Libraries and Competition: Intelligence for Management and Strategy

By Correia, Cynthia Cheng | Information Outlook, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Libraries and Competition: Intelligence for Management and Strategy


Correia, Cynthia Cheng, Information Outlook


Among library and information science professionals, competitive intelligence (CI) and market intelligence (MI) are primarily considered processes and activities applicable to operating businesses. Moreover, there is the common belief that intelligence is only significant to LIS professionals who are practicing in corporate information or intelligence settings, or who work in the information and content industry.

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Intelligence, however, is a vital tool that may be applied beyond standard commercial environments and applications. In fact, all organizations--as well as departments and units--encounter competition, whether it is traditional or untraditional, direct or indirect. In the public and academic environments, libraries and not-for-profit organizations face competition (however friendly) for funding and support. Libraries and information centers within commercial organizations aren't exempt, as they regularly defend their value, budgets, and resources among other departments and information or knowledge-related tools that compete for the attention--and the budget--of users and decision-makers.

LIS: Competition Heats Up

Competitive pressures for libraries and information centers have increased significantly over the past two decades. We have witnessed considerable shifts in our profession, both in our practices and in perceptions regarding our services. These shifts, which drive subsequent changes in the practices, products, and services offered by LIS professionals, are also evident in the information and content industry.

The expansion of the Web; the resulting redefinition of information and content presentation, access, and delivery; the increasing pace of communication and information exchange, innovation, globalization; and other factors have increased pressure on information services. For some services, this impact has meant increased user expectations, faster delivery times, funding and budgetary pressures, and the need to reconsider services and service models. For some, the situation has been more severe, commoditizing information services and signifying considerable cutbacks in internal services, even the closure of information centers. Many of us can look back over the past decades and see that the signs of change--and that cause and effect--are evident.

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Even given the experiences of libraries and information centers over the past decade, some LIS professionals continue to be surprised by negative events and developments that could have been identified or anticipated. Intelligence provides us the process, frameworks, tools, and perspectives that can help us recognize likely developments; observe signals for specific changes; better understand our users, suppliers, opportunities, threats, and more. For example, LIS managers in commercial sectors have observed tremendous shifts in management needs; user behavior, perceptions, and expectations; vendor focus on designing products for end users; and increased emphasis on demonstrating value within their organizations or to shareholders.

Well-prepared and savvy LIS managers recognized these shifts earlier, better understood their significance towards risks and opportunities, and applied the resulting intelligence toward adjusting their strategies. They developed higher-value products and services and established ways to more deeply support their organizations' management and decision needs. Some of these solutions went well beyond traditional and familiar services. While many of their LIS peers had been focused on enhancing their internal marketing efforts, these managers understood that their issues went beyond marketing and involved fundamental issues of function and identity.

Intelligence: Beyond the Competition

Today, competition in our profession and related industries tends to be more clearly defined and threats tend to be greater. …

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