Any checklist of business tools for modern entrepreneurs is likely to be a long one–from scheduling networking events, planning social media strategies and embracing disruptive business models.

Yet the humble public library might be one of the best overlooked resources for growing businesses. During the past few years thousands of Australian organisations have turned to the library for information and resources that would be otherwise unavailable or unaffordable to them.

According to a recent study by the Australian Library and Information Association, community libraries contribute more than $3.18 billion in economic stimulus each year.

Another report by the Queensland Government–The Library Dividend–states that around 40% of community members find the library important when it comes to attracting new businesses to a region.

The reason so many companies are coming back to the library is as much about modern business needs, as it is the reinvention of the library itself.

The modern library

A business owner who hasn’t stepped foot into a library for a few years is likely to be quite surprised at what they find. The rows of books and other resources are still there, but so are multimedia centres, 3D printing workshops, computer coding sessions and speaking sessions with influential thinkers.

The hushed, bookish environment of the past has evolved into a colourful, energised place of exchanging ideas. At times, the library resembles something of a mini-Silicon Valley conference.

In the United States much has been made of the library as a conduit for start-ups, with American Libraries Magazine reporting that emerging business owners and employees visit libraries more than 2.8 million times every month. The city of Philadelphia alone estimates the value of the library services that help Philadelphians locate job opportunities and develop career skills at US$6 million per year.

Libraries such as the Melbourne flagship Library At The Dock, have seen a steady stream of business owners and employees benefiting from their services. The library and community centre offers (as well as a traditional library collection) an interactive learning environment, meeting rooms, multi-purpose community spaces, a recording studio, practice rooms and a 120-person performance venue.

Deeper research

Of course the traditional role of libraries–providing the community a rich source of information–is also invaluable to emerging organisations.

Companies involved in technical or niche fields require specialised industry and market information, which is often extremely expensive for smaller organisations to access. According to the Australian Library and Information Association, most public libraries can access print and electronic versions of trade journals, statistical information, news and other forms of business intelligence.

The utilisation of services and resources can even help the bottom line of less specialised organisations. In The Library Dividend, it is estimated that it would cost the average borrower around AU$349 per year if they had to purchase books, multimedia materials, technology licenses and other services from a private business. Thus libraries can potentially save a smaller organisation tens of thousands of dollars.

Cost aside, libraries provide a much larger and richer collection of information than available elsewhere.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics states that across the 1,500 public libraries in Australia there are some 53 million books, CDs and other items. This more than three times the number of similar English-language materials carried by the world’s biggest online bookstore, Amazon.

How you can help

At Civica, we partner with a large number of metropolitan and regional libraries across the country and we’re pleased to see communities embracing their local libraries more and more. We hope that CEOs will start encouraging their staff to reacquaint themselves with their local library and utilise the ever-increasing number of business-friendly resources.

Resources and knowledge are the cornerstone of any company’s success, as well as a building block for local economic prosperity. The role of the library in this success may have been overlooked in the past but there is much research to suggest this is no longer the case. Australia’s libraries have transformed into multimedia centres, entrepreneurial hubs and idea incubators during the past few years.

As much as libraries can offer the local business sector, they also need the industry’s help.

Like other public institutions funding is dependent on prevailing community attitudes, with those making resourcing decisions listening to many competing voices when it comes to allocating resources. Fortunately, the business sector has one of the biggest voices around, and its support for this important institution would carry a lot of weight, and ensure that libraries and businesses enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship for many years to come.