When we think of a pivot, we can visualize it. For example, in basketball, pivot is a movement, meaning to turn or rotate around a point, often using one’s feet, either to pass the ball to a teammate or to provide more space to take steps towards a goal shot. The concept of “pivot” has become a key element in the strategic thinking of Silicon Valley’s leading companies and more broadly, in the understanding of “failure” within the technology sector. According to Dominic Basulto, a reporter for The Washington Post, the term was unofficially coined by The Mercury News in 20091 (2015). He argued the expression “pivot” was less about finding the right business model, the right product, or even the right industry from the start but being able to adapt and change direction when needed. He goes on to cite examples of famous tech companies that had less than propitious beginnings before they made a pivot, such as YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. A pivot is not just a minor adjustment or a tweak; it is a radical shift in strategy that transforms a struggling start-up into a successful enterprise.
According to a search completed by the authors in Spring 2023 using Ebsco’s Library & Information Science Source, “Pivot” is in the title of nearly 100 articles from 2018–2022 in the academic library literature. Many of these articles related to the pandemic. Brian Pichman (2020) described this pivot as “libraries needed to turn on a dime” (para. 1) when determining which services could be delivered remotely. Business libraries have been increasingly called on to pivot, whether that be in the move from print collections to data or in the slow decline of standalone business library spaces. One of the latest pivots has been to support interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary work, and a major intersection has formed between business and engineering to support entrepreneurship and other programmatic or curricular needs. Illinois and Cornell pivoted to bring business and engineering library services together, and are now pitching new ways of collaborating, working, and doing outreach to shape this model.
New Service Models
The University Library started to look for ways to cope with limited funds. Additionally, growing space demands of academic units on campus that had their own libraries and needed to find alternative ways to provide services that would respond to new forms of scholarly communication and rapid changes in technology as more digital information resources became available. One of the first new service models was the merger of Newspaper and History libraries to consolidate similar collections and avoid having to fill staff or library faculty positions when someone left the organization or because of hiring freezes. Following the example of the History and Newspaper Library in 2005, the Business and Economics Library (BEL) assigned a library faculty member part-time to manage the Labor Library’s operations.
At the 2007 ABLD-APBSIG-ESLEG2 joint meeting in Copenhagen, the business librarians split into discussion groups about the future of business libraries.
A diagram (Figure 1), captured by the author (Smith) during the conference, illustrates how much web-based/cloud subscriptions proliferated; platforms on devices such as smartphones and tablets would continue to grow. Monographic print usage was dramatically down. APIs were replacing databases as a popular way to download secondary data produced by commercial firms. Business school structures were changing rapidly as online programs began to grow dramatically and started to be ranked by Poets & Quants. A question was left unanswered: would there be a need for a physical b-school library?
Shortly after, Smith was asked to absorb the Labor Library’s collection and services when the Institute of Labor Relations requested the space to be vacated to expand faculty office space. As a trade-off, the Labor Librarian became embedded in the Institute and was given a small office for research consultations. Already Smith had begun experimenting with blended services herself by offering office hours within one of the departments at the College of Business. When the College of Business built a new instructional facility with a new finance lab, Smith brokered an arrangement with the business school dean and the University Library to permit another BEL faculty librarian to be embedded at the college as she was the sole specialist for one of the financial services platforms, Bloomberg, installed within the lab.
In 2009, the New Service models program expanded as there was evidence that the research had become more interdisciplinary and more digital. More tools were available to sculpt how information was collected, visualized, and shaped, but there few experts to assist the researcher (Vyhnakek and Zaltos, 2011). Rather than an information commons, an alternative model unit called the “Scholarly Commons” arose in a repurposed space to support this new vision of digital scholarship (Mulligan, 2016). Additionally, the university library decided to repurpose the space of the BEL by merging it with the Education and Social Sciences Library; however, the business school wanted to keep its dedicated space and services. Crafted by Smith and the b-school dean, the BEL proposed a new model of a digital business research library within the b-school. The BEL was renamed Business Information Services (BIS) and moved to a lab in the business school’s faculty offices building, without any physical collections. The staff was reduced to two graduate assistants and a half-time staff member, who additionally worked part-time in a start-up library training unit. BIS offered specialized services to faculty and doctoral students in the business school for 15 hours a week (Smith, personal communication, 2013 as quoted in Long, 2014) The former BEL faculty and staff were reassigned to other units in the Main Library, but they still maintained close ties with their main customer groups. BIS remained embedded in the business school until 2018, when it had to vacate the space due to a large construction project. BIS returned to the Main Library and shared a space with the Scholarly Commons.
