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Library to Business: Free Resources for Entrepreneurs

Did you know the Seattle Public Library has more to offer than books? Using your free library card, anyone can access research databases, knowledgeable professionals and more to get the information they need when starting a small businesses. As part of our focus on market research this month, we sat down with librarian and SPL liaison Jay Lyman to discuss how you can benefit from these free services, why they’re important and how the Seattle Public Library and Business Impact NW work together.

Business Impact NW: What is Library to Business?

Jay Lyman: Library to Business helps people acquire the information, skills and connections they need to succeed in business.  The Seattle Public Library purchases professional market research databases that people can use for free with their library card.  Most of those can be accessed from home.  Librarians work with people 1:1 to find the data they need for their business planning. We work closely with other partners like Business Impact NW to offer skill building workshops and networking events so that people can learn from other local experts.

What is your role with Library to Business?

I’m one of a team of librarians that help people find the information and skills that they need to succeed in business.  We develop workshops, provide direct market research assistance for entrepreneurs, table at outreach events where we spread the word about the program and much more.  I regularly offer a workshop called Beyond Google which helps people learn how to research a market with library tools.

Who is your ideal client?

Library programs and services are free and we welcome everyone who wishes to use them.  The Library to Business program reaches out to underserved populations and neighborhoods in Seattle in an effort to put these tools in the hands of those that could use the help the most. In a 2017 survey of those that used our information by appointment service, we learned that:

  • 63% consider their business a WMBE (women, minority-owned) certified business
  • 12% indicated that they were a LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered Queer) certified business
  • 10% considered themselves a veteran-owned business.

We empower people with information at all stages of their business – we’ve helped people in the ideation process as well as those who have been in business for 30+ years.  We work with people starting all kinds of businesses: consulting firms, restaurants, pet stores, apparel companies, tech firms and much more.

Where can you access services?

Library to Business currently offers business information appointments at the Central Library, and Beacon Hill, Delridge, High Point, South Park, and Magnolia.  Anyone interested in booking time with a librarian skilled in business research can use our online form to request an appointment – or you can email L2B@spl.org or call QIC information at 206-386-4636.


There are different kinds of workshops happening at library locations around the city too. You can sign up for email notifications so you don’t miss the latest upcoming skill building and networking events.

Why would someone need your services?

Business information is critical to success of any business venture, but it can be tricky to find reliable information for free.  Let’s face it, business information is often expensive and confusing.  The perfect data point we are looking for might be proprietary or it may not exist in the form we’d expect.  The library provides access to many professional grade tools that help people identify potential customers, create lists of competitors, and locate trends effecting their markets.  Those would cost you a lot of money if you went out and purchased them individually.  The library not only provides access to tools, but we offer professional research assistance in how to use those tools to find exactly what you need.  Often we’ve already been down the little rabbit holes, found the dead ends, and figured out where the data lives, so why not let us help!

Why are small businesses important to Seattle?

Small businesses entrepreneurs are the folks that create the unique products and services that we all enjoy – treats for our dogs, gyms, janitorial services, delicious food and drink, the latest tech and so much more.  Small businesses employ a large number of people in Seattle, so to ensure we have a healthy economy, we need to empower those small businesses.  Entrepreneurship offers a path for people to explore the viability of their ideas.  It can be a life changing experience as it puts people in control of their own destiny.  It is super challenging, which is why we need to support this group in every way we can.

How do you work with Business Impact NW?

The Seattle Public Library and Business Impact NW offer services and programs that complement each other.  The library helps people with the information piece, and Business Impact NW offers services and programs to help people use that data to launch and grow the business. That’s great news for anyone exploring entrepreneurship!  Both organizations are part of a community of folks that will help!

Do you have any favorite stories or mission successes you’d like to share?

We love it when people discover us for the first time, but it is even more delightful when people come back for more information.  Sometimes they’ve dug into the business plan and discovered they need help with a more specific question.  Other times, we see people come back needing information to help them pivot, or for an entirely new idea altogether!

What else should I know about Library to Business? 

Libraries are reflection of their communities.  Seattle has a unique and vibrant small business community, so of course we are here to support this group.

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