business information services

Business information centres: Expertly curated collections for SMEs

April 29, 2021
Clare Brown

As an undergraduate nearly thirty years ago, business information management was an emerging and almost glamorous(!) specialism. In 1992, Loughborough University appointed Derek Stephens to introduce us to market research and competitor analysis via Kompass, ABI/Inform, and FAME etc on CD-Rom. If we could demonstrate an excellent search strategy, we could venture online and access information via something called “the Internet”! 

Derek inspired my BA dissertation in which I explored how two library-based business information centres provided research services to SMEs (small to medium enterprises) in two economically contrasting cities. In an age of online, it is hard to believe now that these information centres were primarily reliant on hard copy.

Libraries mean (success in) business

When I saw that there was a webinar taking place on World IP Day 2021 called “Libraries Mean Business”, it was a perfect opportunity to see how far business and intellectual property information research and provision has come. This presentation highlighted the work of three library organisations - national, academic, and public - that work to support SMEs.

  • Jeremy O’Hare, Information Expert: Intellectual Property, Business and IP Center, British Library, UK
  • Tara Radniecki, Head of DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library, Patent and Trademark Resource Center Librarian, University of Nevada, USA
  • Bernadette Cogan, Divisional Librarian, Central Library Services, Dublin City Council, Ireland

Jeremy from the BL stated that “people are four times more likely to be successful if they use the [Business and IP Centre]. Only one in ten businesses failed by year three, compared with four in ten across London”. Whether they are family businesses, start-ups or something else, SMEs often have limited resources, and do not always have the opportunity to receive professional and strategic advice.

As a result, access to curated information, resources and services such as coaching, training and guidance provided by library professionals can be crucial for these businesses. This can help them understand how to support the development of a business model - including everything related to intellectual property. 

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“Ask the librarian experts”  - Intellectual Property, Business and IP Center, British Library, UK

The British Library is a vast resource so it can be a challenge to know where to start. Jeremy opened by suggesting that you come in (virtually or otherwise!) and ask the librarian experts who will equip you with the knowledge to get started! 

Online resources before COVID-19

Their collection includes a wide range of reports, journals, books, as well as online databases. They hold subscriptions to over 30 premium business, market, financial analysis, industry and news databases, and all the intellectual property resources you might need. Although everything changed with COVID-19, generally speaking, the premium online databases are only accessible to end-users via the reading rooms. 

Online resources after COVID-19

The BL conference centre will soon return to hosting high profile events on a variety of topics of interest to entrepreneurs and SME owners. These - and various other relevant workshops - have all been transformed into webinars and most are free and available online. There is also an excellent blog which offers valuable insights. 

Challenges and barriers to access

Why are business people not queuing out of the BL door for access to this service? It’s frustrating to note that Jeremy cited “perception of the library” as off-putting to potential business clients. It is hard to believe that 30 years after I wrote my dissertation, where I discussed this at length, that we still haven’t overcome this barrier. 

As part of yet another business assistance initiative, the BL has launched Reset Restart. Once again we have to work hard to let people know that the library is not simply a location for books, but plays an integral part, not only in rebuilding and healing communities, but also reinvigorating and restarting the economy.

Why information people are amazing in a crisis

“From patent searches to maker spaces” - Patent and Trademark Resource Center Librarian, University of Nevada, USA

It was interesting to get an academic business information perspective because it demonstrates how sectors of the community overlap; students and entrepreneurs generate ideas, librarians provide information and space to research and flesh out these ideas, and the resulting start-ups provide jobs and an injection of cash into the local economy! 

Although the centre is primarily a service for students and the wider university, they are happy to help the entire community. Since the State of Nevada announced tax breaks, there has been an influx of companies setting up data and distribution centres, as well as manufacturing and tech start-ups. There are various aspects to the service:

The legal: the Reno Patent and Trademark Resource Centers Program was designated in 1983. The program administers a nationwide network of public, state and academic libraries designated as Patent and Trademark Resource Centers authorised by 35 U.S.C. 12 to:

  • Disseminate patent and trademark information
  • Support diverse intellectual property needs of the public

The practical: the Makerspace provides access to equipment, knowledge and collaboration space to Innevation Center members, University students and employees and the community. They also offer regular classes - on a range of subjects from sewing to CNC manufacturing - which gives attendees an opportunity to create fun projects while learning how to operate specific pieces of equipment. 

The IP consultation: As one lawyer said recently, “start with the end in mind”! In the one-to-one meeting, they discuss the end-user’s need for IP and what they want to achieve. They go through the various registration benefits, search through existing IP, answer non-legal questions, and connect end-users with other critical information sources. 

It’s a perfect partnership of information and inspiration, and as Tara says, “we meet people wherever they are in their business journey”.

“Go where the entrepreneurs go”: Central Library Services, Dublin City Council, Ireland.

As expected, Dublin’s Business Information Centre provides major online information databases, a dedicated help desk, and a selection of book stock, e-resources, and journals on the relevant subjects. They also have space with access to Wi-Fi, computers and printers. 

However most of this talk centred around the impact of COVID-19 on the service and staff. How do you manage when online services are only available and accessible in a closed public building?

Start your own business

They work in conjunction with the Dublin City Local Enterprise Office (LEO) to deliver the “Start your own Business” workshops. These are aimed at any member of the public who wishes to start their own business, and wants to develop the necessary skills to assess the marketing and financial viability of their business idea. 

In order to reach the people that need business information, they have been attempting to get involved with the entrepreneurial community. As Bernadette said, “Go where the entrepreneurs go”.  

The positives of COVID-19 

Given that end-users cannot conduct their own research, library staff have taken on that responsibility. They have renegotiated contract terms with vendors so they can access online information from their remote working locations - they then carry out the research for end-users. This is subject to end-users reading and accepting T&Cs in advance of being sent the results of their required searches. 

The result of these changes means that library staff have honed their research skills. Even amongst information professionals, business information research can have an air of mystique but with the availability of on-demand and online training from vendors, it has meant staff have become experts. Now that is a positive outcome!


Access. Curation. Trust. Expertise. These are the key themes that came out of the three presentations. Librarian topic specialists create curated collections so that end-users have access to reliable, expert guidance and information.

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