Catching up:

This is the final month of year 10 of this blog. Thank you, readers! There probably won’t be much action here this summer though, my apologies. Reasons/excuses below. In most summers, I usually post some summaries of recent articles and slide decks on liaison and business librarianship. Maybe this fall instead.

ELC 2021a: Cannabis

Thank you to all the amazing speakers and attendees at the ELC workshop on cannabis and libraries. We had around 260 people registered and 130 in attendance at the busiest point (during the social equity keynote conversation). Videos for all the speakers and two slide decks are available through the above link. So are the crowd-sourced resource guide (coordinated by Carey Toane) and the pun contest submissions. Co-chairs Morgan Ritchie-Baum, Andrea Levandowski, and I just drafted a conference report for Ticker, and Celia Ross invited us to write an article about cannabis research sources and strategies for JBFL. Along with Carey, we will start work on that one shortly.

ELC 2021b: Anti-Racism

A different set of ELC co-chairs (Orolando Duffus, Betsey Suchanic, Morgan, me) is about to start the formal planning process for this free workshop on November 11. The scope will probably be something like

“how librarians engage with BIPOC entrepreneurs and/or under-resourced entrepreneurs (for-profit and non-profit) as a pathway to economic justice, and how librarians support economic development in minority-majority communities and campuses to counter systemic racism.”

Too wordy? We’ll work on it. I’m sure the co-chairs and planning team will have interesting planning discussions and so I’ll probably post an update on this event well before November.

Promotion pitch

Thank you card from a recent PhD student back home in Thailand

Besides those workshop and writing projects plus normal summer liaison work, the other big thing lately has been applying for promotion to Professor. I wrote last summer about our successful efforts to add rank to our faculty status. This summer, the first cohort of “full” applicants from my library are submitting their applications. We are using the same form I used in 2006 when applying for tenure (no ranks back then, so I wasn’t applying for promotion to Associate)…except now there’s this additional section on the candidate’s teaching philosophy. I’ve read other librarians’ philosophy statements, usually thinking “boy I’m glad I didn’t have to write this in 2006”. But alas, now my turn.

Anyway, my application is 47 pages long. Yikes. But that includes 15 pages of service and scholarship lists from my CV. I think all of us are using Google Drive to store exhibits. I’ve enjoyed going through 20 years of stuff (ahem, “exhibits”) gathering dust on my office hard drive or in file folders. Did you know that students used to send thank you cards through the mail? Wow. Sometimes from far away. I have enjoyed the deep look back in time, especially when remembering favorite students and student teams from my embedded classes.

Today’s topic.

So here is my current draft of the philosophy statement. It’s much shorter than any other such statement I’ve ever read, to be frank. I wrote my application from the bottom (“Service”) up, and so this was my last section and I was tired. But maybe also I’m just not philosophically inclined. Oh well. This statement is not going to make or break my application.

Here ‘tis.

My teaching philosophy centers on business information literacy, implemented by necessity through lean liaisoning.

Business information, as I teach library science students on occasion, usually centers on numeric data: financial, economic, industry, market, competitive intelligence, etc. The data can come from primary (usually the client) and secondary (propriety and governmental) sources. Students often use data to measure local, national, or international conditions (state of the industry, market size and trends, international trade flows, among many other possibilities). Meanwhile, student teams with community-based, experiential learning projects need to find relevant data first to measure and analyze the client’s problem, and then to propose solutions. Such team-based, problem-based learning using data is central to my role as a teaching librarian at UNCG. In the academic literature, using data to make better decisions is best discussed in Stonebraker (2016). Pothier and Condon (2019) frame data literacy in the broader context of the professional work of business school graduates.

My ENT/GES/LIS/MKT 430/530/630: Entrepreneurship & Economic Development Research class is built around teaching students to use numeric data to make decisions on creating a for-profit or non-profit that solves a social or market problem that the students are passionate about. I won the 2015 PrivCo Award, the first of my two national awards, largely for creating and teaching this class (details below). Examples and testimonies of how I use active learning in my guest teaching to help students use data to make decisions follow in the next section.

Other information literary models such as the ACRL Guidelines, the ACRL Frameworks, and the BRASS Business Research Competencies are certainly useful to business librarianship and have influenced my own teaching philosophy. The frame of “Information has value” is one example: I often lead students in discussions of the value of proprietary research, and ask them to guess the cost of individual industry and market reports before revealing the actual prices. However, as Click, Walker-Wiley, and Houlihan will soon be publishing, some of the more general information literary models were not designed with business information in mind, nor were business librarians consulted, despite the very large number of business students on most campuses.

I have to implement my business information literacy practices as a lean liaison. While not yet well addressed in the literature, lean liaisoning refers to serving the needs of many thousands of students plus their faculty as a solo subject librarian based in the campus’ general library. The UNCG business school has around 4,000 students, and I am responsible for additional students around campus. As I wrote in that blog post, it is not possible for me to reach every business student with thorough information literacy engagement. (I do work with almost all business school majors through MKT 309, as discussed below, with research instruction for their design thinking-based innovation project.) Instead, I have to prioritize. For example, the classes I focus on for embedded engagement allow me to at least provide deep business information literacy instruction and consulting for those research-intensive team projects. Details below of course.

Nancy Lovas is the entrepreneurship and business librarian at UNC Chapel Hill. She is one of the bloggers at Biz Libratory, where this post also appears. Her best days include a walk outside and a strong cup of tea. Find her on Twitter: @entrebizlib

Steve Cramer is the business and entrepreneurship librarian at UNC Greensboro. On his best fall days, he listens to modern jazz, sips hot chocolate, and takes an evening stroll with his wife.  See “About” for more.

If you remember, way back in August, Nancy Lovas and I cross-posted our exchange Online All the Time? Planning for Research Instruction during COVID-19. We wrote one update after the Fall 2020 semester, and now we’re back for an end-of-year special.

1. How did your teaching workload in the pandemic year change compared to past years?

Last spring flowers in NC
Late spring color in NC

Nancy: My teaching workload increased. I had 42 sessions from May 2020-May 2021! Compare that to 52 sessions over the previous two years. I counted all class interactions as a session and noted the format (asynchronous or synchronous). 

Steve: My colleagues and I worked from home this entire school year, although 45% of UNCG classes still met on campus. (We didn’t have any COVID shutdowns). I had far fewer one-shot instruction sessions this school year: 32 sessions compared to 80 the previous year. (Those numbers don’t include my embedded work nor my 3-credit research class), The biggest reason for the reduction was many classes switching to asynchronous mode (including a business communications class with 20 sections each semester). Most of the classes got a video instead. But I bet some instructors teaching on-campus didn’t invite me to guest-teach because I was working from home. Did it take more time to prepare for teaching research instruction via Zoom? I don’t think so. For many classes, I had to convert an active learning worksheet to a shared Google Drive, but those teaching strategies have to get updated (and reprinted) each semester under normal conditions anyway. But yeah, since I taught far fewer one-shots, I spent less time teaching in the pandemic. I put a lot of that former teaching time into scholarship and professional service, which was nice. A needed rebalancing from my lean liaison workload/overworked load? Maybe. A nice spin, anyway. We’ll see what happens in 2021-22.

2. What have you learned from teaching in the pandemic that you will carry forward into non-pandemic times?

Nancy: Structure, structure, structure! Taking the time on the front end to plan carefully is always makes for a more successful teaching experience. And, it’s one of the key principles for inclusive teaching. I plan to avoid reverting to my before-times habit of running into a session after having spent less than 30 minutes looking over my lesson plan from the previous semester. I also discovered that I can really enjoy teaching online, given the right group of students and the right amount of structure. A lot has to go right for online teaching to be successful, but when it doesn’t at least I can wear comfy clothes and teach from my couch. (In fact, I like online teaching enough that I’m about to start coursework for a graduate certificate in instructional design and online learning.)

Steve: When I started to provide research instruction as a brand-new librarian, it was tempting to cover as many topics and research tools as possible in 50 minutes or so. (And sometimes the faculty ask us to cover many topics in one visit.) Sound familiar? Eventually we learn that to effectively teach and incorporate active learning, we can only really cover one or two big ideas. The need to prioritize the learning goals is particularly strong with online teaching. Teaching this year reminded me of that.

3. What will you miss about teaching over the past year? What are hoping you never have to deal with again?

Nancy: I will miss teaching from my couch wearing comfy clothes. In actuality, though, I’m not sure what I’ll miss. I do hope I’ll never have to again deal with a myriad of tech failures, like breakout rooms failing, getting the sharing settings wrong for the online handout, or when the campus servers overheated and shutdown and we lost off-campus proxy access less than 2 hours before the class I was supposed to teach.

