Business: Starting Points

“In the competitive business world, whoever is first to hold key information has the advantage of being more successful” (LiLi, 2014, 3).

From huge, international corporations to small, local nonprofits, business plays a part in a wide range of ventures and settings. According to Abels and others (2008, 1),

“information on industries, the companies within these industries, and the products and services offered by these companies are central components of business information”.

There are many ways that business information can be organized. Celia Ross (2013) organizes business information into four core categories including company information, industry information, investing/financial information, and consumer information/business statistics.


Read Gil, Esther (2014). Business Research. In P. Keeran & M. Levine-Clark, Research within the Disciplines: Foundations for Reference and Library Instruction. Rowman & Littlefield. (a few pages may be missing). This chapter provides an excellent introduction to business research.

The Google and Wikipedia Debate

When exploring the business, it's easy to begin with Google and Wikipedia. Sometimes this approach is very effective, so don't feel like you're not doing your "librarian duties" by using these common tools. However, keep in mind that this approach is likely to only provide background information. If your client is looking for depth or an answer to a specific question, you'll need to go beyond these popular online tools.

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Conduct a general Google search for a specific topic of interest related to this course such as advertising, bankruptcy, stock options, or liability insurance. Examine the first ten links. What kinds of websites appear? What is their authority related to this topic? Are they likely to be accurate and timely? Why or why not? What seems to be missing? What are the pros and cons to using search engines for specialized information in this area?

Many Wikipedia articles are maintained by groups of scholars in particular areas while others are developed by hobbyists. Unfortunately, there's no way to distinguish one from another so careful article evaluation is essential.

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Do a Wikipedia search for one of the major disciplines such as accounting, taxation, finance, entrepreneurship, human resources management, or marketing. Do some fact checking. Check a few of references (notes) and the external/further reading sources. Are these authoritative? Are they reliable sources?

Within Wikipedia, you'll find some useful discipline-specific starting points. These portals provide an excellent introduction to the disciplines. While they may not provide the depth necessary to answer a library user's question, these pages can be very useful in providing background information and a place to start an exploration. Check out the Business and Economics Portal.

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Explore Wikipedia's Business and Economics Portal.

The Sub-disciplines within Business

In order to understand information seekers and their needs, it's essential to have a sense for the body of knowledge involved. Although you can't possibly be an expert in every discipline, you at least need to be aware of the areas of study and their applications.

Businesses are organizations involved in the trade of goods and/or services. The discipline of business involves the study of these organizations and their practices. Business is often categorized as a social science.

While some professional organizations focus on a particular discipline, others are more closely allied with their business classification such as the American Banker's Association.

taxAccounting and Taxation

Accounting involves measuring the economic activities of an individual or organization and conveying this information in a usable way. Auditing, financial accounting, management accounting, and taxation are subfields.

Professional associations include American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, American Society of Women Accountants (ASWA), International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), National Association of Black Accountants, The Professional Accounting Society of America (PASA), Institute of Management Accountants, and the Institute for Professionals in Taxation.

Business Administration

Business administration is the process of managing the operations and decision making of a business or organization.

Business Ethics

Business ethics examines ethical principles and practices within a business setting.

Business Infomatics

Business informatics applies information systems and technology to business problems.

lawBusiness Law

Business law is a branch of civil law that applies law to the rights, relationships, and conduct of people in business environments.

Entrepreneurship and Small Business

Entrepreneurship is the process of starting and operating a business.

Professional associations include Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)


Finance deals with the allocation of assets and liabilities over time.

Professional associations include American Academy of Financial Management, American Bankers Association, The American Finance Association (AFA), Association for Financial Professionals, Inc. (AFP), National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

Human Resources Management & Industrial Relations

Human resources management involves management of people within organizations. Industrial relations studies the relationship between the employer and the employee.

Professional associations include The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), National Human Resources Association (NHRA), Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA), and The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

International Trade

International trade is the exchange of goods and services across international borders.


Management involves coordinating the efforts of people within a business. The area of management overlaps many different disciplines. It includes strategic planning, human resources, and allied areas.

