The landscape of business higher education and academic research is constantly evolving, and the librarians supporting these needs are also frequently changing as staff move in and out of roles. It can be challenging for both newcomers to business librarianship and those who have been doing it for decades to keep up their reference skills (finding and working with social science data is challenging); understand the vendor and licensing landscape (so many mergers and acquisitions and platform/name changes!); and navigate local campus dynamics. This article aims to capture and share some of the knowledge within the business librarian community by crowdsourcing tips from current business librarians (see appendix for methodology). I am incredibly grateful for all the generous people who took the time to share their knowledge for this article. No matter how much experience you have as a librarian or working specifically with business schools and departments, I hope that you learn something new (I certainly have), and even if not, that you feel supported and connected to your colleagues in our profession.
Below you’ll find the tips organized into broad categories (e.g., reference, collections) and grouped by theme within those categories. Each theme will include the tip(s) and additional details or recommendations provided by me. Unless a tip is attributed, it was submitted anonymously.
On How to Handle Not Knowing Everything
“You’re not always going to have all the answers, and that’s okay! In fact, those situations are beautiful opportunities to learn and have fun. Conduct solo research and don’t be afraid to reach out to colleagues (even sending a cold email to someone you haven’t met before). Library professionals are generous with sharing their knowledge. You’ll likely get some great advice for moving forward with the task at hand and make a new professional connection.”
“Don’t try to be the absolute subject expert on business topics. It’s not necessary that you know the ins-and-outs of agricultural commodity futures, for example, only that you know generally what that information is, and how to find it for patron’s use. We’re information and searching experts, not expert researchers in the field itself, and trying to become an expert on every business question (especially if that’s not your background!) can be exhausting.” - Shaun Bennett, North Carolina State University
“Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something, and to ask clarifying questions! Business, like all disciplines, has unique terminology. Things get even trickier when you factor in the different names and codes vendors use for the same thing - one industry could have 3 different codes in 3 different sources. Engaging in a conversation ensures you and the patron can share an understanding of what they actually need.”
“Do not be afraid to ask for clarification, especially when students use jargon or terms that you are not familiar with. This is especially true when people use terms with multiple meanings. I once found a great deal on how veterans selected what drugs to use, when I discovered that the “vet” was actually veterinarians....” - Corey Seeman, Ross School of Business (University of Michigan)
If you were formally taught to conduct a ‘reference interview’ these tips will sound familiar to you, but it can be so easy to skip some steps in practice. Searching online to get some background context will be very helpful so that you can ask meaningful clarification questions. Wikipedia, Investopedia, and published encyclopedias are all very helpful to get a quick and basic understanding of a topic. My colleague Todd Hines and I provided examples of things to clarify with researchers in our (2020) article “Eight things to know about business research data.” For more tips on data reference, consult the Data Quality Evaluation project (https://sites.google.com/view/imls2022-data-quality/), an IMLS funded project led by business librarians Grace Liu, Rashelle Nagar, Bobray Bordelon, and Marydee Ojala that offers workshops and a forthcoming free e-book.
My personal tip is to sign up for current awareness newsletters in areas of interest to you and your patrons. I like to subscribe to many newsletters when I come across them and then unsubscribe to those that aren’t meeting my needs or interests, which change over time. Some of my favorites are: Morning Brew (referral link https://www.morningbrew.com/daily/r?kid=2e1fc403) for a quick daily update on general business news; Data is Plural (https://www.data-is-plural.com) for awareness of free datasets that could be of interest to social science researchers; NBER Digest (https://www.nber.org/digest) for new economics working papers to see what novel sources researchers are using; and Benedict’s Newsletter (https://www.ben-evans.com/newsletter), which focuses on the tech industry and is particularly relevant where I work in Silicon Valley.
You can see additional business reference recommendations on the Getting Started with Business Reference (https://brass.libguides.com/BusinessReference) guide put together by members of BRASS (the Business Reference and Services Section of ALA).
On Finding Where Information May Be
“With sources, think broadly. A random example: ebay, for instance, can contain much owner-researched information succinctly presented.”
“Ask the requestor to think about “who cares” to collect the needed information. As that’s a guide to where to begin looking.”
