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Community Information Exchange Helps Library, Small Businesses in Blount County

Bharat Mehra

Bharat Mehra

Bharat Mehra, associate professor of information sciences, was interested in exploring the role of rural public libraries in small business economic development. Through an interactive public forum, involving 30 small businesses and public library representatives he worked to develop a blueprint for a Public Library Small Business Toolkit. The project, Small Business Community Information Exchange was funded by a Community Engagement Incentive Grant .

The Small Business Community Information Exchange is the success story of a partnership between the Blount County Public Library (BCPL) and the university, which was strengthened in an effort to connect small businesses with their goals and set them on a trajectory toward economic growth and development. The forum provided an opportunity to host government officials, bankers, chamber of commerce and economic council members, advisory board members, library staff, and others in focus group discussions on implementation issues of the toolkit blueprint design and a strategic action plan prototype. The small business community benefits from the creation of an information resource based on their needs and expectations and rural public libraries gain by developing a usable resource and building inroads in the small business community.

The leadership of Blount County Public Library, in conjunction with Mehra and colleague Vandana Singh, associate professor of information sciences, was awarded a follow-up grant for their project, “Assessment of Rural Library Professionals’ Role in Community Engagement in the Southern and Central Appalachian Region: Mobilization from Change Agents to Community Anchors.” This grant will create opportunities to foster additional partnerships with state, county, and university libraries within the south central Appalachian region. The project complemented efforts conducted during an externally funded grant project titled “The Role of Rural Public Libraries in Small Business Economic Development in the Appalachian Region: A Case Study of Tennessee” which was awarded to Mehra and Wade Bishop, associate professor of information sciences, by the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Leadership Grants for Libraries.

Community engagement in the Small Business Community Information Exchange provided a positive return on investment to the taxpayer support upon which such institutions like UT depend upon for their funding. The toolkit blueprint design discussed during the Small Business Community Information Exchange helped strengthen ties with the BCPL and small businesses in the region. The Community Engagement Incentive Grant made it possible to produce formal publications and presentations on the research and implementation process. Additionally, the experiences, processes, and toolkit product design will be integrated into the information science curriculum on rural librarianship, small business information resources, and action research methodologies in information science.

For more information on Mehra’s research, visit