Professional associations include American Management Association, American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS), Academy of International Business, DECA, Project Management Institute, International Facility Management Association.

Specialized area of healthcare management include American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM), The Professional Association of Health Care Office Management


Marketing involves communicating the value of a product or service to a potential consumer with the purpose of promoting or selling the product or service.

Professional associations include the American Marketing Association, The National Association of Sales Professionals (NASP), Sales & Marketing Executives International (SMEI), and Social Media Club.

Risk Management and Insurance

Risk management involves identifying, assessing and prioritizing risk. Insurance is the transfer of risk of loss from one entity to another in exchange or payment.

Professional associations include American Academy of Actuarie, Risk and Insurance Management Society, Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America

cardRelated Disciplines

Many disciplines are closely related to business. Professional associations include the American Economic Association.

Economics involves the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. Those interested this area study how nations, governments, companies, and individuals make choices about how they allocate resources to satisfy their wants and needs.

“The economy is constantly monitored by companies and industry representatives… businesses need to know about current and expected economic conditions as they plan their strategies for managing their activities. Economic conditions affect the type of market they face, their ability to find staff and supplies, their revenues and profits, and their ability to grow and prosper. Some information on economic conditions is of use in particular situations. For example, a property management company might use a price index in constructing a rental contracts, or a procurement specialist might use a different price index in crafting a long-term purchasing contract.

More broadly, people use economic indicators to better understand or predict the state of the economy, make personal economic decisions, such as whether to invest in a particular sector of the economy, make business decisions, such as entering a new market, evaluate the effectiveness of government economic policies, and make comparisons across nations or regions” (Abels, et.al., 4).

Read Cole, Arthur & Kipp, Laurence J. (2009). Economics literature. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, 3rd Edition. Taylor and Francis.

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Spend some time reviewing the Library of Congress Classification Outline. Business is not a main class. In what areas will you find business information? Unlike other disciplines, business topics can be found through the system. Think about the sub-disciplines located within each major class. Although think about how disciplines are combined such as business ethics and business infomatics.

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Professional associations are a great place to locate information related to the professionalism of a discipline. What types of information can you gather from a professional association website? How might it be helpful for a student considering a career in this field? How can a professional association website be used to identify issues in the field? What types of publications are produced by professional organizations? What grey literature such as programs, pamphlets, and other resources are available?

Business Classifications

boxA business is an organization involved with the trade of goods and/or services with consumers. Businesses are found across the economy.

Businesses can be classified into different areas.

Agriculture and mining businesses produce raw materials used by others to create goods and services.

Financial businesses include banks and other companies involved with investment and management of capital.

Information businesses are involved with intellectual property.

Manufacturers produce products from raw materials.

Real estate businesses develop, build, rent, and sell properties including land, residences, and other buildings. Associations include Institute of Real Estate Management.

Distributors and retailers act connect manufacturers with consumers.

Service businesses provide intangible goods or services for a charge.

Transportation businesses deliver goods and individuals to their destination for a fee.

Utilities produce public services such as electricity and sewage treatment under government supervision.

Industry Codes

One of the most common requests related to business information focuses on researching industries and companies.

NAICS and SIC Codes

The first step in industry research is locating the SIC and/or NAICS code.

The Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code is identified by the Office of Management and Budget. According to their website, it’s “the statistical classification standard underlying all establishment-based Federal economic statistics classified by industry.” The broad divisions include:

Within each division are more specific subcategories and descriptions.

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Spend some time exploring the SIC System Search at OSHA. Check out the list and manual.

The North American Industry Classification Systems (NAICS) was designed to replace SIC, but many agencies still use SIC. This system divides industries into sectors and contains many more categories than SIC.

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Compare the SIC categories to the NAICS sectors.

Forms of Ownership

In order to assist information seekers, it may be useful to understand business ownership status.

Sole proprietorship. A sole proprietorship is owned by one person who operate the business for their own benefit. This person is liable for all obligations of the business and all assets are owned by this person.

Partnership. A partnership is a business owned by two or more people jointly. Each partner is liable for the debts or the company.