Steve: Well, I will miss not having to commute! And (following Nancy’s observation) only being dressed up above the waist. More seriously: UNCG already had a bunch of online classes and programs before the pandemic (including a new online PhD program in Business Administration), so teaching online was not new to us and will continue. I enjoy teaching synchronous online. However, I’m hopeful that I won’t have to teach a hybrid class (some students in the classroom and some online) ever again. That format is so challenging with active learning and student teams in play. I will also not miss when I had to Zoom into a traditional, on-campus class. Awkward, and I always felt guilty for avoiding what students had to go through to attend class. Oh, also, I will miss being able to see everyone’s name in Zoom for every class I do! That was so helpful when leading discussions — and building rapport with the students.

4. Any new tech tools (or new uses of old tools) over the past year?

Steve: Hmm regarding new tools, just Slido. For a small number of classes, I have used it to poll the students on their energy level (a graph) and their favorite research tools or fashion brands (a word cloud). Other sites provide the same features, of course. I use Google Docs frequently for student brainstorming, and for student teams summarizing the results of their research and their possible strategic decisions based on that data. I do like the Zoom breakout rooms for student teams to work on their specific research needs. Concerning the hottest new instructional tech tools, I would like to think I focus much more on planning active learning, pre-researching the specific needs of each student team (which as business librarians know, can vary widely based on if their client or project is U.S. or international, B2C or B2B, a nonprofit or a start-up, etc.), and devising good discussion questions. 

Nancy: I love Google Jamboards! Like you, Steve, I think it’s more important to focus on planning content, structure, and good questions. The tool is merely the mechanism and should not be used for its own sake. Have a teaching/learning purpose in mind, and choose a tool that can help achieve that purpose. I wrote a little about this in another post that described a workshop with my campus’ social innovation cohort program.

5. What are your needs and plans regarding outreach to faculty after (mostly?) working from home for a year?

Steve: My business school has new faculty I haven’t met yet in person. Some of them have been working here for over a year now. I will need to invite myself over their offices, or ask to be added to the agenda of department meetings or the school-wide faculty meetings. But face-to-face personal communication is the most effective strategy to start building relationships with the new folks. I should also look up what all the new profs are teaching and researching before reaching out. I only know that for some of them right now.

Nancy: This is a good question to reflect on this summer and make some plans. Maybe I will write notes to faculty & send them through campus mail? Or hand deliver if/when we’re back on campus. Otherwise I’ll do similar things to what you are thinking of, Steve.


This is the last full week of classes for Spring 2021 at UNCG Greensboro. A week before classes began, I wrote about taking my entrepreneurship and economic development research class online (synchronous) for the first time. That post included this question: “Over the years, on the first day of class, I tell the students that this is a seminar course that meets in a computer classroom… will we have a seminar environment online this semester with a larger class? I’ll report back on that in a few months.”

Answer: yes, apparently. The students reported several times this semester that my expectation that students discuss and share in an online class was a novelty to them, and they relished those opportunities. Here is one student comment from the anonymous 5th-week feedback I ask for:

“Also, I am enjoying this class very much. While this is my first synchronous learning class, I have observed my husband and teens (all enrolled in local community college) in their synchronous learning environments. They tend to be very lecture oriented, just watching the screen. I appreciate the way you engage us and we interact within the class.”

That classroom environment might be easier to pull off in my class than others, since it is small (10 students, although larger than in Spring 2020) and all the students (grad students and upper-level undergraduates) are self-motivated. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t take a 3-credit elective on numeric data secondary research. Majors include entrepreneurship, library science, public policy, and urban and economic geography.

I’ve really enjoyed teaching the class and getting to know the students this semester. The class helped me get through this pandemic semester, especially given that my embedded/co-teaching work has become less interesting lately.

Some of the students are remote students, located hours from Greensboro. They wouldn’t be able to take the class if it met in a business school computer classroom like normal.

So, will I teach this class online, synchronous next spring? Yes.

One of the undergraduate students signed up for the class incorrectly assuming it was asynchronous. She works banker’s hours in her family business. We discussed if the class would be useful to her through watching the class session recordings, utilizing the resources in Canvas, and doing the homework. She and I decided she could try taking the class as if it was asynchronous AND if she could meet with me each week in Zoom for up to 30 minutes after she got home from work. She agreed and we did meet weekly. Four weeks into class, however, we decided to meet only every two weeks because she was doing very well with the class materials. The other students finally got to see this student in class when I played her video for a required assignment (a short presentation about statistical data in a trade magazine or newspaper article).

Would I be willing to switch the class format to asynchronous next time? Heck no, that would be so boring. Yet having Zoom set to automatically record class sessions (then posted automatically to Canvas via Panopto) has also helped out the other students when they have to miss class, or want to review a discussion or a search process. A good best practice.

Today’s topic

Last week Tuesday (April 13) was the last “new topic” day in class. We discussed social media as a research tool, in comparison to the government datasets and subscription databases we usually focus on. The students explored what competitive intelligence they could learn on a local, private hospitality company using some social media tools.

Winston-Salem Journal article on the front page
Winston-Salem Journal article on the front page

The next three class periods (April 15 and this week Tuesday and Thursday) are “final practice days” in which the students work together to practice their research skills and make a recommendation based on the data they find. The April 15 class would focus on an economic development angle. I hadn’t planned out that case study yet.

That evening (still April 13), I read the local paper. The front page of the Winston-Salem Journal included this article: “Winston-Salem is in the race to recruit health supplements plant for Whitaker Park”.

Ah, a mystery to investigate! And an incentives offer to scrutinize. On Wednesday morning, I asked the students to read that article before Thursday’s class, since its story would be our Thursday case study.

On Wednesday night, feeling inspired and mischievous, I sent a follow-up message: the first student to figure out the name of the mystery company will get 10 extra credit points.

Within an hour, three of the students emailed me suggestions. One student wrote

“I started searching within minutes of your email (I had another assignment I was procrastinating on and this was the perfect distraction!)”.

Some of the students thought I knew the answer and were sad to learn we would all have to wait for the big reveal.

After beginning Thursday’s class with some capstone project reminders and two more mini-presentations, we began our case study. Using a shared Google Document, I asked the students to remind us of the known facts. They supplied the below answers (in italics) as they reviewed the details in the article:

Winston-Salem Journal article, continued
Winston-Salem Journal article, continued
  • Location? Winston-Salem, Forsyth County
  • What company? A secret! It’s based in New York and has a factory in Davidson County, NC [which none of us, including me, could identify]
  • What product? Vitamins and nutritional supplements
  • What industry? Vitamins and nutritional supplements manufacturing
  • Suggested mean salary? $46,000
  • How many workers? 160 at start, 260 later
  • How much incentive money from taxpayers? $265,000/five years (local); $1.5M (state)

We discussed points of view on corporate incentives using taxpayer money. I mentioned that a while ago, Dell Inc. received many millions of local and state incentive dollars to create a desktop computer factory between Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Dell hired 600 workers with a promise to eventually employ 1,500. Four years later, Dell closed it all down. The local governments got most of their money back, but not the state. (That site is now a Herbalife plant.)

My next question: How can we try to evaluate and measure the economic development potential — and risk?

I asked each student to pick a topic and a data source. Here is what they came up with:

  1. Industry analysis and trends – IBIS
  2. Competitors locally and nationally – DataAxle
  3. Market demand and spending – SimplyAnalytics
  4. Market analysis and trends – Mintel
  5. Financial health and benchmarking – Economic Census
  6. Wages by occupation – BLS Occupational Employment Statistics
  7. Local industry size and financial benchmarking — BizMiner

(We were missing a few students. It’s that time of the year, plus one student was getting their vaccination jab.)

Some of the students’ findings, as they noted on the Google Doc:

  • “Vitamin and Supplement Manufacturing industry is anticipated to continue growing steadily over the five years to 2026”; “Concentration is low & globalization is medium for the competitive landscape.”
  • “Substantial and growing market, despite the pandemic apparently; forecast is for the strong demand to continue. Major brands but none with high market share.”
  • $70,204 = average employee salary in this industry.
  • $22,261,725 = average sales per establishment.
  • Food scientist & technologist–pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: average employment [per establishment? Not sure now] = 240. Mean annual wage: $83,180
  • 79 vitamin manufacturers (8-digit NAICS); most pretty large in terms of sales, $25M+ is the biggest cluster; mean company sales: $164M; 10% profit margin; 16.85% establishment failure rate.

Each student summarized their research strategies and findings. In the process, we reviewed some past class topics, such as

  • Wage data by industry (Census) versus wage data by occupation (BLS)
  • Why we can get different numbers when we compare Census establishment data to DataAxle data
  • Differing lengths of NAICS codes (5 digits in IBIS; 6 from Census data; longer codes in DataAxle and BizMiner)
  • When we need local market and industry data versus national
  • Establishment versus firm (and why that distinction matters)

After the research discussion, I popped the final question: well, given what you learned about this industry and market, is this proposed business venture worth offering this incentives money?