In 2021, the University of Illinois Library was in the process of developing more new service models as the university’s Board of Trustees approved a building project for the University Library, which involved transforming the Undergraduate Library into a new Special and Archival Collections space to better preserve its collections of distinction. With the ambiguity of COVID-19 and its lingering effects constraining human resource budgets in academic libraries, the half-time library assistant was promoted to full-time in her other unit, and the BIS unit was left with only one librarian.
The space crunches presented a pain point for the University Library even though it was BIS’s pain point to a certain extent. This prompted the BIS librarian to reimagine services, going beyond a singular, virtual unit. Inspired by changes at Cornell (as described below) and Dartmouth University’s Feldberg Business & Engineering Library—which has been in existence for decades—BIS made the decision to pivot by pitching a new service model aligning it with the Engineering Library as part of the burgeoning campus innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. For many years BIS had been monitoring the b-school’s weekly newsletter to see new developments; there were several projects involving successful grant proposals in collaboration with the Colleges of Engineering and Medicine. As most businesspeople would do when resources are dwindling, Smith believed there was a new market to pursue, namely with the Technology Entrepreneurship Center (TEC) within the Engineering College.
The Head of the Engineering Library was amendable to the pitch, but it required additional buy-in from the Library Dean and the Library’s Executive Committee, thus a new job title and description were crafted and fine-tuned. Because of other pressing matters related to the Main Library’s space crunch, the process took five months to complete. The decision was strategically driven, aiming to optimize space utilization and avoid unnecessary personnel expenses. The Engineering Library planned to enlist the help of graduate assistants for instructional and digital content creation. Additionally, the BIS librarian would take on a new role as the first entrepreneurship librarian on campus, resulting in a title change to “STEM Entrepreneurship & Business Librarian.” This change also led to the rebranding of the BIS unit, which adopted a similar name: STEM Entrepreneurship & Business Library. This rebranding signified that the unit had transformed into a subset of the Grainger Engineering Library Information Center (GELIC). GELIC is well-known for its digital scholarship research and technology initiatives, especially given that it repurposed its basement into the IDEA Lab (Innovation and Design in Engineering and the Arts).
Many of the new service models at the Cornell University Library (referred to as the “Library” moving forward) began in the aftermath of the 2007–2008 financial crisis as a way to consolidate physical spaces and collections and reduce expenditures overall. Before this change, each college and school (i.e., the College of Engineering or the Johnson Graduate School of Management) at Cornell University had a library dedicated to supporting the specific collection and service needs of that entity’s students, faculty, and staff. Furthermore, each library was organizationally and financially aligned with, and reported to the administration of, these academic units. Shortly after the financial crisis, the business and labor libraries were placed into one department and began reporting to Library administration.
This configuration lasted for many years until several environmental factors prompted a pivot to align business and engineering. One of these included the creation of the Johnson College of Business, a structure that merged the Johnson Graduate School of Management, the Nolan School of Hotel Administration, and the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management to leverage the combined capabilities of all three schools. This resulted in a need for the staff and services in the business libraries, historically spread across three units, to work more closely together and potentially develop a coordinated approach.
Additionally, Cornell Tech in New York City started to grow its student population, programming, and curriculum. Founded in 2012, the campus combines graduate programs in business; engineering; computing and information sciences; and law to “build digitally enabled products and services that directly address societal and commercial needs” (Cornell Tech, 2023a, para. 1). The entrepreneurship ecosystem across the Ithaca campus was also seeing tremendous growth in curriculum, programming, and developments in different colleges and schools. There was a long history of business, engineering, and computing and information sciences library staff collaborating to support entrepreneurship at Cornell and Cornell Tech, but these changes caused Library administration to investigate a more formal arrangement.
