Survival Lessons for Libraries: Corporate Libraries-A Soft Analysis and a Warning: When a Library Closes or Suffers Drastic Reductions, Is It Suicide or Murder? and What Happens to the Survivors? Our Series Continues with Case Studies of Corporate Library Reductions and Closures and What You Can Do to Minimize Your Chances of Becoming a Victim

Article excerpt


When the internet as a popular research tool began affecting the lives of librarians and information professionals and their clients, accountability for contributing to the mission (i.e., bottom line) of one's parent organization --whether a for-profit or not-for-profit--became the most critical driver behind the survival of corporate libraries. If corporate library managers had not already realized this, they now found themselves confronted with a clear mandate: Contribute demonstrably to your organization's success or risk becoming marginalized and an easy answer to the question, "Where can we cut costs?"

Increasingly during the past 5 to 10 years and especially in this recent volatile period across major segments of the financial services industry, library managers have either been asked to find or have proactively sought ways to make their services integral to their organization's survival. We are deliberately not characterizing this as "finding ways to save their libraries," but rather finding ways to integrate their services and skills with essential organizational functions. Sometimes these efforts are the same, but be prepared to think of them as very different strategies.

Views vary widely about the causes of downsizing and closures of corporate libraries. Corporate libraries and librarians have been affected even in environments with a strong tradition of library support. But as traditional library services are vanishing so are traditional practitioners. As we've said before, what should alarm us is that more companies don't recognize the utility of their libraries during times of downturn. Too often, the library is seen as a liability. Whether as a result of consolidation, outsourcing, off-shoring, economic realities, or just plain naivete about the web's capabilities, there is no question that the closure of many corporate libraries and attendant job losses are having an effect, not only on corporate librarians but on their organizations as well (Matarazzo & Pearlstein, 2007).

In today's tumultuous environment, self-defense is the best offense if you want to survive. With its focus on case studies in different types of organizations, this series is an attempt to glean from library reduction and closure experiences any lessons that might help others take steps to ensure that they are in sync with their organization's most fundamental information needs. And that may mean adapting to new ways to use our skills. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions. Are the librarian's skills valued enough in these organizations so that even though the library is closed or reduced, their skills can be repurposed elsewhere to support good decision making? In other words, can the librarian survive even if the library does not?

In his recent special report "Prospects for Specialized Libraries: Comments from Colleagues," Guy St. Clair (2008) identifies a "new working environment managed by information professionals who see themselves as knowledge thought leaders providing information, knowledge, and strategic learning support for non-library affiliated knowledge-centric organizations, businesses, or other types of research-focused environments." By highlighting skills such as "research asset management" or "knowledge asset management," St. Clair reinforces the idea that "it is imperative for us to describe to non-LIS managers and enterprise leaders how our skill set relates to the organization's larger mission. (1)

How do decision makers in organizations that have significantly downsized or outright closed their libraries continue to get the information they need to make good decisions? This constitutes a directly related issue, the exploration of which proves much more challenging to research. Unfortunately, there is not much research done on what, if anything, happens to an organization when their library is reduced or closed. We can, however, draw on findings from research done recently on the perceived value a specialized library brings to decision makers in an organization, especially those in upper-echelon positions. …