Another core resource that is often recommended is Making Sense of Business Reference (2019) by Celia Ross, who also teaches a virtual “Business Reference 101” class through ALA’s Reference & User Services Association (RUSA). Many new business librarians (myself included!) have taken this course and/or read the book, which provide an incredibly useful framework to help you learn how to answer business reference questions.
Another tip that comes up is to search the open web for guides that other librarians and researchers have put together on the topic (e.g., sustainability resources or getting started guides for MBA students). A common search string folks use is the keyword/phrase + site:.edu + Guide OR libguide OR library guide OR faq OR libanswers.
In the past, I’ve also found some blogs published by researchers or business information professionals about using specific tools (e.g., see ResearchFinancial blog posts about SDC Platinum (https://researchfinancial.wordpress.com/category/sdc-platinum)) that really helped me understand how to use certain resources and things to watch for (such as how when working with things like CUSIPs as company identifiers, make sure that your spreadsheet software isn’t dropping leading zeros!). To find where certain data exists (particularly financial data), the Harvard Business School Baker Library’s Fast Answers (https://asklib.library.hbs.edu), the Lippincott Library of the Wharton Schools’ FAQs (https://faq.library.upenn.edu/business), and the Stanford Graduate School of Business Library’s Knowledge Base (https://gsb-research-help.stanford.edu/library) can be helpful. For more student-focused information, I particularly like using the San Diego State University’s Business Guide (https://libguides.sdsu.edu/business) and UC Irvine’s Business Research Guide (https://guides.lib.uci.edu/business).
On Collections Management
“Not all pricing is cast in stone. If you need to, negotiate lower subscription costs. Substantiate your rationale with data. Be willing to potentially cut back on some of the content of the resource in question. I have two examples I can share regarding subscriptions we wanted to keep but where the cost per use had gotten to a point that we were considering cancellation: 1. With a market research provider, I twice negotiated substantial price reductions, offering to cut out the least-used industry verticals. The provider lowered their cost for us while still giving us access to all their content! 2. An aggregator’s resource was being underutilized, and I was able to show the decline over time and compare it with the value of the information, a data point this vendor provides with their usage data. The academic discount relative to the value of the product was declining to the point of going in the opposite direction where we were paying more than the value of the data we had used. The vendor agreed to a 25% reduction of the subscription cost!” - Patricia Berens, Babson College
“You will never have enough money, so, always be ready to buy.” - Trip Wyckoff, Florida State University (FSU)
For an introduction to licensing resources in academic libraries, review Breezy Silver’s (2019) Ticker article titled “Help! I’m new to licensing and don’t know where to start.” An article by Kelly LaVoice and Erin Wachowicz (2022) titled “Licensing business data for academia: Challenges and opportunities” continues the conversation.
In recent years the Charleston Conference (https://www.charleston-hub.com/the-charleston-conference/about-the-conference/) has started to feature many more sessions and vendors related to business resources, which may be of interest to those who want to talk about all things in the collections world.
Also, I’m keeping an eye on Project ONEAL (https://iupui.libguides.com/ONEAL), which is an IMLS-funded project led by former business librarian (now collections assessment librarian) Katharine Macy that aims to create materials to teach negotiation theory and strategies for academic librarians responsible for negotiating vendor agreements.
On Budget Friendly Finds
“Due to limited funding at my institution, I am always on the lookout for freely-available or open-access resources. Yahoo! Finance (https://finance.yahoo.com) is one such resource that has proved helpful in answering business reference questions. My favorite feature of this resource is its trove of historical stock prices. Users can click “Historical Data” on the page for any individual stock, choose a time frame, and retrieve stock prices from those dates. It is fun to see stock prices from notable dates in history.” - Maria Souliotis, Northeastern State University
“10-K reports [the 10-K is the annual report that [public] companies have to file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and are freely available via EDGAR (https://www.sec.gov/edgar/searchedgar/companysearch)- section 1A Risk Factors - lists the risks a public company is facing or will face in the future, the risks are listed in order of importance - this is an important resource I suggest students use when they are writing a SWOT analysis, and looking for weaknesses in an industry. Selecting a few companies in the industry [that] the SWOT is being written for, helps the student see the Weaknesses (Risks) and possible ways of dealing with them (Opportunities).