The strong consensus was yes, this was a “promising” opportunity for job creation in a strong industry with a strong market demand. And the wages are good in this industry. One student asserted that cities should be working hard to bring in employment opportunities (this student would like to get a job doing that).

At 3:17pm, two minutes past our official stop time, I apologized to the students for our discussion having run over, and told them to head out if they needed to. But everyone stayed in Zoom continuing to discuss this case.

One student wondered, could the company be lying about its details? Because of competition? So we discussed that for a while.

At 3:20, after 80 minutes of class, I told them I needed to shut down Zoom in order to meet with Mintel people (for ELC planning) at 3:30. So class finally ended.

The students continue to ask if the name of the company has been announced yet.

Catching up

Spring flowers in North Carolina
Spring flowers in North Carolina

The planning team for the ELC “Invisible Industry: Strategies and Resources for Supporting Cannabis Entrepreneurs” had its first meeting last week. What fun! Our draft schedule for the workshop includes two 30-minute keynotes, a panel discussion of entrepreneurs and industry reps, and an hour of librarian lightning rounds. We are working hard on the keynote speakers this week and almost have them finalized. One speaker will be the cannabis expert from Mintel updating us on the state of the market; the other keynote slot will be a dialogue between two women of color from California who run a social justice cannabis industry nonprofit. As usual for ELC programming, we will be recruiting a diverse group of speakers – public, academic, and special librarians; U.S. and Canadian; women and POC.

Betty Garrison and I got accepted at SLA 2021 for a discussion of our research on what business librarians want from their professional organizations. I’ve never attended SLA before and so am excited about this.

New readings for summer professional development (or whenever you have time):

Today’s topic

As this blog winds down year 10, I’m going to revisit some long-standing topics from over the years. Here’s an update on collections development work, with an emphasis on interesting but tough database decisions I had to make recently.

Big picture first

In preparation for its annual meeting in May, the Carolina Consortium has been collecting budget updates from its members. The reports are a mixed bag. Some libraries in both North and South Carolina expect some substantial cuts due largely to enrollment drops during the pandemic. But some libraries are expecting flat budgets and a few might see small budget increases. (The CC is not just the UNC system libraries; it includes around 175 members including some public libraries. It’s a virtual, opt-in consortium.)

I serve the CC as the negotiator of the business database deals but have learned a lot from the other negotiators (most recently Tim Bucknall, Christine Fischer, and Samantha Harlow, also from UNCG; Katherine Heilman is our newest negotiator) who work with the big deals, streaming video, ebook packages, and database packages like from EBSCO and ProQuest.

One of the things I’ve learned is the big myth on big deals: that all big deals are bad for everyone. ARL directors and organizations like SPARC often push that myth. However, the Carolina Consortium’s per-campus usage data suggests otherwise, as Tim has discussed at the Charleston Conference and elsewhere. For example, the students and faculty of mid-sized and small campuses, including HBCUs, have gained access to deep collections of journals with often low average costs per use. The total spend on journals from the big publishers at most of these libraries was usually relatively low before the libraries signed up for big deals through the CC. However, many ARLs already had a high spend before the big deals came along and so their big deals may have worse metrics.

It’s disappointing when pronouncements and manifestos on big deals seem to ignore data from the smaller campuses. Superiority complex? When the Carolina Consortium was getting set up early in the 2000’s, an associate or assistant library director at UNC Chapel Hill (long gone now) argued against the creation of the CC, since they argued that their flagship campus and its elite student body should have the best collections in the state. In effect, they were suggesting that other UNC campuses (including the HBCUs) should be satisfied with more limited resources for their faculty and students.

Another myth is that the commercial publishers have the worst record on price increases and journal take-overs. Not true. Look at the evidence. Facts still matter in librarianship as well as politics. And yes, scholarly communication is broken and even the low-price increases of most CC big deals are not sustainable in the long run. We need to continue working on revised or new models while continuing to support the research needs of our patrons.

Business collection development in a general library

I am a business librarian based in a general library. Except for our Music Library, all subjects are covered in our Jackson Library. I write on occasion what it’s like to be that kind of business librarian (early example).

Often a solo business librarian based in a general library is a lean liaison, serving many thousands of business students and a correspondingly large number of faculty. We have to make tough decisions about where to focus our time and energy since we can’t provide full service to all the classes and programs. Leveraging screencast tutorials and LibGuides while also having wonderful colleagues who staff our general reference service point (online and physical) helps much. Lean liaison Elizabeth Price at James Madison University is writing and speaking about her recent recruitment and hiring of peer research advisors, which is very cool and I am jealous.

My library has one pot of money for database subscriptions. Our subject liaisons have to work together to make sure we have an appropriate mix of subject content. Given that the budget is always limited, we sometimes have to compete for money to get a new subject-specific subscription. And sometimes we justify why an expensive, high cost-per-use database (like Euromonitor Passport) is essential for some academic programs. Our heads of collections and electronic resources make the final decision.

Resource needs at UNCG

The business school here has six departments, listed here. (MBA and cross-campus Entrepreneurship asked for their own guides). Four PhD programs and many masters programs are in the mix.

Our cross-campus entrepreneurship program is large. Our entrepreneurship head says only Babson College has more students. UNCG students tend to develop “main street entrepreneurship” ideas, as opposed to high-growth/venture-capital-targeted ideas. I think that reflects how UNCG is a social mobility campus, with a substantial number of first-generation students (about a third of our student body) (I was one too at the U. of Michigan) and a slight majority of students of color. It seems that many if not most of the business students work many hours a week to pay for college and support themselves. Not a privileged group over all.

Our finance program (part of the Accounting & Finance Department) is small compared to many other schools, with no graduate programs. We do subscribe to WRDS with Compustat North American and CRSP. The business school pays for all of it. My colleague Jo Klein and I are the system reps.

Arts Administration, based in our performing arts college, is a newer program I co-liaison for with humanities librarians. I also work with our Economic Geography graduate students and Masters of Public Administration students.

The development of decision-making skills is a big teaching emphasis in the business school. Many classes focus on experiential learning and community engagement as the opportunity for having students do research and then make decisions on recommendations for a problem. So local data – industry, market, competitive intelligence, etc. – that can be used to make decisions to solve problems are in big demand by the student teams. All of my embedded librarian roles are tied to this emphasis on experiential learning and decision-making using data.

Recent budget trends

We have had some enrollment increase money since the Great Recession, as our FTE reached 20,000 for the first time. A big growth category for subscriptions has been streaming video. Since we have many distance education programs (including two such PhD programs, the newest one being Business Administration), we have been as aggressive with streaming videos as we have been for ebooks. Our local students also tend to be big fans of streaming video and ebooks.

In the last few years, however, our budgets have been flat or we’ve had small cuts. We had a small overall enrollment drop this pandemic school year despite growth in our graduate programs. Last summer, our collections team began strategic planning on budget cuts. One decision: we cancelled all our remaining print magazine subscriptions (we didn’t have that many left anyway). We also cancelled the highest cost-per-use ejournals that we had subscribed to individually. Monographic standing orders and also microfilms were zeroed out. Firm order book budgets were reduced. We cancelled one small big deal package. And we cancelled a large database package, which helped with…

Finding funds for SimplyAnalytics

As I mentioned at the very end of this post from January, NC LIVE did not renew SimplyAnalytics after 12 years of providing access. UNCG was the first library in NC to subscribe to SimplyMap (the original name). UNC Chapel Hill signed up right after us, thanks to founding BLINC member Rita Moss. Rita and I talked up this product at BLINC workshops, and a year later NC LIVE picked up SimplyMap for state-wide public and academic library access. According to the usage data, UNCG was the biggest user of the database among the NC LIVE libraries and therefore retaining access when the NC LIVE subscription ran out on December 31, 2020 was a high priority for me.

As I teased above, one pandemic year cancellation at UNCG was a big package of databases from a major aggregator vendor. That package included two business databases we have used for many years. I’m not naming names because I like that vendor and those business products were useful (and got significant usage here). The collection team thought that many of the databases in that package were not very important to us and/or overlapped with products from other vendors. There was certainly some truth there. Unfortunately, those two useful business databases got swept up in that package and tossed out. There’s an illustration of the risk of database packages to both the vendor and the customer. Yet buying each database separately would have cost much, much more than the cost of the package.

I whined to our collections leaders about losing those two business databases while pointing out the high use of SimplyAnalytics. Thankfully we were able to apply money from that package cancellation toward UNCG subscribing on its own to SimplyAnalytics once again. Jo Klein, who is our excellent Geospatial and Data Visualization Librarian, and I worked together on that sales pitch to our collections leaders. We had to drop from 20 concurrent users under the NC LIVE subscription to 3 in order to be able to afford some psychographic datasets we needed in addition to the base data package.

