What Do Business Patrons Want? Learning from our Users


presented by the
BRASS Business Reference Services Discussion Group


Robin Bergart
Academic Liaison Librarian
University of Guelph

We recently completed a review of our current business database subscriptions at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. * The University of Guelph is mid-sized research-intensive university. There is no separate business school; however, BCOMM and MBA degrees in Hospitality & Tourism Management and Agribusiness are offered. Though our setting may be unique, our collection challenges are not. We are faced with budget limitations and the need to continuously monitor the use and value of our collections, particularly when it comes to the costly annual expense of business databases.

Business databases are particularly challenging to select!

Selecting business databases presents special difficulties. In many cases, databases are tailored for use in corporate environments, which means they are priced out of range for academic libraries, they contain only very specialized information or data, or they are not designed for easy use by a student population. In our experience, students will not return to a database that does not consistently provide useful information. So, for example, if an industry database provides only selected industry information and the student does not find the exact industry she is studying, she is unlikely to try that database again in the future. After all, Google always returns some information, even if it may be dubious.

As we all know, the business database market is a going concern. New databases seem to be emerging all time. Unlike other university disciplines whose core literature is relatively more fixed, business information is an exploding industry. No single one, three, or even 15 business databases will meet the needs of all academic business users. It is difficult to compare and select the best industry, market research, or company financials database, much less keep abreast of new products that are constantly being released.

So what do our users really want?

We tried a multi-pronged approach to determine a) what are users were actually using b) what they felt was missing from our database collection c) what they would use if we offered it. We informally interviewed faculty and graduate students, and asked faculty who are department library representatives to survey their colleagues. One representative took the time to ask his colleagues about their frequency of use for each business database, and whether they used them primarily for research or for teaching. We also took a look at usage statistics, though these numbers do not tell a complete story. We did not survey undergraduate students because, in our experience, they do not use any databases without guidance and indeed, insistence on the part of their professor.

Our efforts provided a partial picture of what our user community currently uses and wants. We learned, for example, that many of our users are simply unaware of many of databases we offer. “I wish I had known about that last year!” was a common refrain. We were skeptical of this sentiment (would they really have used the databases had they known about them?), but did take note that a resource awareness campaign was in order. Many graduate students expressed a need for a greater global perspective. They were not satisfied with information strictly from or about North American sources. We were quite surprised to learn that both faculty and graduate students were at least as concerned about the cost of the databases as we were in the library (though all resources are purchased solely from the library’s budget). Several students expressed that they were willing to take the extra time to cobble information from several free sources to avoid purchasing an expensive aggregating database.

Lessons learned

  • Collection development for business really is unique! There is no set of core databases as there are for history, biology, or English literature. Every library must assess its users’ particular needs and base purchase decisions on these needs. Many databases will be necessary to address these needs as there is no one-stop-shopping when it comes to business information.
  • It’s not good enough to subscribe to fabulous databases. Getting these tools into the users’ hands is the key. This requires marketing your resources, and teaching users about their strengths and limitations, and how to use them effectively.
  • The value of the information contained in a given database may be the primary reason to purchase it, but cannot be the only reason. It is just as important to consider search functionality and general usability, scope and depth of content, archiving, exporting features, and, of course, cost.
  • Our investigation into user needs did not originate as a direct response to user frustration, need, dissatisfaction, etc. but was a library initiative. Had our users prompted our review we might have established a more fruitful dialogue about library resources with them.

Future work

After learning that our efforts to promote the business databases were not wholly successful, we decided to go to the experts: the university’s Department of Marketing & Consumer Studies. We managed to convince a professor of an undergraduate Research Methods class to use the library and its resources as the subject of study for a marketing assignment. In the near future, we hope to hear our undergraduates’ views of our databases as well as their ideas for promoting them. This project will conclude in April 2005.

*Robin Bergart and M.J. D’Elia are the liaison librarians responsible for the business and economics collection at the University of Guelph. We collaborated on all the initiatives discussed above.

Disclaimer: This publication has been placed on the web for the convenience of BRASS members. Information and links may not be updated. Originally posted 5 April 2005.

bullet What Do Business Patrons Want? Learning from our Users
Business Reference Services Discussion Group, ALA Midwinter Conference, January 16, 2005