“EconBiz (https://www.econbiz.de): Searching, Accessing, Saving [EconBiz is a free search interface to find business and economics journal articles, working papers, and conference proceedings] plus Research Skills Tutorials (https://www.econbiz.de/eb/en/research-skills/test-your-research-skills).”) - Tamara Pianos, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics
You might find yourself at an institution with a smaller budget, necessitating the need to look for more budget-friendly sources. However, even if you are at an institution with many resources, if you work with public patrons and/or alumni, you may find that those patrons are unable to use many of those resources. One commonly suggested recommendation for those needing budget-friendly options is to get familiar with free government information and data, like the tip above about using a company’s 10-K annual report. The U.S. government, in particular, has a lot of data available for free online. The official portal to the data is data.gov (https://data.gov), but many departments will have their own portals with additional features, like data.census.gov (https://data.census.gov) . While it isn’t a government site, Data USA (https://datausa.io) is a very user-friendly site that points to a lot of free government sources. Another one of my favorite free government resources is the set of CRS Reports created by information professionals in the Library of Congress for members of Congress on a wide variety of topics. And of course, our public library colleagues are invaluable resources as well. Of note, your mileage will vary if you’re looking for non-US information, as countries will vary on how much information they collect and how much they make available online and in English.
Another suggestion that comes up is to learn how to get the most value out of business database aggregators (like EBSCO’s Business Source or ProQuest’s ABI/INFORM and Business One databases). For example, you can typically create direct links to specific content in these databases (such as MarketLine Reports) and provide those links on research guides so that users can just add their keywords to the search to get what they need. Stephen Fadel wrote in his Fall 2022 Academic BRASS newsletter article titled “Developing direct links” about making direct links to things like MarketLine company reports in an aggregator. I do this to create “combined search” links so people can search both the online articles and the print articles for specific publications, like the Harvard Business Review (https://gsb-research-help.stanford.edu/library/faq/283594).
Finally, while we all wish it was easier to benchmark our collections with peer institutions, making connections with other business librarians who work at similar schools is a great way to both expand your network and potentially compare notes about each other’s collections that will be more relevant to your respective situations.
“We purchased a college wide subscription to WSJ.com, which has real life applications in real time. Each member of the community creates his/her account, and it can be used in the curriculum.” - Scott Tarbox, Santa Fe College
In the past five or so years, the number of campus-wide newspaper site subscriptions that are available and licensed has grown significantly. Previously, libraries could only provide online access to newspapers in aggregators like ProQuest or Factiva. While these resources can be great at indexing news articles, they lack many features that patrons have come to expect for online news content, such as same-day access; ability to see multimedia content like images, tables, graphs, videos, and interactive data visualizations; easy-to-use mobile access; and more. The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ.com paved the way for other vendors to offer these types of subscriptions that typically (but not always) require users to create an individual account using a university email. In order to ensure those users are still authorized, a yearly, built-in account renewal process is now common practice. Other sites relevant to business libraries that now offer similar subscription methods include New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, Bloomberg.com, PoliticoPro, and more.
Understandably, many librarians are concerned about this trend given how expensive these subscriptions are. For those who have been able to license them, it can feel like “double paying” for the content in aggregators and then directly from the publishers. It seems that at some point it will become an unsustainable model and something will have to change. While I’ve heard this conversation happening informally, I haven’t seen much being said in the literature or at conferences, which I hope changes soon.
Many librarians also report a growing number of patrons requesting access to more niche news sites that are digital media platforms often becoming popular through their email newsletter subscriptions (e.g., The Information). Some of these will have an option to provide campus-wide subscriptions, but many have not worked with many (or any) in the academic market. I’ve come across many of these sites who want to charge a slightly discounted annual fee (often still hundreds of dollars) for every single eligible user on campus (!), or will only provide a set number of accounts that you have to figure out how to distribute and then turn over as folks leave. More often than not, they do not have access and cost models that will work at the majority of institutions at this time.
On Working with Faculty and Departments
“Have conversations with faculty to learn about their fields, research projects, departments, and resources (e.g., data, literature) needs and wants.” - Todd Quinn, University of New Mexico
“Make sure the majority of interactions with your business school provide value IN THEIR EYES. The most important part of a conversation/presentation is not what you say but what the listener perceives. Business schools and practitioners respect value, make sure you can convey yours.” - Zac Grisham, Miami University
“Colleges and universities are hierarchical. By default, they also adhere to a top-down management structure. So, if you’re effective at communicating your message (your pitch) to a Dean or a combination of Associate Deans or curriculum coordinators, your message is likely to filter down to department heads or even traffic among other high-impact individuals at your institution.” - Benjamin Hall, Santa Clara University
Business & Entrepreneurship Librarian Steve Cramer, has written This Liaison Life blog (https://liaisonlife.wordpress.com) since 2011, and while it covers a wide array of topics relevant to business librarians, many posts are about liaison work/structures and outreach. One post in particular I’d recommend is one from May 2022 titled “Every librarian a pitch expert.”