NC LIVE had never changed its mix of SimplyAnalytics datasets over that 12 years, so Jo and I enjoyed the opportunity to plan our mix of desired datasets from scratch. There are certainly many more choices compared to when UNCG first subscribed on its own many years ago. Jo and I decided to continue with SimmonsLOCAL but also add Nielsen Scarborough with its “hyperlocal” survey data. Steven Swartz from SimplyAnalytics was very helpful to us as we debated what to do. He even hosted a Q/A Zoom session with a dozen public and academic librarians from across North and South Carolina.

Getting creative with one-time spending

While our collection budget had a pandemic-year cut, the library had a substantial amount of one-time money to spend in the last two years. Sometimes we receive pots of one-time funds from the provost’s office near the end of the school year (June). This year and last year, however, the money came from open salary lines and unspent operations funds. Those funds will likely dry up next year as we refill positions, maybe give up some positions due to possible future budget pressures, and focus on equipment and furniture to fill our big library expansion that seems close to happening within a few years (finally!). So this one-time money is a temporary opportunity.

Think about what a library normally purchases for collections with a pot of one-money.

  • Ejournal backfiles (from JSTOR and big deal publishers)
  • Ebook packages (monographs and reference titles)
  • Archival and primary history collections

The first two categories can benefit the entire campus, while the third mostly benefits humanities and history, which have gotten a lot smaller at UNCG since the Great Recession. (That is an observation, not a dis of the humanities; Shaun Bennett and I wrote about our humanities backgrounds recently.)

But can one-time money support experiential learning and using data to make decisions?

Yes, ebooks and older journal articles can help students understand background concepts and historical precedents. But the business and cross-campus entrepreneurship students (and faculty too) need and want data.

A fourth option for one-time money is multi-year subscriptions. With flat or declining budgets, except for swapping subscription money (like with SimplyAnalytics), we don’t have any other way to pick up new subscriptions. Thankfully some vendors are willing to fund subscriptions this way.

Sage is one example. Last year, Jo and I looked closely at DataPlanet and discussed a multi-year subscription with the Sage reps and our collections leaders. We ended up with a 6-year subscription for its standard data package.

This spring, we just purchased Sage Business Cases. I will pitch this package to the business faculty as an open education resource/OER alternative to forcing students to buy Harvard cases. Only a few classes at UNCG focus on case study pedagogy (in contrast to the emphasis on experiential learning) but there are some classes that include case study discussions each semester.

We are also using the one-time pot to subscribe to eMarketer Insider Intelligence for 5 years. I’m really excited about this one. We’ll see how well it solves some research needs across campus. Some faculty here have attended eMarketer webinars recently.

I considered some other multi-year subscriptions and sought out offers from a few other vendors. Those databases were on the want-list but haven’t made the cut as our collection leaders make the final decisions in stages. (One well-known vendor never got back to me, probably because it recently dismissed all its academic sales reps. Pretty hard to make new academic sales without any sales staff.)

One advantage of using one-time money for multi-year subscriptions is that annual price increases are locked in. Usually, the total multi-year price is lower than the collective cost of paying for it each year. It’s not unlike a well-negotiated multiyear big deal journal package.


Are they any downsides to using one-time money for multi-year subscriptions? Oh, yes. Our collections team has talked about the risks we are taking with DataPlanet and eMarketer.

  • When those deals end, will we have any recurring money to continue the subscription?
  • If not, will Jo and/or I be willing to cancel an existing, annual subscription to fund the database we paid for with one-time money? That would come down to the usage data, if the content was unique (or unique enough), and if usage is linked to a growing academic department or program.
  • If we lose access to the product after the 5 or 6 years, will the students and faculty who used it a lot get upset?

I pitched to our collections team using one-time money for multi-year subscriptions as a DDA/data-driven-acquisitions strategy for databases. (We were early adopters of DDA ebooks.) We’ll see if the usage is there. Within 5 years, I’ll probably have to do a holistic review of all our database subscriptions. It’s good to do that sort of big-picture review periodically anyway. Research needs evolve on campuses.

Our collections leaders very recently told me that don’t want to do additional multi-year subs using one-time money; the focus will be on purchased content.

Maybe in year 15 of this blog, I’ll update this post on what happened with these subscriptions.

Here’s a springtime update on Entrepreneurship & Libraries Conference developments.

Springtime in the North Carolina piedmont
Springtime in the North Carolina piedmont

1. First, looking backwards, Morgan Ritchie-Baum (Greensboro Public Library), Sara Thynne (Alamance Community College),and I published a case study in Collaborative Librarianship (open access): “Creating the Entrepreneurship & Libraries Conference 2020: A Collaboration of Public, Special, and Academic Librarians, Vendors, and Economic Development Stakeholders”.

Given the nature of that journal, we focused on how a diverse group of people came together to create the conference and its pitch competition. The ELC would not have been nearly as interesting nor as useful if only one type of librarian was involved. Sadly, there are limited opportunities in our profession to work with a diverse group of information professionals. In 2021, the ELC will continue to seek out partnerships to help us involve and reach librarians who aren’t official business librarians, as well as other interested parties. Details below.

The article also discusses our COVID pivot once we learned a physical conference in the fall of 2020 would not be possible. A key question for the planned full-length ELC 2022 conference: online or in-person? Or both? That will be an interesting discussion with financial considerations. (The online ELC 2020 was free and our only big expense was the pitch competition payouts, funded by EBSCO. But we couldn’t do our planned vendor-funded rooftop and brewery parties.)

2. On May 27, 1-4pm Eastern, we are hosting the first of two workshops this year: “The Invisible Industry: Strategies and Resources for Supporting Cannabis Entrepreneurs.” The workshop will be free; registrations will open later. The workshop planners include a subset of the ELC 2020 planning group plus some new special, public, and academic librarians with interest and experience in this topic.

PrivCo will be a sponsor. Another vendor has offered its cannabis researcher to us has a speaker; the planning group will consider that offer soon. We might bring in a cannabis entrepreneur as a speaker too, as well as librarians of course.

Morgan, Andrea Levandowski (New Jersey State Library), and I will serve as co-chairs of the workshop. We have already received emails from folks interested in this topic. On Wednesday, we are chatting with John Chrastka, Executive Director of EveryLibrary, concerning possible collaboration. Morgan, Andrea, and I (independently) attended several of EveryLibrary’s “National Entrepreneurship Week in Libraries” programs a few weeks ago.

3. Probably in November 2021, the ELC will be partnering with the Urban Libraries Council on a workshop focusing on entrepreneurship, anti-racism, and libraries. Betsey Suchanic of the ULC will be a workshop co-chair. So will be Orolando Duffus of the University of Houston Libraries. Orolando was one of the leaders of the ELC 2020 pitch competition.

So really, each ELC event has become an opportunity for more collaboration, partnerships, and network building. We hope through such engagement to keep reaching librarians and other stakeholders who aren’t already plugged into entrepreneurship librarianship, while still providing useful content to librarians who are connected already. In the process, the ELC will continue to provide service opportunities to the diverse group of professions involved.


As this blog wraps up its first decade, I thought I would try covering some important topics. Mapping structural racism is one I promised the students in my research class we would work on one day this semester. Also, the Entrepreneurship & Libraries Conference will probably be hosting a half-day workshop on “racial equity [or maybe anti-racism], entrepreneurship, and libraries” this fall, perhaps in partnership with the Urban Libraries Council. The excellent Orolando Duffus from the University of Houston will be one of the ELC co-chairs for that event.

I’m going to write about two aspects of structural racism. Part one (below) suggests strategies to help students discover evidence of structural racism through community data.

Part two will get a little more opinionated with a suggestion that academic librarians work more with community partners to fight structural racism, as opposed to our more common, library-centered focus on interpersonal and intuitional racism. Those opinions will be informed by experiences working with social entrepreneurship and public affairs projects at a minority-serving campus, as well as social justice work through church. Part two might also suggest that white librarians talk more about how their life decisions impact racial equity and white privilege.

Structural racism & community data

I post now and then about coaching students to tell stories, make decisions, and propose solutions using data. But with structural racism, it’s really about illustrating its existence, right? Revealing redlining through home ownership data is one example. Proposing solutions is another (complex) matter. A bit more on that later.

This lesson plan covers demographic and economic indicators, example maps, active learning suggestions, and sources for additional learning (which I used a lot to write this). The sources include a few local mapping projects on structural racism.

There is certainly room for improvement in these suggestions. If other, more knowledgeable librarians provide suggestions, perhaps with their permission I could include those thoughts in part two.

