Exchanging business cards for library cards at the Portland Biz Expo

The Portland Regional Chamber held its annual business expo on Wednesday, and booths included the usual: credit unions, hotels, sign shops, telecom companies, the Portland Public Library.

Attendance was light in the early afternoon, but began to pick up as …. — “Wait!” I know you’re all saying, astonished: “The Portland Public Library???!!

Bear with me, gentle readers. It was a bit odd seeing the library with a booth at the expo – it’s not exactly their milieu. (Yes, milieu. In a blog post about the library, I’m going to get all literary. Deal.)

But after a short conversation with Sonya Durney, it all became clear.

Durney’s the leader of the library’s Business & Government Team. Over the last year, the library work force has been broken into subject area teams, with others including “health,” “culture,” and the like.

But Turney’s team is focused on helping businesses access all the library has to offer. And let me tell you, it became quickly clear the library offers a lot more than microfiche.

Of particular interest to me, and I’m guessing to small business owners, entrepreneurs, folks building business plans, etc., is the store of on-line databases, investment data sites, full-text magazines and news searches available.

Now I know that in the world of Google, searching has become oh-so easy. But as someone who spends a majority of his time looking for information, I can tell you, Google’s not always king. (please don’t strike me down, Larry Page….)

And sometimes we forget what we can get through an old standby, like the library. Of course, in this case, the library’s a gateway to the Internet – even from your own home.

Through community outreach, Durney and her staff have learned that while biz folk really want to access these tools, they prefer to do it from their own desktop – which makes sense.

So, say you want to access the Morningstar Investment Research Center through the library’s offerings. You can do it right from home – all you need is a library card.

Just go to  http://www.portlandlibrary.com/ and take a look down the right column. There’s an area called Business Research & Value Line. Click there. (or on the link in the previous sentence.

Access Morningstar, and type in the number on the back of your library card. (or, if you lost your library card, use your wife’s – like I did.)

This research site has an amazing amount of resources, and it’s all at your fingertips – for free! Or, rather, I suppose, supported by your tax dollars!

A quick search for IDEXX Labs showed me that CEO Jonathan Ayers took home $8.6 million in 2011! And a look at what analysts are thinking showed me the bulls’ view: “Unlike human health care, pet health services and products require cash payments and avoid the reimbursement issues and pricing pressure associated with third-party payers,” and the bears’ view: “International sales account for a substantial chunk of Idexx’s total revenue; as the U.S. dollar strengthens, Idexx would feel the pain on its top and bottom lines.”

Don’t need in-depth data on public companies? How about Maine’s Marvel! system, which provides full text articles and abstracts from magazines, newspapers, journals and reference books “that are credible, reputable resources,” i.e. – Not Wikipedia.

Instead of business research, you want to start your own shop? Here’s a virtual plethora (yeah, literary, yo):

On the job search? They’ve got you covered from AARP to the Wall Street Journal:

All this is online. All this is searchable from your computer. For a lot of it, you don’t even need a library card.

So Durney was at the expo to spread the word about all the library has to offer, and to make connections – and had a successful day of it.

“A lot of people here have been really excited hearing about this,” she said.

But why should the library care if businesses have these resources?

Durney explained: “If we can help local businesses, it’s helping the community. It’s a very symbiotic relationship – the community thrives, the library thrives. Everybody’s happy.”

So. The Portland Public Library. Check it out.