Compared to reference, collections, and instruction, outreach and liaison work seems to be discussed less often, so perhaps there is an opportunity for us as a collective to lean into this area a bit more. I suspect one of the challenges with it must be that every institution and even department have very unique personalities, norms, expectations, etc., which can make generalizations and best practices vary from place to place (or even from one administration to another).
On the Professional Community
“Join BUSLIB-L.(https://libraryguides.nau.edu/buslib)”) - Trip Wyckoff, FSU
“Never pass up a chance to talk to another business librarian face to face.” Trip Wyckoff, FSU
“Take advantage of your colleagues from the profession. This includes attending ALA/BRASS events as you are able such as in-person conferences but also monthly online discussions. Join a committee and get involved to give back to the profession and to network. And join the BUSLIB-L list to see announcements, help others, and get help with tough questions or issues you are facing.” - Jared Hoppenfeld, Texas A&M University
“Networking with other business librarians has proved vital to me. Sharing stories, best practices, frustrations, ideas and tips, etc. With online networking and communication tools, it’s easier than ever to do this. And if you can’t find a group or organization responsive to your needs, or membership is too costly, then work with a friend to create your own organization. Many local and regional business librarian groups have formed in the last 10–20 years.” - Steve Cramer, University of North Carolina Greensboro
Edward Junhao Lim wrote a 2022 article titled “Liaison year one redux: A snapshot of the academic business librarian professional development landscape” that includes many tips and provides an overview of many of the professional communities available to academic business librarians.
Here are just a few specific recommendations for becoming part of the business librarian community that are low cost/low effort. One option is to subscribe to BizLibratory (https://bizlibratory.wordpress.com) which is a blog that features posts written by many different business librarians (often earlier in their business librarian career) and can be a great way to build connections and learn about the work of colleagues. Other options are to join the New Business Librarians group (https://groups.google.com/g/new-business-librarians-group) and attend the monthly BRASS virtual discussions which are both open to everyone (not just BRASS members) (https://www.ala.org/rusa/sections/brass/about) and are great places to connect without having to attend conferences or networking events in-person. The dates/times and Zoom link for the BRASS virtual discussions are posted on BUSLIB-L ahead of time.
On a personal note, the relationships I’ve developed with other business librarians is one of my favorite things about this profession. It is incredibly valuable to have colleagues across the country (and world) who understand what you do (!), who face similar challenges, and who you can turn to for advice or information on certain topics. If you’re not sure where to start, the BRASS mentorship program might be a good fit. It is open to everyone, not just BRASS members. Contact the BRASS Membership committee chair(s) (https://www.ala.org/rusa/contact/rosters/brass/rus-brsmem) for more information.
On Good Work Habits
“Embrace the framework of cost-benefit analysis. It applies to virtually every topic, be it collection development, program changes, or activities you want to take on or stop doing. Cost-benefit language allows you to frame and weigh decisions with less emotional stress and make your case to others without resorting to (often inaccurate) good/bad judgements.” - Genifer Snipes, University of Oregon
“A note about emails: Get the important data and information out of there! Some examples include; e-resource usage statistics, vendor contact information, course syllabi. Not all emails are archived indefinitely and not all workplaces are transparent about their retention policies. Also, keep in mind that you aren’t being paid to keep a clean inbox. Envisage your email as just one of your many tools and responsibilities as an employee and develop a system and workflow that works for you, professionally.”
I’ll also add that if your institution offers training on various workplace skills, take advantage of them! Many institutions (and/or public libraries) have subscriptions to LinkedIn Learning that has many great courses (e.g., in the past I’ve heard business librarian Ilana Stonebreaker recommend a course titled “Writing emails people want to read” (https://www.linkedin.com/learning/writing-emails-people-want-to-read)). I’ve also benefited from various managerial related workshops and training programs that my institution offers, so look out for those opportunities.
