Libraries Build Business


The American Library Association (ALA), with the support of, is launching an initiative to identify and scale successful entrepreneurship programs in public libraries across the US and create learning resources for any library to support entrepreneurs in its community.

This initiative will identify successful, library-led models to deliver entrepreneurship training and resources, help them scale with a focus on underrepresented and low-income entrepreneurs, and create a playbook and peer-to-peer learning network available to all libraries so these successful models can be replicated across the country.

The Opportunity

ALA is accepting grant proposals from public libraries with a documented history of providing services for small business and/or entrepreneurs for low-income and/or underrepresented groups in their communities. ALA anticipates individual awards to range from $50,000 to $150,000. View the information session recording  

And access the slides


Selected libraries will comprise a cohort of approximately 10-14 libraries (depending on funding requests) with established entrepreneurship models that provide direct service to people from underrepresented groups and/or low-income backgrounds. In collaboration with the ALA project team, the cohort will develop:

  1. A framework to evaluate their success;
  2. A “playbook” based on initiative learnings that will be accessible to all libraries;
  3. A peer-learning network to disseminate the findings and encourage adoption or customization by other libraries.

The initiative also aims to provide 15,000 people from underserved and/or low-income backgrounds with direct entrepreneurship services that will measurably help them start or grow their small business.

Participation and Expectations

Selected libraries and staff will be expected to:

  • Develop and/or extend small business and/or entrepreneur programs that focus on low-income and/or underrepresented groups
  • Make a commitment to focusing on these populations as the core objective of the initiative
  • Collect and report participant data to measure initiative outcomes in collaboration with the project team
  • Participate in a peer learning network among participating libraries
  • Collaborate with participating libraries and the project team to develop and implement a strategy to share learnings from the initiative with non-participating libraries
  • Lead and/or facilitate opportunities to mentor non-participating libraries through the peer network

Budget and Timeline Information

Public libraries can apply for up to $150,000 for costs associated with participating in 18 months of the initiative as outlined in the following timeline:

  • Nov. 21 - Dec. 13, 2019 — Interest and eligibility application window
  • Nov. 25, 2019 —Informational webinar (view recording here and access slides here)
  • Jan. 13, 2020 — First round notification
  • Jan. 13 - Feb. 17, 2020 — Second round application window
  • Mar. 17, 2020 — Final award notification
  • Mar. 23 - July 1, 2021 — Project period
  • July 31, 2021 — Grant requirements are completed and final reports due

Review and Selection Process

Libraries will be selected following a two phase review process. First libraries will indicate their interest and eligibility via a short application form. After an initial screening, a pool of libraries will be invited to complete a full application. A selection committee consisting of representatives from the Public Library Association, ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy advisory committee and ALA’s Office for Diversity Literacy and Outreach Services will review those invited applications to select the cohort libraries.

Applications will be selected based on a standard rubric that is directly connected to the following components:

  • Basic eligibility. All applications will need to verify the following:
    • US public libraries. This opportunity is available to all public and tribal libraries located in the US and US territories
    • Focus on entrepreneurs and small business. Proposals will focus on programs that provide direct services to low-income and/or underrepresented groups seeking to start or grow a business.
    • Adults. Proposals should benefit adults of at least 18 years of age.
    • No cost. Programs cannot require participants to pay a fee or deposit for participation.
    • Library staff capacity. Applicants will be able to designate a staff person for the full length of the grant period.
    • Library financial capacity. Applicants will provide documentation on financial management and control upon request.
    • Leadership approval. Applications must include confirmation of approval from library administration.
  • Library history. Libraries that are able to demonstrate an institutional commitment to: 1) providing direct service to low-income and/or underrepresented groups and 2) collecting measurable impact data from library programs will be considered. Successful candidates will:
    • Have a documented commitment to providing robust programming across the library’s service areas to low-income and/or underrepresented groups.
    • Have a documented history of providing services for small business and/or entrepreneurs for low-income and/or underrepresented groups in their community.
    • Be able to provide evidence (qualitative or quantitative) that indicates a positive impact of the library’s programs for low-income and/or underrepresented groups.
  • Selection preferences. Once the above eligibility components are evaluated, consideration will be given to the preferences below:
    • Geography. It is our intent to select a cohort of libraries to represent geographic diversity in the US
    • Diversity of library size. To the extent possible, the selected libraries will represent a variety of service area size.

How to Apply

  • Step 1: Please indicate your interest and eligibility via this form. You may preview a pdf of the form here. The deadline for Libraries Build Business Applications has been extended! Applications may be submitted through 11:59pm PT on December 22, 2019 and will be reviewed on a rolling basis. Preference will be given to applications submitted before December 16.
  • Step 2: Up to 35 libraries that successfully submit an interest and eligibility form will be invited to submit a full application. These libraries will be notified by email and the second application deadline is February 14, 2020.

Additional Background

US libraries are already contributing to economic vitality in virtually every community across the country. They have a critical role in addressing inequities in opportunity and there are numerous exemplars of libraries leading and partnering in local and state digital inclusion efforts.

Almost 1 in 2 libraries in the US already provides free services to entrepreneurs who wish to start and grow their business. These range from offering free access to market trends databases to hosting business coaching classes, providing incubation space, and in some cases, providing seed capital through business plan competitions.

The purpose of this initiative will be to answer the following question: What library-led entrepreneurship models will best help low-income and/or underrepresented entrepreneurs to start and grow small businesses? Models refer to a broad category of activities that a library may carry out to support entrepreneurs. For example leading a seed funding business plan competition could be one model, leading a small business incubator could be another and partnering with community-based organizations could be a third one. The cohort in collaboration with the ALA project team will help answer this question and contribute knew knowledge and practical resources to the field.

With support from