Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Information Search Patterns of Business Communities

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Information Search Patterns of Business Communities

Article excerpt

A Comparison Between Small and Medium-sized Businesses

To identify the information search patterns of business communities, two surveys were conducted, one aimed at small businesses and the other at medium-sized businesses. Use of different information sources, especially the public library, for business purposes were examined. Results show that businesses obtain information more through informal sources than formal ones. The customer is the most important business information source. Although less than 50 percent of the businesses surveyed reported using public libraries for business purposes in the previous year, the majority of those who did use the library sought help from library staff. Public libraries are more important for small businesses, especially those in their early stages of development, than for medium-sized businesses.

Access to accurate and up-to-date information is very important to the operation of a successful business in today's competitive economic environment. Public libraries have a mandate to serve the business community, just as they do other sectors of society. To serve the business community effectively, libraries need to know how business people search for information and what information sources they use. More specifically, how does the private sector use public libraries, and how important are the library's services to business operations? Will businesses of different sizes have different information search patterns? Unfortunately, an extensive literature search revealed that very few studies have been conducted to answer these questions. In an attempt to fill this information void, two surveys were conducted: one aimed at small businesses, the other at medium-sized businesses.

These two surveys are actually pilots for a larger project sponsored by the International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC). The overall objective of the IDRC project is to develop and test a particular mathematical modelling approach that can be used to measure quantitatively the impact of information on business development. The public library is one of the information sources whose impact on business development is being investigated. In both of these pilot surveys, the use of the public library for business purposes was measured. A direct comparison of the two sets of results revealed both similarities and differences in the information search patterns of small and medium-sized businesses.

Literature Review

An extensive literature search revealed numerous articles on public library service to business. However, most of this literature is descriptive rather than analytical.[1] There are very few studies that evaluate how the business community searches for information, how it uses public libraries, and how useful libraries are to business operations.

Still, there are some well-conducted studies worth reviewing here. A Capital Planning Information study investigated the provision and use of information by small manufacturing firms.[2] They discovered some special information needs of small businesses and recommended the establishment of "business information officers" in public library systems to seek out small business users. Others disagreed with the report's recommendation and argued that it was unnecessary for the commercial and business departments of libraries to offer a special service to small firms, since their needs were remarkably similar to large ones.[3] However, there are no comparative studies that document that small and large businesses have similar information needs.

A study sponsored by the British Library reported on library and information services to business and industry, specifically on the levels of service, related costs, and charging systems.[4] Both public library users and nonusers were studied to obtain information on the extent to which they used business information resources and the extent to which they already paid for them. …

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