Some librarians collect rare books. Others collect anime action figures, or cats. I collect interesting business reference questions. But I don’t bother to save the common, easy, or otherwise uninteresting ones (what fun would that be?)
Do other liaisons do this too?
I started collecting questions when I took over responsibility for our Reference Intern program. The interns receive weekly one-hour training sessions on various subjects, including business: usually several sessions on the basics of company and industry research in their first semester, and a couple on market research in their second. After discussing some of the basic concepts and playing with the core sources, the interns get short, focused exercise questions like “Who is the ultimate parent of Ben & Jerry’s?” and “How many folks 65 or older live in Raleigh?”. But then we end the session by discussing some real questions like:
Hi, Steve. Our MKT 429 group needs more information on the market analysis, competitor analysis, and the environmental analysis within our company’s industry. Our company is Young Rembrandts (E3 Academics), a franchise. It is an academic enrichment program for preschoolers through 5th grade.
The collected questions also proved useful when teaching LIS classes, and BLINC members have brought in questions for discussions at workshops. In all these situations we discussed reference interviewing aspects as well as which sources and strategies might help. I’ve retired from coordinating the interns, but I still collect the interesting questions.
The most recent one I saved was emailed to me in late April:
I am doing a research project on small artisan furniture companies from Latin America who are now selling their products in the N.C. Furniture Market [in High Point]. I am looking at the setup of the companies, logistics, globalization, commodity chains, space-shrinking technologies, etc. My first question is where is a good place to start looking for statistics? Second, what journals do you recommend searching in? I would appreciate any input on where and what resources are available. Thank you.
Lovely, eh? I suggested a few possible searches in the trade literature (not that much came up) and the possibility of conducting interviews in High Point. He never responded to my attempt to learn more about his project, even what class it was for. And so it often goes with the really hard or even unanswerable questions.
Laura Berdisha & Corey Seemana from the Kresge Business Administration Library at the University of Michigan wrote a little about this last year in Public Services Quarterly:
Invariably, the questions that we receive during MAP [Multidisciplinary Action Program] season are some of the most complicated ones we receive all year…some of the questions that the teams pose have no real answers, and the way that we communicate this to the team can sometimes lead to dissatisfaction. (page 221)
Absolutely! Thanks for sharing, Laura and Corey. Sometimes your friendly neighborhood business librarian can save the day (or the young rembrandts); other times the Green Goblin gets away with his stolen imported artisan furniture.
So here’s yet another skill business librarians need: how to manage expectations for the unanswerable questions. We can’t all get away with the awesome technique of Dilbert’s pointy-haired manager. There might be an article or presentation in here somewhere for a couple of enterprising librarians…