That formal arrangement, the Business, Engineering, and Entrepreneurship (BEE) department, was formed in late 2018. Three unit libraries—Management, Nestlé, and Engineering—were included, as well as library services for entrepreneurship and the Cornell Tech campus. Other factors that supported this new service model was that the Management, Nestlé, and Engineering libraries are located near each other on the Ithaca campus, and the print collections for each (except for course reserves) had been moved to other library locations in 2012. Each of these factors allowed for a more targeted focus on services and cross-collaboration within the department.
The author joined the BEE department in 2019, and their pitch at the time was to maintain the integrity and independent support of each of the unit libraries, but also have the department staff work as an integrated team around functions and initiatives like those described in the next section (“New Services”) and in planning. Some of this was already happening, so it didn’t necessarily mean reinvention but building on an existing foundation. Equally important was an exploration of how business and engineering can not only co-exist, but what might be created if they begin to influence each other in a more interdisciplinary way. This spurred many questions, including: How does expertise change? How can the type of library support we provide to our patrons and/or its breadth and depth be enhanced? What internal support, like training and professional development, will then be required?
Often when creating a new service model, the structures are designed or conceived and impact to operations is considered, but areas that can get less attention is supporting the staff through the transition and/or what is needed to combine pre-existing cultures. At the time of the BEE department’s formation, the business and engineering libraries had different approaches and philosophies. For example, the business libraries were very user-centric and public services focused, primarily around research support, while the engineering library had traditionally been more collections focused. There was also a contrast in ways of working, as business tends to be team-based and integrated and engineering is more individual. All these elements are valuable and based on the unique needs and contexts of their disciplinary populations, so it was important to recognize and consider them when moving forward and potentially creating new ways of working.
To bring the libraries together, there were thoughtful actions taken to create a team-based environment that supported group dynamics and development. Bruce Tuckman (1965) provided a framework for how groups develop after reviewing fifty-five studies to identify common concepts over time. His summary consisted of four stages: forming (orientation), storming (interpersonal conflict), norming (working cohesively), and performing (interdependence). A basic first step for BEE was to orient ourselves to ensure that the entire department engaged regularly through meetings and community building events. Additionally, a retreat in 2019--led by Cornell’s Organizational Development and Effectiveness group-- focused on getting to know each other, teambuilding, and creating expectations of each other. Since 2020, new hires have also been onboarded to the entire department instead of to a specific library, and individual coffees or conversations are scheduled with each staff member. As the staff dug into the work and discussed projects and started planning, some minor storming was visible in the negotiations of what to prioritize and different approaches; however, that was worked out through additional conversations and goal setting. The author also tried to create many opportunities for members of business and engineering to work together and prioritized cross-training so that it became the norm.
New Services, Collaborations, and Outreach
The IDEA Lab in GELIC is a vast space of study cubicles, a pitch room, rooms with state-of-the-art computers, a visualization wall theater, virtual and augmented reality headsets, 3-D printing units, podcasting kits, and a 360 studio. Within the IDEA Lab, the lab’s coordinator carved out one of the collaborative spaces and converted it to a STEM Business room for research consultations but could continue to be a learning space for the evenings. Graduate assistants and staff are stationed there to assist with 3-D printing tasks, checking out technology tools, and checking in learners for collaboration rooms. In GELIC, students can sign up for the collaborative spaces, and any campus faculty may sign up for the rooms for instructional purposes.