Corporation. The owners of a corporation have limited liability. The business is kept separate from the individual. Corporations may be government-owned or privately-owned. They can be for-profit or not-for-profit. Shareholders elect a board of directors who manage the business.

Cooperative. Like a corporation, the owners of a cooperative have limited liability. It may be for-profit or not-for-profit. It's members rather than shareholders make decisions related to the cooperative.


Types of Business Information

Business information often revolves around people, product, company, and industry information.

People Information

From information about employees to details about consumers of particular products, biographical information can provide answers to a wide range of inquiries. In most cases, biographical information needs focus on facts such as contact information or demographic data. However in some cases information seekers need a complete biographical sketch or even in-depth information about an employee’s background.

bikesProduct Information

Both company representatives and individual consumers make use of product information.

“Companies use product information when they are: launching a new product; expanding a product line; attempting to expand their market; or developing a complementary product. Consumers often seek product information such as product ratings, product descriptions, and comparable prices before purchasing a product” (Abels, et. al., 2008, 2).

Company Information

Eileen Abels and others (2008, 2) point out that

“underlying information needs or tasks that are related to company research may be viewed from both a business and a consumer perspective. The tasks associated with company research may be complex or simple; continuous, long term or short term; and have no tangible outcome or a specific outcome. The following tasks involving company research are conducted by organizations with a specific outcome: Negotiating contracts (union); identifying merger/acquisitions candidates; expanding markets (new categories of customers); identifying supplies; identifying candidates for an executive search; fund-raising efforts; benchmarking; implementing new policies; and planning to enter a new market. Individuals, such as consumers and students, conduct company research when they are: seeking employment; considering investment opportunities; starting a new business; or writing a paper, book, or article.”

Read Ross, Celia (2013). Company research. In C. Ross, Making Sense of Business Reference: A Guide for Librarians and Research Professionals. ALA Editions.

Industry Information

According to Abels and others (2008, 1-2),

“industry information is a core business need in that it provides a context for understanding company and product information and a natural way of organizing economy-wide information. Industry structure is key to competitive analysis and may be used by companies seeking to evaluate their own performance, expand their markets, or identify areas for specialization. Industry information is also used by financial analysts and by persons making their own decisions about investments. Students and persons considering job changes look to industry trends in making decisions about promising career opportunities.”

Read Ross, Celia (2013). Industry research. In C. Ross, Making Sense of Business Reference: A Guide for Librarians and Research Professionals. ALA Editions.

The Origin of Business Information

Business information is generated many different ways.

Internal Information Sources

In some cases, information is generated within the internal operations of an organizations. For instance, accounting information is created by and for the organization. Stocks of raw materials and finished goods, production statistics, sales estimates, and staff turnover would also be generated internally. Management information systems (MIS) within an organization would normally handle this type of information. Employees would be another source of information. Their expertise may be useful to accessing information about their company. Most of this information would not be available outside the company unless it is reported as part of a state or national requirement (Abels, 2008).

External Information Sources

Many of the sources of information used to address business-related questions is generated outside an organization. News sources, scholars, government agencies, and investment services all generate data. This is information may be published in journals, market research reports, databases, or news sources (Abels, 2008). Membership organizations such as associations, chambers of commerce, unions, research centers, and government agencies generate useful business information.

Geographical Coverage of Business Information

Business information is often broken down into international, national, regional, and local information. While those who are interested in relocating abroad may seek international information, a business person thinking about expanding their business may be exploring local or regional options.

cupInternational Information

Those facing competition from foreign companies or thinking about marketing products abroad will be interested in international information. Trade and tariffs, government stability, economic climate, and other indicators would all be things to consider. In some cases, information is focused on a particular country, while in others a group of countries may be connected. For instance, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the World Bank, and others each have member organizations. In some cases, information is organized by region such as Latin America, or the Middle East. The United States State Department is a good place to look for information about travel and international relationships. Those interested in exports should explore federal agencies such as the Commerce Department and the Treasury.