1. Indicator data

Tables with data at national, state, and county levels can be revealing, but mapping local data can be much more impactful. Especially if a student is familiar with a place they are mapping.

The Census Bureau and other organizations publish some demographic and economic variables cross-tabulated with race and sometimes Hispanic origin. (We are limited to Census definitions of these social constructs for this data.) Sometimes you will need to filter the data yourself to consider race. My IRA ownership example illustrates this need.

The Aspen Institute published a 2004 report on Structural Racism and Community Building that helped with this list.

 Data that can indicate structural racism:

  • Poverty rates (ACS)
  • Income (ACS)
  • Educational attainment (Census)
  • Home ownership rates (AHS) (These CPS tables cover multiple demographic variables.)
  • Education funding by student by % of minority enrollment (Education Trust data; NC example – but might need to factor in student racial breakdowns by district on your own)
  • Infant mortality (CDC)
  • Life expectancy at birth (CDC)
  • Accumulated wealth (St. Louis Fed report; its data)
  • Home purchase loan application denial rates by race (Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Data (look at the section 8 tables, such as this one for denials of conventional home-purchase loans, but we need to do more work to get % by race.)) [PolicyMap post on this]
  • Prison population by race (BJS and also some nonprofits easily found via Google)
  • Financial data are also telling: home values, rate of owning stocks, etc. The ACS covers home values but not by race. For behavioral finance data like stock ownership, we can use one of the commercial mapping databases via filtering for race. Example below regarding IRAs using Simmons data via SimplyAnalytics.

2. Example maps

You could try mapping the Census data using https://data.census.gov/. Subscription tools like SimplyAnalytics, PolicyMap, and Social Explorer are usually easier to use. Psychographics, like financial data, are available from SimplyAnalytics. See the resource list below for more example maps.

Income in D.C.

The split-view option in Social Explorer can be useful. You can’t see the full data description: on the left is Black per-capita income; the white per-capita income is on the right.

Split-view in Social Explorer: black versus white per capita income
Split-view in Social Explorer: Black versus white per-capita income

Here is similar data from SimplyAnalytics. I set the classification to equal intervals since the ranges would be different for the two populations using quantiles or natural breaks.

SimplyAnalytics: black median household income in D.C.
SimplyAnalytics: Black median household income in D.C.
SimplyAnalytics: white median household income in D.C.
SimplyAnalytics: white median household income in D.C.


Both Greensboro (where I work) and Winston-Salem (where I live) have significant redlining on the eastern side of town, reflected in the housing values. In these PolicyMap visualizations, I tried to include educational attainment too but maybe should have focused on another housing or financial variable.

PolicyMap: redlining evidence in Greensboro, NC
PolicyMap: redlining evidence in Greensboro, NC
PolicyMap: redlining evidence in Winston-Salem, NC
PolicyMap: redlining evidence in Winston-Salem, NC


What about finances? Here are two more maps from SimplyAnalytics. The first map is majority Black tracts in Chicagoland. The next one adds a filter for ownership of IRAs (Roth or not). I looked for IRA ownership of 5% or higher (the Chicago average is 7.97%). [Not surprising to see the concentration in South Side. The cluster of tracts west of the Chicago includes majority-Black small towns in Cook County, including Maywood, which has some interesting history.]

SimplyAnalytics: majority black Census tracks in Chicagoland
SimplyAnalytics: majority Black Census tracks in Chicagoland
SimplyAnalytics: majority black Census tracks in Chicagoland with 5% or more IRA ownership
SimplyAnalytics: majority Black Census tracks in Chicagoland with 5% or more IRA ownership

(I next mapped the majority-white tracts, then applied the 5% IRA filter. A much smaller percentage of tracts got filtered out. You could apply these filters to tables in SimplyAnalytics to better count the percentage of 5%+ IRA ownership in white-majority tracts versus the Black-majority tracts.)

3. Active learning

Again, I haven’t tried these yet. Usually when I post on instruction, I’m telling the story of what happened (good and bad) when I tried something new with a class. Maybe I can do that in part 2, after my research class has gotten into demographic and consumer markets research. However, these suggestions mirror active learning strategies I use frequently regarding local data and experiential class projects.

Discussing data:

  • Ask the students what kind of data (demographic, economic, health, etc.) can illustrate structural racism. Have them make a list of the possibilities. Provide some coaching as needed on concepts and definitions.
  • If the students struggle with this, show them some maps (perhaps from the Minnesota, Philadelphia, or Cape Fear sites linked below, or your own maps of your city). Ask the students what kind of story the map might be telling.

Making maps:

  • Ask the students to pick a city or county and then compare data like “median income, white” to “median income, Blacks or African American”. Do they see significant differences?
  • Ask the students to identify segregated neighborhoods (tracts). Through filtering or multi-layer mapping (depends on the database interface), can they identify disparities caused by structural racism?

Discussion questions:

  • Any surprises in what you saw in the data?
  • Do some places seem to be less or more structurally racist than others? If so, why do you think so?
  • Do we need to think about causality versus coincidence?
  • What do we do with these findings? How do we go from the illustration of structural racism using community data to action to dismantle structural racism? (Maybe a discussion question the professor should lead. Sharing some people stories might be useful if focusing just on the data seems too impersonal.)

4. Resources

How Maps can Help the Fight for Racial Equity
Short article from Data-Smart City Solutions, Ash Center, Harvard Kennedy School.

Racial Equity Takes Center Stage for Business Leaders
Subtitle: “How Business Leaders Can Follow Through on Racial Equity Commitments”. An article from ESRI’s WhereNext magazine.

PolicyMap blog posts (free access):

Racial Equity Index, National Equity Atlas
“A summary score that provides a snapshot of how well a given place is performing on racial equity compared to its peers — comparing cities to cities, regions to regions, and states to states.”

Mapping Prejudice, University of Minnesota Libraries
“Historians have long understood the importance of redlining. Yet by using digital mapping software to organize, analyze and display historic data about this practice, this project retold the story in way that made it accessible for a popular audience.

Mapping the Legacy of Structural Racism in Philadelphia
The city examined historical and contemporary redlining via maps in order to better understand homicide rate trends.

Racial Equity Dashboard, Cape Fear [NC] Collective
“In order to change an inequitable system, we must build a new one using data and the lived experience…the Dashboard provides Cape Fear a snapshot of the issues facing it and a spotlight to find solutions to the inequity in the region.” (Local newspaper coverage of the Dashboard) (This area includes Wilmington, site of the infamous 1898 coup and massacre)

Happy New Year, everyone. Good luck with spring 2021.


Spring semester at UNCG begins on Tuesday, January 19. Since 2014, I teach my three-credit “Entrepreneurship & Economic Development Research” each spring. (Search this blog for “530” for back stories.) Nancy Lovas from UNC Chapel Hill and I recently co-posted a couple of dialogues (in August and November) on how the pandemic  was impacting our work as teaching business librarians. This post focuses on how my Coleman Entrepreneurship Fellow class will be different this time. This time, my class goes online.

my class in the Canvas dashboard
my class in the Canvas dashboard

Over the years, on the first day of class, I tell the students that this is a seminar course that meets in a computer classroom. Then I ask the students to discuss what a seminar course means to them. I express my hope that the diverse nature of the students (typically highly-motivated entrepreneurship and marketing majors plus graduate students in economic geography and public affairs) leads to interesting discussions with the students learning from each other as well as from me.

In spring 2020, the class was forced online in mid-March due to the shut-down. I had a really small class that year which might have contributed to a lack of discussion online via WebEx for those last six weeks of school. I don’t think WebEx was the problem. UNCG used Zoom and WebEx throughout calendar year 2020 and the two tools are very similar even if some folks have strong opinions about one or both. (I used to get annoyed by librarians who seemed to elevate a particular instructional technology product to be a key success factor in their instruction. Now that attitude is more amusing than annoying.) Will we have a seminar environment online this semester with a larger class? I’ll report back on that in a few months.

Meanwhile, Summer Krstevska at Wake Forest University is now teaching her entrepreneurship research class asynchronously. Check out her thoughtful post about making that switch.

Like many of you, I’ve been following advice and stories about teaching in the pandemic. The best resource to me has been the “Teaching” newsletter from the Chronicle of Higher Education. The newsletter has been useful as both a librarian liaison as well as a teacher of this three-credit class once a year. Some of the below points (bulleted just to provide some structure) reflect recommendations from the Chronicle and elsewhere. The syllabus is posted at the libguide if you are curious.

Aspects of the class already conducive to online education in a pandemic

  • Structure and order: students really need those things right now. Instead of one big project due at the end of the semester, the students will have small assignments due a week apart. By the 6th week, students have an option to conduct research in their assignments that could be applied to their final class project, doing research for their selected entrepreneurship idea (profit or non-profit).
  • We will still have guest speakers to keep things fresh (and provide additional insights). So far, David Turner from Data Axle and Juan Vasquez from SimplyAnalytics will be joining us to talk about where their data comes from, and how entrepreneurs and governments use their tools to help make data-driven decisions.