On Inspirational Quotes
“Marcus Aurelius said it best, ‘The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.’ Don’t let problems stop you, think creatively.” - Trip Wyckoff, FSU
“‘Get mad, then get over it.’ This rule from Colin Powell’s It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership has always helped to focus me, ground me, and get back to working on the problem at hand. I find academic business librarianship is a mix of transactional interactions and long-term relationships, and being angry can negatively impact your ability to be successful at either of them. It’s always good to take a deep breath, reflect on what made you angry and why it did, and then re-approach the problem when you can be dispassionate about it.” - Rocco Cremonese, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
While far from exhaustive, I hope that this list of tips and recommendations is helpful. If you are a newer business librarian, know that it is overwhelming for everyone at first and that it will get easier. Hopefully this article and the resources mentioned are encouraging and will serve as a resource that you can return to as needed, rather than something that you need to tackle all at once.
These tips have been crowdsourced but should not be considered representative of all academic business librarians. Responses were solicited from members of the BUSLIB-L list twice in January 2023 and at the January 2023 Virtual BRASS Discussion. A total of 27 tips were submitted and 25 were included in this article. There were 15 unique submitters who disclosed their name, and another 12 anonymously submitted tips.
Respondents were told their submissions would be used for a Ticker Tips article by the author and that tips may be quoted in their entirety, lightly edited for clarity, or used for background in the article. They were given the following prompts to consider:
What tips would you share with others that could help them navigate situations you’ve found yourself in at work recently?
What advice have you found helpful?
What new thing have you started to do that has been beneficial?
What things have you stopped doing?
What have you learned about a database or resource that you now use all the time?
What phrase or language do you use when explaining your role to others?
How do you work effectively with vendors?
How do you advocate for the unique needs of your business program within your library?
What would you tell yourself back in 2019 to help you prepare for what has happened since then?
What advice would you give someone if they were to take your role?
Business information resources (30th ed.). (2023). Grey House Publishing. https://www.greyhouse.com/Business-Information-Resourceshttps://www.greyhouse.com/Business-Information-Resources
Cramer S. “Every Librarian a Pitch Expert.” (2022, May 2). This Liaison Life. https://liaisonlife.wordpress.com/2022/05/02/every-librarian-a-pitch-expert/https://liaisonlife.wordpress.com/2022/05/02/every-librarian-a-pitch-expert/
Fadel S. (2022). Developing direct links. Academic BRASS, 17(2), 1–4. https://www.ala.org/rusa/sites/ala.org.rusa/files/content/sections/brass/Publications/Acad_BRASS/2022_fall_%20Fadel.pdfhttps://www.ala.org/rusa/sites/ala.org.rusa/files/content/sections/brass/Publications/Acad_BRASS/2022_fall_%20Fadel.pdf
Kalinowski A., & Hines T. (2020) Eight things to know about business research data. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 25(3–4), 105–122. https://doi.org/10.1080/08963568.2020.1847548https://doi.org/10.1080/08963568.2020.1847548
Kirkwood H. P. (2020). Strauss’s handbook of business information: A guide for librarians, students, and researchers. (4th ed.). ABC-CLIO. https://www.abc-clio.com/products/a5222c/https://www.abc-clio.com/products/a5222c/
LaVoice K., & Wachowicz E. (2022). Licensing business data for academia: Challenges and opportunities. Ticker: The Academic Business Librarianship Review, 7(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.3998/ticker.2933https://doi.org/10.3998/ticker.2933
Lim E. J. (2022). Liaison year one redux: A snapshot of the academic business librarian professional development landscape. International Journal of Librarianship, 7(2), 138–146. https://doi.org/10.23974/ijol.2022.vol7.2.243https://doi.org/10.23974/ijol.2022.vol7.2.243
Ross C. (2019). Making sense of business reference: A guide for librarians and research professionals (2nd ed.). American Library Association. https://www.alastore.ala.org/content/making-sense-business-reference-guide-librarians-and-research-professionals-second-editionhttps://www.alastore.ala.org/content/making-sense-business-reference-guide-librarians-and-research-professionals-second-edition
Silver B. (2019). Help! I’m new to licensing and don’t know where to start. Ticker: The Academic Business Librarianship Review, 4(1), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.3998/ticker.16481003.0004.104https://doi.org/10.3998/ticker.16481003.0004.104