International business can take many forms from small business exports to multinational corporate activities. To make monetary decisions, businesses need to gather and analyze data. According to Gil and Reyes (2012, 13),

“whatever the business activity involved, it requires a system where the seller or service provided will receive the appropriate value from what it sells to the buyer. It also requires a structure that enables a business to make any investments it needs so as to export or sell a product, increase the size of its manufacturing facility, extend its service, locate a branch of its business in another country. The international monetary system and the international and domestic financial markets provide the foundations that allow these types of business endeavors to take place.”

Read Ross, Celia (2013). International Business. In C. Ross, Making Sense of Business Reference: A Guide for Librarians and Research Professionals. ALA Editions.

National Information

In the United States, government sources are an excellent place to seek out national information. Keep in mind that the United States has territories to consider such as Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands.

Regional Information

Some information is specifically connected to a particular area such as the coastal regions or a particular economic corridor. These regions may vary depending on the type of organizations involved. For instance, insurance companies are interested in tornado alley and hurricane regions. Farmer and ranchers may focus on high desert versus midwest locations.

State Information

Government sources are often used when accessing state information. In many cases, laws and regulations are specific to individual states. Schools, parks, banks, utilities, and other organizations may connected with state agencies.

Local Information

Counties, cities, and neighborhoods may all be sources of information. Keep in mind that some geographic locations have unique approaches to local thinking such as the parishes of Louisiana or the metro areas of the northeast. In addition, information is often separated into rural and urban statistics.

Issues in Business Information

Librarians in many different information settings are faced with business-related information questions. While some are full-time business or corporate librarians, most answer these questions as part of their role as an academic, school, public, or special librarian. Each situation comes with its distinct challenges.

Currency of Information

When dealing with business information, timeliness can play an important role. In some cases, information seekers may be interested in the vary latest information, while in others they’re seeking historical perspectives. Statistical time series can be very useful in visualizing trends and identifying patterns.

According to Moss (2012, 3),

“accurate, timely business information is vital. Executives contemplating a plant relocation, for example, must consider such factors as corporate income tax rates, availability of and average weekly wages of workers, cost of living, climate, and community resources before making their decision. A marketing department will want to learn all it can about the economic and social characteristics of specific regions of the country so that it can decide how to boost sales or where best to launch a new product. Proprietors of new businesses may want to find out what kinds of financial assistance are available from government agencies and prospective investors, and to learn all they can about the recent successes (or failures) of related companies. Each of these situations illustrates the importance of information in business decision making, planning, and problem solving. As it has become easier, with the advent of the Internet, to find information, questions asked of researchers and librarians have become more complex and users have become more demanding”.

Information Evaluation

Moss (2012, 3) notes that

“librarians and researchers seeking business information are confronted with an overwhelming number of books, periodicals, newspapers, government documents, databases, and web sources from which to choose. Examination of some of these sources will reveal that their quality varies considerably; some are superb, others are marginal at best. To succeed, the librarian or researcher must decide not only where to go for the desired information but also how to select the best sources from the many available”.

Business Librarianship

Tim Wales (2014, 2) noted that before becoming a business librarian he'd held positions in other subject disciplines. He noted that the following distinct characteristics of business librarianship:

Librarians and Professional Sources

While some librarians choose to specialize in business sources and services, many more will face business information seekers as part of their larger focus on librarianship.

Read one of the following two articles about the role of the librarian in today's libraries depending on your interest area.

Academic Librarians Read...
MacDonald, Karen I. (2010). Entrepreneurship Outreach: A New Role for the Academic Business Librarian. ScholarWorks@Georgia State University.

Other Library Interests Read...
Womack, Ryan (2008). The orientation and training of new librarians for business information. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 13(3), 217-226.

The Reference and User Services Association of ALA developed Guidelines for Business Information Responses to assist information services providers in addressing business information inquiries.

Read Guidelines for Business Information Responses from RUSA-ALA.
Think about how these guidelines are like and unlike general guidelines for information response. What makes business unique?

Academic Library Settings

Business librarians are often hired in institutions with accredited business schools. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) and the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) are two of the accrediting bodies. Accredited institutions are required to provide a rationale for the items in the academic business library collections (Pagell, 2003).