Teaching changes for Spring 2021

  • It’s harder to do school in the pandemic and so workloads need to be reduced. I cut the number of required chapters to read from the two books (Phelps’ “Research on Main Street” and Wenzel’s “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Market Research”).  The readings are now spread out more in the calendar.
  • The capstone presentation is now extra-credit. Students would make these via Zoom on the last day of class. (Hmm I could add “prerecorded” as an option although there would still need to be some live Q&A with me and the students, since lots of good ideas and suggestions get shared that way. But students could post comments on a video. Something to think about.)
  • The Zoom sessions will be recorded; videos will be automatically posted in Canvas via Panopto.
  • However, I do expect attendance. New this year will be points awarded for attendance and participation (2 points total per class session). We can’t function as a seminar class asynchronously. At least I don’t think so.
  • Each time I teach this class, I try to do something new – usually a new topic. This year the new topic will be “data literacy”. Given the class focus on numeric data, data literacy is really built into the class. But this year, I want to try spending 75 minutes focusing on data visualization tricks and deceits, how to lie with maps, etc. (Past experiments have included “social networks as research tools” and “trade data”, both of which are now regular topics in class based on positive student feedback. Trade data is now a two-day topic by student suggestion; in the second day, we compare regional trade data trends with corresponding company and industry trends, for example “since NC exports of airplane parts keep growing, who is making those parts, and what is the local impact on employment and revenue?”)
  • Finally, as you all would agree, I will need to be extra flexible and forgiving with deadlines and grading and other aspects. But that isn’t really new. In spring 2019, I had to be flexible with one student who had to take care of a child at home during class time. For another student, I needed to mail back his iPad Mini after the shutdown (I was using it to make audio recordings for him in class.) I had loaned a third student my personal copy of the Wenzel book, which he returned to me after the semester via the library roadside book-drop (the library was closed; Access Services put the book in my office mailbox).

Changes with research resources (especially Census data)

These are more routine changes. Every year, I have to update my notes, lesson plans, and assignments because of changing research tools. Here are some notes from changes so far. I’m sure that some of these are old news for some of you.

  • Census demographic narrative profiles are back. Hooray! One limitation: they don’t have a PDF download option. Users have to do that themselves using the print function on their web browsers.
  • Subject-level selection of ACS data is made easier using this subject browsing page. The Subject Tables page looks less user-friendly, but the search box works well. (I will have students use this tool to measure internet access in North Carolina counties.)
  • As usual, we are many years past the collection of Economic Census 2017 data but the really good stuff (state-level data and the detailed topics specific to each industrial sector) is still largely not available yet. Sigh. My students learn that this delay is why there is a market for IBISWorld and BizMiner. Yet the sector-specific data (such as materials consumed for manufacturing, and sales by product category for retailing) aren’t provided in those databases. I do appreciate how the sector profiles clearly tell us what data are currently available and provides links to the tables in data.census.gov. For Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation, we learn at the bottom that “The economic census produces detailed sector specific content. The data will be released in March 2021.” This information helps with teaching the Economic Census.
  • In general, access to data from data.census.gov is facilitated by the Census web pages that provide direct links into the data platform. The County Business Patterns and Nonemployer Statistics sites are examples. My student will use those datasets too.
  • For reasons still unknown (the cost would not have changed), NC LIVE didn’t renew SimplyAnalytics after 12 years of providing state-wide access. So we updated the Carolina Consortium deal for that product and added a deal for public libraries. UNCG dug up some funds to sign up. We did take advantage of the opportunity to reconsider what datasets we most needed. We continued to include SimmonsLocal (which UNCG had funded separately in the NC LIVE years) but were able to add Nielsen Scarborough, which covers data from local survey questions as well as questions asked in all metros covered. I emailed some faculty that “For example, in Greensboro, the survey asks if respondents have flown out of GSO, RDU, or CLT [the big NC airports] in the last 12 months, or what local places or events have been visited (Grasshoppers, Hornets, UNCG sporting events, Biltmore Mansion, Greensboro Science Center, Lexington BBQ Festival, Wet N Wild,  etc.)” Several profs are very interested and I ended up with some additional instruction sessions signed up for spring 2021. My entrepreneurship students will use this data too.

Shaun Bennett is the Research Librarian for Business, Education, and Data Literacy at the NC State University Libraries. His previous academic research was dedicated to Medieval Scandinavian literature and conversion narratives, specifically the legal conversion of Iceland. He currently works on curriculum and instructional design for library programs, and on methods of combating disinformation.
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5467-5068
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shaun-bennett-84030b119/

1. Why Medieval Studies?

Shaun: I grew up with Tolkien’s stories and similar genres, but I think the spark that drove me into Medieval Studies was, oddly, a video game from my childhood. It was called Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, and focused on battles between dozens of Medieval “civilizations” in a real-time strategy format. However, it also came with a decent amount of historical background on each of the factions and major figures, and I pored through that virtual history book until I ran out of material. This drove me to actual history books, and I never stopped!

My original career path in college was programming, but it took just one class to send me running away. When I realized Medieval Studies was a major at Penn State, it seemed perfect. I worked with fantastic professors there, Dr. Ben Hudson and Dr. Steve Walton, to focus on the history of the Medieval Christian church, and even did some hands-on history: we wove our own chainmail armor, and tested it by firing a spear through the armor in the Engineering lab! I remember the Engineering lab assistant was terribly confused about why we were allowed to do such a dangerous thing.

Lindisfarne Priory; built in the 12th century, long after the original Viking attacks. The Holy Island is a breathtakingly beautiful place
Lindisfarne Priory; built in the 12th century, long after the original Viking attacks. The Holy Island is a breathtakingly beautiful place

I ended up pursuing Medieval Studies even after undergraduate, enrolling in the History program at NC State University under the advising of Dr. Julie Mell. There I studied Medieval Scandinavian literature, and eventually focused on the Christianization of Iceland and the literary culture which flourished as a result. My master’s thesis, entitled Christian Writers, Pagan Subjects: The Preservation of Norse Religious Imagery through Legal Culture in Iceland, argued that the Christianization of Iceland was largely a legal process, not one of strong beliefs. This enabled the Scandinavian religious practices to survive through the writing system which Christianity brought to the island. In a strange irony, if Christianity hadn’t arrived in such a manner, it’s unlikely that the stories of the Norse gods (told primarily through the rich oral storytelling traditions of Scandinavia) would have survived to the present date.

Steve: As a kid, I was always interested in airplanes and spaceships. When about to become a first-generation college student, I applied to engineering schools and was accepted into my first choice, the University of Michigan. (I only applied to two places — college hunting was different back in the 80’s.) We had a three-night orientation during the summer. I quickly learned how focused the engineering curriculum was: only 12 or 15 credit hours of electives outside of engineering, if I remember correctly.

Meanwhile, the catalog for the U of M liberal arts college was full of classes on fascinating and mysterious topics like “From Wyrm-Sword to Double Transept: Tracing Strands of Literature and Art in the Middle Ages.” So I switched to the liberal arts college. This turned out to be a sound move: while I still took the pre-engineering (and pre-med) “Introduction to Chemistry” class and did ok in it, I found calculus to be challenging. I don’t think I really had the math skills to make it as an engineer.

Many of the classes that looked really interesting happened to be co-listed under the Medieval and Renaissance Collegium (MARC), an Honors College major. And I liked the interdisciplinary nature of that program. MARC became my major. My undergrad honors thesis concerned the 13th century black St. Maurice of Magdeburg.

2. Do you remain interested in Medieval Studies?

Steve: Sure, I’m still reading books, most recently “Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life”. (I would argue Bosch is a transitional figure between Medieval and Early Modern.) Two summers ago, my wife and I traveled to the U.K. for the first time and so I was reading up on history, the cathedrals in York and Durham, and other topics related to our train trips. Since I earned my MARC degree, research and writing on social history, underrepresented populations, and cross-cultural influences have gotten very interesting. (Also, the misleading term “Renaissance” has been largely replaced with “Early Modern”.) But even before I began college, Caroline Walker Bynum was shaking up the field. My favorite book about the history of Medieval Studies is Norman Cantor’s “Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century.” Yes, Tolkien is covered, also C.S. Lewis.

