KDL was looking for more workforce development resources for our patrons, so it was kind of a win-win. Our leadership team met, and that started summer of last year, and it’s been full-force starting this year.”

Pop-up library

There is a pop-up KDL mini-library inside the Grand Rapids Chamber’s headquarters, and KDL is pursuing programming in its branches, looking to provide the Grand Rapids Chamber’s expertise and resources on-site, inside KDL, Lewis says.

Omar Cuevas is the senior vice president of investor relations at the Grand Rapids Chamber, and oversees customer experience and key relationships that support the organization.

“Our mission is to create a thriving and prosperous West Michigan for all. We do that by our three areas of focus: fierce advocacy through policy and business advocacy, talent and development programming that supports employee retention and development, and also supporting a growing small business community here,” Cuevas says.

The chamber views KDL as a strategic entrepreneurial support organization, both as a public library and as a significant resource for small businesses.

“We feel that many of the tools and resources that they have are widely under-utilized for the value they offer,” Cuevas says. “We found that a collaborative partnership would allow us to expand not only the work that we’re doing as a Chamber, but also expand the utilization of the resources that are at KDL’s access as well.”

The chamber provides a number of data research tools available to KDL cardholders, in addition to the subject matter experts on-site. 

“Our goal is to leverage our subject matter experts and then tap into resources or tools at KDL and vice versa,” he says.

Aside from digital tools, KDL also supplies key book titles for entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses. There is a work space for entrepreneurs, acting as a hub for resources and a place to connect with other peers going through the same journey. 

Pandemic shift

The pandemic shifted the way many small businesses run, encouraging them to launch online shopping, delivery, and a stronger social media presence. As small businesses look for ways to drive more traffic to their sites and their stores, consider using AI as a tool, or re-evaluate their strategic plans, the chamber is there to help.

“One of the tools some of the microenterprises and I use as well, is called Data Axle. It used to be called Reference USA, but it is a helpful resource for not only a small business, but any organization,” Cuevas says.

Data Axle helps B2B (business-to-business) model companies with data-driven solutions, including searching specific industries in geographic areas and examining annual revenues of competing markets.

“It speeds up the process, so our business owners are more in-tune and build business acumen that for others, could have taken years,” Cuevas says. “Now, they’re able to have access to this information a little bit faster. Being connected to a chamber of commerce not only allows them to learn about these tools but also practical ways of implementing them to build other areas of strength such as building social capital.”

Cuevas also recommends KDL’s Beyond Books Collection of circulation items to small business owners, such as borrowing a goPro camera for video and social media content. 

“Why go spend hundreds of dollars, instead — leverage your tax dollars,” he says. “Use your library card. That’s your access point to all these business resources that not even I knew existed a few years ago. KDL is beyond books on a shelf. They are an updated resource.”

Community members can access subject matter expertise at the chamber without being a chamber member. Cuevas says it’s important to serve the community, including historically underserved and marginalized populations. 

“I’m very passionate about educating our community, and I’m just so glad that our library is staying with the times. That’s always cool to see,” he says. “We probably should have done this collaboration earlier, but now we’re looking at how to maximize this partnership so that we can have a bigger impact in our community.”

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library. 

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone — just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected].
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