As the IDEA Lab was created with the Technology Entrepreneur Center’s (TEC) input and designed for entrepreneurship, Smith, who was also tasked with outreach duties for the lab, suggested a celebration of Entrepreneurship Month if it had not been done before. Following on this suggestion, the IDEA Lab hosted an open house in fall 2021, in which seventy-five participants met with ecosystem partners and registered student organizations in STEM, business, and the arts. The eSports club, a growing group of gaming aficionados, gave demonstrations of esports software. The following day, health maker participants gave presentations on services and products created, using the IDEA Lab’s tools. Next, three market research and three venture capital content companies gave presentations on trends in technology. The following year, the event, branded Entrefest, was marketed at TEC’s yearly kickoff event, and EntreFest hosted a woman entrepreneur speaker, who was an administrator at the Gies College of Business. Entrefest increased its participation rate by 25%. Incidentally, the speaker transferred to the TEC department as an instructor and administrator. Benefits also extended to the GELIC graduate assistants, who were getting exposed to both engineering and business concepts and literature.
In 2022, some of the GELIC graduate assistants and two interns from Illinois’ iSchool learned basic company and industry sources as they were embedded in teams in a business experiential learning capstone. Graduate assistants at the University Library are considered pre-professional in nature, thus they are tasked with not only learning circulation and basic reference, but they also work on projects for the unit’s faculty librarians. Via Smith’s coaching, the graduate assistants who were assigned to STEM Entrepreneurship and Business (STEM-E BIS) projects learned reference interview techniques for supporting business experiential learning. The STEM E-BIS team conducted over 60 learning project consultations in the classroom or by mutually agreed times over Zoom. These projects also complimented coursework at the iSchool, such as Advanced Business Research and Information Consulting (University of Illinois School of Information Sciences, 2023). Graduate assistants also worked on LibGuides and other promotional materials and were trained to show business doctoral students how to log on and get started on SDC Platinum when the STEM & Entrepreneurship Librarian was unavailable.
For engineering reference and other support activities, the graduate assistants undertook learning how to conduct reference interviews for an engineering capstone course that involved literature reviews, enabling them to delve into the engineering literature. The head of GELIC also worked with the graduate assistants on information literacy practices and covered all the engineering databases. Additionally, with the guidance of a library faculty sponsor, the graduate assistants organized and presented university library training workshops on topics such as document management and podcasting.
Moreover, the GELIC graduate assistants dedicated their work evenings to chat reference services when they tackled challenging and intricate queries related to obscure citations and interlibrary loan processes. They also took on in-person late night and weekend shifts at the circulation desk. GELIC’s extended student hours is a service commitment to students as a portion of their IT fees goes to the library. GELIC has the largest wi-fi and in person traffic of all the Illinois university libraries and its building counts exceed most others on campus.
There have been many new or enhanced collaborations that have resulted from bringing business and engineering together. One area has been instruction, and more specifically, teaching business research skills in the engineering curriculum. A collaboration of note is for an Operations Research and Information Engineering (ORIE) course that has students address a project challenge provided by industry partners, where they must relate deliverables to their partners’ business goals as opposed to focusing on strict engineering contexts. The business and engineering librarians partnered to build a course research guide with strategies for locating engineering papers and e-books along with company and industry information. During instruction, an engineering librarian demonstrated databases related to engineering information and citation metrics, while a business librarian demonstrated how students can better understand their partners’ business strategies by consulting corporate websites, industry reports, and SWOT analyses (Lee et al., 2023).
Another business and engineering instruction collaboration was for the College of Engineering Project Teams (https://www.engineering.cornell.edu/students/undergraduate-students/special-programs/project-teams). These are 34 teams led by undergraduates who work together to solve complex problems while gaining real world engineering experience; for example, they may investigate water treatment technologies, the creation of an autonomous robotic sailboat, or the building of a race car (Cornell Engineering, 2023). Students need access to the expertise of the engineering librarians, but each team also functions as a small business, and therefore, research support for business functions (i.e., marketing, leadership, fundraising, etc.) is essential. Recently, the engineering librarian led a session for the leadership from several project teams to help them identify and engage with corporate sponsors. Preparation for that session was done in partnership with the business libraries, and a research guide with additional strategies for locating industry information and standards and safety reports was also created.