Public Library Settings

From small business owners to individuals with tax questions, public school librarians face many business-related questions.

Read Librarians Who Mean Business: Part 1 and Librarians Who Mean Business: Part 2. Also, check out the Career and Financial sections.

Financial literacy education is closely tied to business information sources. The Reference and User Services Association of ALA developed a set of guidelines to assist librarians in their work with users. Titled Financial Literacy Education in Libraries: Guidelines and Best Practices for Service, the document is useful in identifying the key content areas. This document also provides excellent background information and a glossary for those without a background in finance. The Appendix provides an excellent starter set of resources.

Read Financial Literacy Education in Libraries: Guidelines and Best Practices for Service from the RUSA of ALA.

Business Library Organizations

Specialized library organizations are useful in providing discipline-specific support. For instance, if you have an issue related to some aspect of Europe business, consider using the directory of business librarians in Europe. Examples include:


Directories can be useful in locating professional connections. For instance, the Academic Business Library Directors page contains the names, email address, and websites of directors from across America.

Mailing Lists

Mailing lists and online discussion groups are an excellent way to make professional contacts.


The following journals focus on business librarianship:

Social Media

From Facebook to Twitter, social media is a great way to find out what's happening in business libraries.





Seek out business librarians who keep blogs. They often post great ideas and resources.

ResourceShelf is a source of business information include a blog to keep you up-to-date on business information sources.


Business library websites are an excellent place to learn more about business librarianship. Examine the information sources and services they provide.

For instance, Purdue University uses Spicynodes to provide access to resources through the use of a concept map.

Below are a few examples of business libraries in public library systems.

Below are a few examples of business libraries in academic settings.

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Explore the websites of business library associations and business libraries. Think about what information they include on their website and how it's organized.


Seek out award winning or notable individuals and programs. For instance, the BRASS Gale Cengage Award for Excellence in Business Librarianship from RUSA. Search for articles written by award winners or articles about their work.


Abels, Eileen, Klein, Deborah Piesetzner , Boyce, Bert R. (2008). Business Information: Needs and Strategies. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=2a--UHtpkcAC

Awe, Susan C. (2012). The Entrepreneur’s Information Sourcebook: Charting the Path to Small Business Success. Libraries Unlimited. Google Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=M8KIz3UYY20C

Forte, Eric J. & Oppenheim, Michael R. (2012). The Basic Business Library: Core Resources and Services. Libraries Unlimited. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=QN_dDpJo1cEC

Gil, Esther L. & Reyes, Awilda (2012). International Business Research. Scarecrow Press. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=7YC0AQAAQBAJ

Heckman, Lucy (2011). How to Find Business Information: A Guide for Business People, Investors, and Researchers. ABC-CLIO. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=2PKbotbnu5kC

Heckman, Lucy & Rivera-Sierra, Ismael (2015). The ALA Guide to Information Sources in Insurance, Risk Management, and Actuarial Science. ALA Editions.

Maatta, Stephanie (2012). Business information Sources and Services: An Introduction. Neal-Schuman.

MacDonald, Karen & Kirkwood, Hal (Eds.) (2014). Business Librarianship and Entrepreneurship Outreach. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=OQwSBAAAQBAJ

Moss, Rita W. & Ernsthausen, David G. (2012). Strauss’s handbook of Business Information: Guide for Librarians, Students, and Researchers. 3rd Edition. Libraries Unlimited. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=g7JoBgAAQBAJ

Pagell, Ruth A. (2003). In M. Drake (Ed)., Academic business librarians. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Second Edition, Volume 1. RCR Press.

Ross, Celia (2013). Making Sense of Business Reference: A Guide for Librarians and Research Professionals. ALA Editions. Available through IUPUI.

Wales, Tim (2014). Business School Libraries in the 21st Century. Ashgate Publishing. Previe Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=aZt6BAAAQBAJ&dq

White, Gary W. (December 15, 2004). Business information courses in LIS programs: a content analysis. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 10(2), 3-15.

Descriptions of disciplines adapted from Wikipedia articles.

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