I remember, when I was much younger, going to the library with my sister and my dad. He would go and do research and homework while working on his master’s degree, while my sister and I would browse the children’s section and pick out some books we wanted to take home for the week. I always had to use my dad’s card to check out the books. My sister had her own library card. I remember wanting to get my own card so bad. It was like a rite of passage – the first official step toward having responsibility.
Fast forward several decades and I’ve got library cards from a number of cities I’ve lived in through the years. I would check out audio books on leadership, foreign languages, business, and the like, but I wasn’t actively using the library’s resources available to me. I hadn’t thought much about it until I started working with SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. I was attending one of their seminars on opening and running a small business and they had a guest speaker from the Kansas City Public Library. This speaker talked about their community reference team that can help with all type of research for small businesses. She showed us some of the amazing online resources available to anyone with a library card. I decided to dust off my old library cards and see what resources a number of my local libraries had available to me. The answer was astonishing!
Living in the Kansas City Metro area we have 3 major library systems in our region – The Kansas City Public Library (kclibrary.org), the Johnson County Public Library (jocolibrary.org), and the Mid-Continent Public Library (mymcpl.org). There are other libraries in the area as well, The Olathe Library (olathelibrary.org), Johnson County Community College Library (library.jccc.edu), University of Missouri – Kansas City Library (library.umkc.edu), and others – and they all have excellent resources if you can’t find what you need at one of the major public library systems. For now, I’m only going to focus on the first three libraries because their resources cover most of what anyone is likely to need.
The Kansas City Public Library
You can receive immediate access to their online services by signing up for an eCard. This gives you access to their Digital Branch. It offers a vast collection of materials that can be read in a web browser, downloaded to a mobile device, or streamed online. All for free.
I love audiobooks. It’s a great way to learn while you are on your daily commute, at the gym, or doing yardwork or housework. The KCPL has free access to an app called axis360 – an audiobook & eBook app that allows you to check out books from a collection of thousands of titles. I also love to keep up to date on local news, but I hate having to deal with pay walls on the websites for newspapers and magazines. The KCPL has free access to the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, The Kansas City Hispanic News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and a number of other newspapers from around the country. No more limits on how many articles you can see for free each month! There are also options for music and videos through the digital branch of the library, but I prefer to use my own streaming services for that.
The real gold mine is their online learning section. Here you can access the Digital Public Library of America – a resource with 44,005,558 images, texts, videos, and sounds from across the United States. You have access to Gale eBooks – this powerful resource has access to “DemographicsNow” a great database tool that can help you determine the demographics and psychographics of a particular site. This is very valuable data if you plan on starting a business. Gale also has a business plan builder, information on entrepreneurship, legal forms, and several eBooks. LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) is an amazing resource for learning everything from Adobe Photoshop to Microsoft Excel, to AutoCAD. Almost anything you have an interest in learning can be found here. The courses are generally excellent, and you can watch them at your own pace. I highly recommend signing up for a course and seeing how you like it. Universal Class is another online learning portal. Here you can learn about accounting, business, computers, finance, entrepreneurship, language arts, law, web development, and several other categories. One of the benefits of Universal Class is that it grants CEUs (continuing education units) for those who need to keep up to date with professional certifications. Niche Academy is a tool that offers tutorials on all of the online reference material available at the Kansas City Public Library. I would recommend using it for tutorials on how to get the most from DemographicsNow and any other resources that are not super intuitive.
Johnson County Library
The Johnson County Library has an exceptional eLibrary giving you access to eBooks, eAudiobooks, eLearning, eMagazines, eMusic, eNewspapers, and Rosetta Stone. That’s right – you can access Rosetta Stone through the library – for free! You simply need to sign up for an eCard if you don’t already have a library card. Its quick and easy.
One of the nice perks of the Johnson County Library is free access to “Libby” an app that gives you access to over 3,000 magazines. This is way more convenient than having to save old issues of magazines on the off chance that you’ll actually need to dig through for an article sometime in the future. Udemy is a wonderful learning platform that I use for learning WordPress, Adobe Creative Cloud, and a number of business topics. It is part of Gale learning but is not offered through the Kansas City Public Library – therefore it is important to consider getting access to multiple libraries. If you are interested in accessing “The Great Courses”, a series of recorded classes on a variety of topics presented by university professors, you can stream them using your library card. As mentioned before, Rosetta Stone is available for those who want to learn another language, but so is Mango – another online language program. If you are serious about wanting to learn another language, I also recommend looking through your library’s online catalog of audiobooks available to check out from a branch. Search for “Pimsleur” and whatever language you want to learn. Their CDs are a great way to go about learning another language.
The Research section of the Johnson County Library has resources on Art, Business, Career Development, Consumer Information, Genealogy, Government Information, Grants and Scholarships, Language Lessons, Legal Resources, Personal Finance, and more.
Mid-Continent Public Library
This library system has branches on the Missouri side of the state line, outside of Kansas City proper. They have excellent online resources as well. Like the others they have access to Universal Class and LinkedIn Learning, but they offer Gale Courses, which the other two don’t. These are six-week courses on Accounting and Finance, Business, Computer Applications, Design and Composition, Language and Arts, Law and Legal, and other topics as well. Another excellent resource is access to the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative – an online course in entrepreneurship based on the book “Who Owns the Ice House”.
In addition to these great online resources most library systems have experts on staff who can help you with researching specifics for your business needs. This is a service usually offered at their main branch and it’s best to call and make an appointment. Depending on the library they can help with job searches, resumes, interview skills, small business development, personal finance, and legal research. I highly recommend getting to know your librarian and putting this wonderful, free resource to work for you and your business!