As indicated, one of the reasons that business and engineering were placed in the same department was to support entrepreneurship. There are very robust entrepreneurship ecosystems in the Colleges of Business, Engineering, and Computing and Information Science, and so the liaisons for each discipline provide support there. However, we are also exploring how to approach entrepreneurship as a team to address the interdisciplinary needs of entrepreneurs across campus. For example, we recently had a request from our Associate Dean for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering to provide data and evidence for a grant proposal and both business and engineering reference teams contributed to the outcome. Entrepreneurship also provided us with a platform for continuing our teambuilding and a method for learning about our users. In 2019 and early 2020, the department attended the National Science Foundations’ two-week UNY I-Corps short course, where we learned about lean start-up methodologies. Furthermore, we were taught how to conduct customer discovery, which is rooted in the scientific method and is a way of engaging with customers to determine if the solution or product you are providing meets needs (Blank, 2013; Ries, 2010). Ultimately, this method is a way for start-ups to validate solutions and then iterate to develop a product, but our goal in employing it has been to refine our services and integrate within the entrepreneurs’ process and better understand how they approach their work.
Lastly, while support for Cornell Tech already spanned a decade, growth there spurred the creation of an interdisciplinary, departmental sub-team with representatives from business, engineering, computing and information science, and access services to develop a library approach and strategy for the campus. A major initiative has been to embed library services in the Studio curriculum—a set of two required courses for the master’s programs where students are segmented into interdisciplinary groups that include business, engineering, computing and information science, and law (Cornell Tech, 2023b). In the Product Studio course, teams are presented with a “how might we” challenge—e.g., how might we solve food insecurity in New York City?—and then use design thinking to create a technological solution to address it. Solutions must incorporate business research around an industry or market and information about the landscape and feasibility of potential technologies. Business and engineering librarians work together to create instructional content for the learning management system, Canvas, and meet with teams for research consultations to initially scope the project and complete a value creation assignment.
While GELIC is mainly an engineering/physical sciences library, the STEM Entrepreneurship & Business subunit continues to find its way in the Technology Entrepreneurship Center (TEC) for research or instructional activities. Recently, TEC reached out to STEM-Entrepreneurship & Business to support the NSF I-Corp program on campus. The request came from a former Gies College of Business administrator, who is now an instructor at TEC. Many of the projects were in the biomedical arena, thus STEM-E Biz reached out to colleagues to work with the learners if needed, and the head of GELIC also indicated support for the project teams as well. The entrepreneurship ecosystem is still growing as more nodes are being added since the state of Illinois is investing in more start-ups. The business school is offering co-curricular programs with experiential learning and providing resources for student start-ups (Gies College of Business, 2023).
Thus, alignment between business and engineering disciplines in GELIC is occurring, as Smith had anticipated, but it takes time for liaisons to build relationships, especially in a fast-moving program involving entrepreneurship. The STEM entrepreneurship & Business librarian is also reaching out to the Agriculture and Consumer Sciences Library for future outreach initiatives.
At Cornell, BEE will continue teambuilding and integration. After four years, the staff are working together smoothly and cohesively and are approaching Tuchman’s stage of performing or interdependence. As for new services, BEE is working to build a cohesive brand around entrepreneurship that capitalizes on the expertise across business, engineering, and technology and are creating an infrastructure and workflow that includes others from the Library as needed. The work with Cornell Tech continues to grow, with full integration into half of the Studio curriculum, there is support for additional programs there.
In writing this article, the authors’ goal has been to outline efforts to bring business and engineering together in two different institutional contexts and describe a selection of the new services, collaborations, and outreach that have resulted. The authors believe that further exploration is warranted to learn more about this type of organizational design, or variations, and its overall success across institutions. There are many opportunities for organizational learning at the intersection of business and science in general, and this also may be a new area for graduate students in information science that makes them more marketable. The authors are also meeting informally with a cohort of other ABLD business and engineering/science libraries to discuss best practices and new services.
We have no conflicts of interest to disclose. Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Rebecca Smith, Grainger Engineering Library Information Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, email@example.com.
- Basulto references a 2015 article in his reporting; however, a search revealed this reference may be inaccurate and that it was more likely the Mercury News article published in 2009. ⮭
- Academic Business Library Directors- Asia Pacific Business School Librarians Group- European Business School Librarians Group ⮭
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