York Minster Chapter House (meeting room) detail
York Minster Chapter House (meeting room for the monks) detail

Shaun: Definitely. Similar to Steve, I still read history when I have the chance, and I still use the runic “futhark” system to keep personal notes. I recently had the opportunity to take a remarkable trip to see many of the places I studied: Lindisfarne priory, site of one of the first Viking raids on England; Þingvellir Plain, home of the Icelandic parliamentary Alþingr; and even the Orkney Islands, where I was able to tour the Neolithic burial site of Maeshowe, which Vikings broke into in the 10th century and etched runic graffiti into the walls! I’ve also been extremely fortunate to have been given opportunities to pursue my interest in History even in my current position as a librarian. I helped develop a digital, life-sized version of the Bayeux Tapestry for D. H. Hill Jr. Library’s Visualization Studio, as well as a digital version of the Maeshowe Tomb for the same location.

3. How did you end up a business librarian?

Shaun: Becoming a librarian honestly wasn’t something I even considered until fairly late in my academic life. When I began my History MA at NC State, I wandered into the Libraries and was fortunate enough to get a job working at the Special Collections Research Center. It was a turning point in my life, and as I learned more about libraries and about librarians, I realized: that’s what I wanted to do. To teach others how to find the things they need, to be a facilitator for remarkable research across the campus. This is an oversimplified version of what “Being a Librarian” means of course, but it was enough to turn me towards the profession.

I moved my way through the Libraries, going from student worker to hourly library technician, and began taking classes online through UNC Greensboro’s excellent program. Once I finished, I was fortunate enough to find a job as a librarian here at NC State, as the Business, Education, and Data Literacy Librarian.

The business side of that job title was initially quite daunting. Sure, I’d taken courses on Medieval business and coinage, but it wasn’t terribly helpful when figuring out how to use WRDS! Fortunately I was able to stand on the shoulders of giants; remarkable colleagues such as Jennifer Garrett and John Vickery at NC State were kind enough to start me off on the right foot when it came to business librarianship. And of course, Celia Ross’ excellent Making Sense of Business Reference was (and is) an invaluable companion.

Sainte Chapelle, Paris
Sainte Chapelle, Paris

Steve: In library school at UNC Chapel Hill, I had no plans to become a business librarian. I did take the “Business Information” class, taught by Diane Strauss who wrote the textbook, The Handbook of Business Information (since updated by BLINC members Rita Moss and David Ernsthausen, and in 2020 by SLA head Hal Kirkwood). I took the class because I knew nothing about business information. The class proved interesting — and challenging.

After a long job hunt, my first professional position ended up at my hometown branch of Davenport College of Business (now Davenport University). That was a wonderful first job, with my boss Sally Fagan enabling me to learn a lot. After 26 months there, I was able to leverage that experience to join the reference librarians at Perkins Library, Duke University as the Digital Services Librarian and business information specialist. Even though Duke has the Ford Library in its school of business, Perkins, as the main library, needed a librarian with some business research skills. I was not a liaison or bibliographer since there is no undergraduate business program at Duke.

Three years later, when I was getting married and moving to a different part of the state, I was lucky to land the business librarian position at UNC Greensboro. My work here began a few weeks after our honeymoon. Now I was an official subject specialist and liaison. A couple of years later, Susan Wolf Neilsen (then at NCSU) and I co-founded BLINC.

4. How does your degree and ongoing interest in Medieval Studies contribute to your work as a business librarian?

Steve: Medieval studies and business librarianship aren’t strange bedfellows! Both feature — and require — interdisciplinary thinking. For example: think about studying or just appreciating a Gothic cathedral. The building isn’t a unified work of art created by an individual, like most post-Medieval art objects. Instead, a cathedral was the creation of thousands of laborers usually over decades of time (sometimes centuries), at the direction of a number of usually anonymous master masons, commissioned by a bishop(s) or archbishop(s), with theological, political, economic (there may have been a newly acquired saint’s relic to drive a tourism industry and help fund the construction), and ritualistic goals, and filled with sculptural and staining glass artistic programs with their own artistic and educational goals (typically stories from the Bible, the local saint, and/or the source of the relics) from many artists and studios, often requiring centuries of work. So a cathedral takes more than art history to explain and fully appreciate. Solving an intellectual question concerning a cathedral often requires flexibility in how you approach the research.

Likewise business librarianship. Business is a suite of disciplines: management, marketing, finance, accounting, information systems, economics, etc. Some of those can be broken down into very different sub-units, such as human resource management and supply chain management. Research for these disciplines (and many of the sub-disciplines) usually requires different strategies and sources. Finance research is nothing like market research. Consumer market research requires different strategies and sources than business-to-business marketing. U.S. consumer marketing features different sources compared to international consumer marketing (also true of U.S. versus international B2B marketing). Some business classes and research projects require a mix of business disciplines and research strategies. Flexibility is also necessary to ask the necessary questions and solve problems as a business librarian.

Shaun: I would agree with Steve that business librarianship takes many of the same qualities required for historical research. For example, researching Scandinavian literature and the historicity of the literary claims requires a willingness to tackle a problem or question from as many angles as possible. When researching something like the Eyrbyggja Saga, written sometime in the 13th or 14th century, there are multiple levels to approach such a text. Who wrote the book, and what do we know about them? Why did they write it? How much of the manuscript survives, and how many versions of the manuscript? Moving into the text itself, we can ask what the “focalizer” is, using narrative theory or narratology; what is the focus of the text, and what does that tell us about the motivations of the writer(s)?

We can even look beyond the text itself, as we can compare the descriptions of towns and villages within the saga to actual geographic locations and settlements. Failing that, we can compare the text to other materials written in roughly the same period: do characters or major events appear in both sagas? Tackling literature from as many angles as possible can help historians better understand the context of that historical object. However, it is extraordinarily rare for a historian to feel 100% confident about any assertion. We can never completely know the past, but instead only paint a picture of what we think the past looked like, and constantly be on the alert for more information which might change that picture.

Þingvellir Plain in Iceland, site of the Rock of Laws and the Icelandic Parliament; the Alþingr. Each year the nobles of Iceland would gather in this place to wrangle over legal disputes and hear one-third of the law recited by the Lögsögumaður (Law-speaker)
Þingvellir Plain in Iceland, site of the Rock of Laws and the Icelandic Parliament; the Alþingr. Each year the nobles of Iceland would gather in this place to wrangle over legal disputes and hear one-third of the law recited by the Lögsögumaður (Law-speaker)

In the same manner, business researchers and librarians often find themselves trying to tackle a particularly difficult problem through as many angles as possible. Looking for market information, while seemingly straightforward, can often lead on an enormous chase through wildly different resources. Even if sources are found readily, they must be interrogated in much the same way as the historical sources: who wrote it, and what is their motivation? How did they draw their conclusions? We can and should compare one report to another, checking for discrepancies and drawing conclusions from the differences between reports or papers.

Perhaps most importantly, that critical thinking piece from historical research is one of the best tools in a business researcher or librarian’s toolkit. Taking a critical view of what we find during the research process encourages us to look beyond the face value, and to always be on the lookout for changing information. On the purely librarian side, constantly being willing to look for more information, to dig a little deeper, and to ask tough questions of what we do find are invaluable skills for critical librarianship.

5. Any advice for aspiring business librarians who don’t have a background in business or social sciences?

Shaun: Few business librarians have a business degree, myself included. My background, if you looked at it from a purely degree standpoint, would be firmly Medieval Studies and Scandinavian literature! However, I think that librarianship does not rest on our subject expertise, but is rather the skills and attitudes we bring to helping our patrons find the resources they need. While subject expertise can become a part of that, in my experience it’s more about being willing to learn, and being willing to explore resources with patrons. When applying for those business librarian positions, I would emphasize critical thinking skills, any educational expertise or experience you might have, your own personal philosophy of librarianship, and a plan to get up to speed on business resources. The subject expertise can come later, and organizations like BLINC and BRASS will be invaluable guides along the way.

Steve: Yes, as Shaun noted, most business librarians don’t have a business degree. Don’t let that stop you. Occasionally I help coach aspiring business librarians (or someone who by surprise is interviewing for a business librarian position, like me and the Davenport job) with their job interviews. What skills, experience, or coursework can you leverage? Can you tell a story of when you had to learn something new and then apply your new knowledge or skills? Can you illustrate how you aren’t afraid of numbers? Can you discuss your awareness of learning resources for business librarianship (BRASS, BLINC, BUSLIB-L, Census tutorials and guidebooks, the Entrepreneurship & Libraries 2020 materials)? Then you’ve got a good shot and you should go for it.

[Pictures from the authors]

This is exam week at UNCG, followed by an extra-long winter break, 55 days I think. Lots of time to prepare for my research class and update screencast videos? Or just to drink lots of hot chocolate and catch up on pleasure reading and napping (hmm flannel sheets). Hey, please don’t tell my boss I wrote that…

ELC 2020 co-chairs Sara Thynne, Morgan Ritchie-Baum, and I think we have wrapped all the post-conference work. Checks have been mailed to the five pitch competition contestants, courtesy of the NCLA Treasurer (who, um, is also my boss). The videos are up at the ELC YouTube channel and the slide decks are available.

