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Towson library launches series of classes for small businesses

Towson library launches series of classes for small businesses
The Towson branch library. (File photo)

The Baltimore County Public Library will this month launch a series of classes aimed at helping current and potential small business owners that is funded by a $22,500 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency with a goal of supporting libraries and museums throughout the country.

"This new ... series is designed to prepare Baltimore County entrepreneurs for success, to explore additional areas related to jobs and the economy, and to assist participants in making valuable connections," library director Paula Miller said in a statement.

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The library system was one of 16 applicants chosen out of 61 nationwide. The series is titled "Economic Gardening: Helping Our Community Grow."

The first class in the series, which will be held at the Towson branch on Jan. 24 at 6 p.m., will focus on the importance of smart investing and the impact of interest rates on businesses.

Frank Bonsal III, the director of entrepreneurship at Towson University, will be on the panel, as will Towson University professor of economics Tom Rhoads. The panel will be moderated by Keith Scott, president and CEO of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce, which is partnering with the library on the series. A third panelist has not yet been named.

The event is open to the public and registration is not required.

Though entities such as the chamber's Small Business Resource Center exist in Towson, Scottsaid the library program is a natural extension of services his organization offers. Chamber representatives have met with individuals and small groups at Baltimore County libraries for years to answer questions about starting and operating small businesses, Scott said.

"We're all in the game together," he added.

While the first course is being held at the Towson branch, it will be streamed live for viewing at the Owings Mills and Arbutus branches. The library system is also exploring options to broadcast the class online for everyone to see.

The series is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services' Sparks! Ignition grant program, the goal of which is to test the boundaries of library services and encourage the development of "groundbreaking" new practices in the field, according to the institute.

Roughly one in four applicants who applied were selected for the national grant program, which distributed $342,450.

McDaniel College, in Westminster, received a grant through the program for $24,878 to test new approaches to information literacy and assessment methods, according to the institute. McDaniel is partnering with four other small colleges, including Goucher College in Towson, on that effort.

Sarah Fuller, a program officer from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, said the applications are evaluated by peers through a review process. Baltimore County Public Library's proposal was selected because it was innovative, could be replicated in libraries across the country, and has a live-stream technology component, she said. The final decision on who receives grants is made by the Institute of Museum and Library Services' director.

That the library will live stream the program to other branches, and possibly online for anyone to see, acknowledges that physical access to libraries can be a barrier for some people, Fuller said.

"It really lowers the barrier for getting information [to] community members," she added.

Tyler Wolfe, who manages the Towson branch, said the library developed the program because patrons are interested in the subject of small business. Wolfe spearheaded the program.

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While panelists for the first two courses in the program are volunteering their time, the grant money could be used to pay for speakers at a later date, Wolfe said. The money also allowed library officials to purchase the additional technology necessary to stream the class live.

The next installment in the series will address best practices when writing grants. It is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Towson branch.

In addition to the Chamber of Commerce, the library has partnered in the program with Baltimore County Economic and Workforce Development, Baltimore County Public Schools, Enoch Pratt Free Library, The J.K. Meek Group at Graystone Consulting, William & Lanaea C. Featherstone Foundation, the Small Business Resource Center in Baltimore and Towson University.

An earlier version of this story contained an error. The story has been updated.

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