Having a formal library was never a priority for many businesses. If nothing else, it was seen as a troubling necessity or a cost of doing business. Today, with increasing digitization and greater mobility, many corporate libraries have been dismantled and the space repurposed.
Yet one part of the library function has become more valuable than ever, and that’s the librarian. Every business sector now competes in a knowledge-driven, digital economy, which means every business can benefit from the specialized skills and experience of a competent librarian.
The business press does not communicate the value of library and information science skills. Business schools are better at teaching information technology than information services. Industries that rely on research and development, like pharmaceuticals, may have librarians. Otherwise, most general business research on markets, competitors, current events and so forth has become a Google-driven, do-it-yourself function.
I believe that needs to change, and here’s a few reasons why:
Greater exposure to false and inaccurate information
Thanks to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, eyes have been opened to the reality of fake news, and how easily end users are satisfied when they do their own internet research. Accuracy, trustworthiness and timeliness are dismissed in favor of speed and ease.
Librarians identify and discern the most reliable, impartial information resources. They’ve been trained to evaluate and filter everything, and direct users to the most reliable, appropriate options. In a world where basing decisions on faulty information is not just embarrassing but also dangerous, librarians are best situated to be the first line of defense.
Risks and liabilities related to employee internet use
Most employees rely on the internet to do their work, opening the door to a variety of potential risks and liabilities. While technology can safeguard against some threats like viruses, it cannot protect against employee decisions and use of content.
Copyright infringement, for example, is a growing problem, as many people are unaware of the restrictions of using content that seems to be freely available. Tasks like research projects, which lead people from site to site, are more likely to facilitate inappropriate surfing and time-wasting activities. Employees can inadvertently download malware by clicking a link that appears to be legitimate. Perhaps the greatest risk comes from decisions aided by erroneous or outdated information, which could lead to anything from lost business opportunities to legal liability.
Need to manage information overload through curation, organization and summary
Content and data stores are rapidly progressing from megabytes to gigabytes to terabytes and beyond. Companies are starting to recognize the value and need for curating and organizing the most relevant digital information collections and resources. Employees are wasting needless hours when the right combination of sophisticated technology and professional information services can ease the burden. With both general knowledge and relevant specialized knowledge, experienced librarians can make practical and economical sense of any subject matter.
Calculating ROI for a corporate librarian
Time savings of other employees may be the biggest and most quantifiable advantage of having a librarian. For anything other than simple requirements, librarians can save anywhere from a few to several hours on a given information need, especially when requests are streamlined and managed by technology.
Other ROI benefits of librarians include:
- Risk reduction on everything from copyright infringement to bad decisions aided by erroneous information, decreased research and development expenses, increased business and revenue opportunities, productivity gains and stress reduction.
- Experienced librarians are an invaluable resource for developing and managing budgets that support the organization’s financial goals and objectives. They know how and where to focus information services on business needs, how to assess and negotiate vendor contracts and how to deploy information tools and technology for optimal results.
- Librarians know how to organize, integrate and present digital content of all kinds.
- Librarians improve user productivity and satisfaction through mentoring, training and support.
And by delivering the most reliable and relevant information, managers and employees are empowered to make timely, sound decisions.
Cost-effective allocation of human capital
Librarians are one of the most cost-effective resources for research and reference work. I wonder why more business leaders aren’t questioning the practice of having busy, high-income earners sorting through SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) when less costly information professionals can do a much better job, with greater proficiency and for less time and money?
I especially wonder this when virtual, “on-demand” options like our own Library as a Service® are available. It’s a flexible way to get access to experienced librarians without having to add headcount. Employees can submit any information request to LibDesk, our research system, using the company intranet or email. LibDesk routes and tracks all requests, returning results from the most reliable, up-to-date sources. The system captures all requests and activities for analytics, archiving and knowledge management purposes.
Intellectual capital and employee productivity are among the most important and valuable assets of any business. As knowledge and information stewards, librarians can help you leverage and maximize both.
That is why your business needs a librarian.