Thank you to the speakers, pitch competition contestants, attendees, and our most excellent planning group.

The event seemed to go well. No tech problems! 58 attendees filled out our assessment survey. 74.1% reported they were “very satisfied” while 17.2% were “somewhat satisfied”. All but one of the remaining responders chose “neutral.”

The highest ranked short-talks program was the instruction track, featuring Sara Heimann (University of California, Irvine), Summer Krstevska (Wake Forest University), and Carey Toane and Sarah Shujah (both University of Toronto).

Based on the open-ended comments and other written feedback, the pitch competition was the event that excited the most people. One contestant told us that merely planning their pitch proved very helped to the library’s promotional strategies. Another contestant is writing up their experience for a Public Library Association article. Another is writing a press release to be shared with people and partners in their county. More about the pitch comp below.

The networking events featured a different mix than we see at BRASS discussions. Attendance included many generalist reference librarians at public libraries charged with economic development support and outreach. Slido responses on job titles reflect their presence:

“What is your job title?” [ELC 2020 networking/happy hour]

As did this word cloud:

“What is your biggest need in supporting entrepreneurship?” [ELC 2020 networking/happy hour]

With its mix of public and academic librarians, BLINC has long encouraged attendance at its free quarterly workshops of general reference and outreach libraries at public libraries. When the main workshop theme has been focused on the needs or interests of such libraries (example, supporting job hunting and training; social entrepreneurship; our annual combined workshop with NJLibsGrowBiz), BLINC is successful in attracting generalist public librarians like that. With the ELC, however, being online and free, we attracted such folks from across the U.S. plus a few from Canada.

The pitch comp proved to be the focal point of this engagement. While we did have some submissions from academic libraries, and almost chose one of those for our top five, the public library submissions were really strong and so the top five submissions were all public. But among the biggest fans of the pitch comp, according to survey comments and our ELC planning group wrap-up, were academic libraries. Most of these academics were very interested in the public libraries’ efforts to improve the lives of people in their communities. That’s evidence of the altruistic streak in business librarianship that many folks in library land aren’t aware of. Maybe evidence of our social justice emphasis too.

For academics, there were also practical lessons from observing how these five public libraries pitch their ideas, services, and values to their communities. Academics could apply those lessons when we try to promote ourselves to the (typically) thousands of students in our business schools, faculty members, research centers, campus incubators, etc.

It’s likely the ELC will host another pitch competition in 2021. This time we might first offer a workshop on how to craft effective pitches.

The ELC 2020 did less well attracting special librarians. We did have a few speaker submissions from special librarians. However, with SLA around plus its regional chapters and the Economic Development + Empowerment + Entrepreneurship (EDEE) Caucus, special librarians do have choices for professional development.

Other ideas for the ELC future from the planning group’s wrap-up discussion:

  • “Libraries, Entrepreneurship, & Cannabis”: how we are or can support this fascinating emerging industry.
  • “Entrepreneurship & Racial Equity”: a possible program reflecting the strong interest of entrepreneurship librarians in social justice (as evidenced in our discussion room polling as well as in past ELC planning group discussions). Maybe in partnership with the Urban Libraries Council, which had a representative at the ELC 2020; both entrepreneurship and racial equity are interests of the ULC.
  • Inviting entrepreneurs to discuss the positive impact of library services on their start-ups.

In general, the ELC will continue to create opportunities for a diverse mix of speakers to share their ideas and experiences, hopefully attracting an equally diverse mix of attendees. There might be a physical conference in 2022. We still have vendor money in the bank we hope to spend on big parties with free adult beverages.

Nancy Lovas is the entrepreneurship and business librarian at UNC Chapel Hill. Her best days include a walk outside and a strong cup of tea. Find her on Twitter: @entrebizlib

Steve Cramer is the business and entrepreneurship librarian at UNC Greensboro. On his best fall days, he listens to modern jazz, sips hot chocolate, and takes an evening stroll with his wife.

Way back in August, Nancy Lovas and Steve Cramer cross-posted our exchange Online All the Time? Planning for Research Instruction during COVID-19. We promised to be back with an update. Here we are!

Fall colors from North Carolina

What types of instruction did you end up doing this semester?

Nancy: The easier answer is what type of instruction I didn’t do this semester. I did NOT teach in person. I haven’t even set foot in my library; while I don’t miss the unpredictable HV/AC, I do miss my colleagues. The long answer is: 100% asynchronous instruction (the works: multiple video modules and an assessment quiz), combination of asynchronous and synchronous (online or video module and either class visit for group consultations or an open Zoom room for drop-in help during class time), and straight-up synchronous.

Steve: Ha, yes, same here, about every instructional type except teaching in person — but I have Zoomed into 100% in-person classes too. 

How did it go? What are your lessons learned?

Steve: Teaching a synchronous hybrid (online and in-person) class is certainly an interesting experience. After our August co-post, I blogged about running a workshop for a hybrid class. This was early in the semester and the instructor was new. Based on the students’ collaborative work and a summary from the instructor, however, the session seemed to go well. 

Nancy: Some things worked, and some things didn’t work. I taught more research sessions this semester, and had decidedly more consultations. I just calculated that in the last 5 months, I’ve had more consultation meetings & emails than I did my entire first year at Carolina! Unlike you, Steve, I did not Zoom in to any in-person classes (Carolina abruptly went online/remote again this semester). One thing I discovered that unsurprisingly doesn’t work so well is asynchronous materials and no assessment. Two examples are ahead. First, I created a fully asynchronous session for the online first-year honors seminar in sports economics. The professor gave students class time to watch a series of videos and completed a quiz embedded in the LibGuide. Students were required to complete the quiz for participation points, and both the instructor and I received copies of the student answers. (Analyzing this assessment data is part of an ever-growing post-semester to-do list!). For my usual first-year business writing classes, I similarly created asynchronous sessions, but without the quiz assessment. Though I can look at view stats for the video lectures, I can’t know if or how much content students absorbed, nor how they might have incorporated the research strategies into their assignments. A related lesson-learned is that, though synchronous online sessions take a whole lot of prep & creativity to be interactive, it’s my preferred way of doing things.

Steve: Yes, I prefer synchronous too, Nancy. Also more emotionally rewarding? Regarding working with in-person classes from home — I knew it would be a bit awkward but that format proved more challenging than I expected. I’m embedded in our MBA capstone class, in which the student teams do consulting for local businesses and nonprofits. This semester, one section is synchronous online while the other meets on campus. Both are once-a-week evening classes. For the Thursday night on-campus class, I “visit” class on their big screen. To prevent feedback, we use the overhead microphone with all the students muted in Zoom on their laptops. So I can see their masked faces but don’t get the Zoom yellow-box indication of who is speaking. Sometimes I can’t tell who is responding to me! I need to figure out which team project is being discussed, and then I can find the teammates on screen and see who seems to have some face muscles moving behind their mask. But sometimes I have to ask “Chris, was that you”? Having the on-campus students chat within breakout rooms doesn’t make sense, so I can’t join them in team discussions. Well, you could argue that those complications and limitations are my fault for not visiting this class in person on Thursday nights. Yes, I have felt guilty about that sometimes.

Any ideas how next semester might look?

Nancy: I’m expecting to be working remotely again, but as of November 10th there has been no official decision announced. Since our semester doesn’t start til January 19th, I may volunteer for some on-site work during the extended break. I’m planning to reuse a lot of the instruction materials I created this fall. I expect to continue offering asynchronous materials for the first-year business writing classes, so I want to add an assessment piece. Otherwise, I have several successful examples of synchronous online sessions to point to when coordinating library instruction with faculty. I will make it worth the class time! As well, I want to continue to make my online teaching more inclusive, using many of the strategies & techniques I outlined with my co-presenters at the NC LIVE Inclusive Online Teaching webinar (slides).

Steve: The plan is for the UNCG liaisons to work from home next semester too. One change: I will be teaching my entrepreneurship research class online (synchronous) for the first time. Alas, I will really miss the camaraderie this class usually develops between the students, who tend to be diverse in ages, majors, and motivations for taking the class. In spring 2020 (I only teach this class in spring semesters), my small number of students had time to get to know each other before the pandemic forced us into WebEx sessions. Therefore for spring 2021, community building will be a top goal. The teaching commentaries from the Chronicle of Higher Education and other sources have emphasized the need to humanize online classes and display empathy. In addition to reducing my workload expectations (perhaps by converting some assignments to extra credit, and/or just dropping some assignments), I will need to think about online classroom engagement strategies beyond active learning with research strategies and sources.

Nancy: Steve, sounds like you could check out the slides from our NC LIVE webinar for some ideas! And perhaps engagement strategies could be the topic of our next post…