A brief history of business libraries in Scotland


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This seminar explored the history of Business Libraries in Scotland. It discussed the development in the provision of library and information services for Scottish industry in the twentieth century.

This seminar is part of a series run by the History of Libraries in Scotland and is sponsored by the Scottish Centre for the Book at Edinburgh Napier University and the Library and Information History Group (CILIP).

John Coll is Head of Access and Enquiries at the National Library of Scotland. John managed the Scottish Business Information Service at the National Library between 1989 and 2009.

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  • Good afternoon everyone. I’m very pleased to be invited here today. As Head of Access & enquiries at the NLS I am responsible for the provision of business informatiion at our library via our SCOTBS (Scottish Business Information Service). Indeed, my own involvement in business information goes back into the dim mists of time or at least as far back as1989 when I wa appointed to set up a national business information at the NLS.
  • Ok, a few things to note about todays’ tallk. Firstly, it should be noted that I am not a historian nor do I intend giving a chronological summary of business libraries in Scotland. This would be more worthy of somrone’s dissertation. However, it would also be worth pointing out that I think an approach would be less than interesting ot informative. Instead, I want to focus on some key elements in exploring the development of busienss libraries in Scotland, These are: 1.The key factors that have cotributed to change in the provision of business information 2. To look at the channels or routes to access i.e. business libraries although I use this term I fairly broad sense. 3. The changes that have taken place and are evident in charting the history of business libraries 4. The likely future (if any) for business libraries As mentioned from the title of the talk – this is a broad sketch of the history and I will not focus on detailed chronology. I will also focus on the key period of change which is the last quarter of the 20 th century and the 21 st century although brief mentions will be made of earlier dates.
  • I’ve included this picture as I feel it neatly summarizes some of the key issues relating to business libraries, Looking at the picture do you see despite dated furniture and layout something reassuringly similar or something with little relevance? For some people there will be little of relevance in this picture and for them it is little more than a historical representation of business libraries. For others, despite the dated nature of the picture there may be reassuring signs – the rows of books the librarian answering enquiries (although for most people this is probably more likely to be by e-mail these days) Thye point here is to highlight the fact that history is something not necessarily in the distant past but something that is happening all around us.
  • In a previous slide I mentioned the factors that have influenced the provision of business information in Scotland. These have been arrannged according to PEST – political, economic, social and technological. IN the case of the first- political – Scotland’s recent history has been very much one of a country dominated by a labour party in opposition with policies determined by a conservative government in London. I think it would be fair to day that this was a government that was very much ideologically driven and one that have an influence both through its influence on local government and also on how it viewed support for business. In more recent years, we have see the introduction of devolution and the influence of the SNP on this same support for business. In the case of economic factors – the over-riding impact on Scotland has been the “branch economy” nature of business in this country. The large number of small businesses and the fact that larger companies were owned and controlled outside Scotland were seen as factors that would limit the decision making requirements of companies in Scotland and thus their need for business information. This was made evident as late as 1988 when a report by Brenda White Associates highlighted the lack of demand as a factor to be considered in setting up a business information service within the NLS’s new Scottish Science Library. The other econmic factors have been the regional nature of Scotland’s key industries such as the oil and gas sector in the grampian area, medica/biotechnology/computer games industries in Dundee/Tayside, the predominance of manufacturing in Glasgow and in contrast the domninance of the service sector in Edinburgh. Although these are admittledly generalisations the influence of certain sectors has created ”regional hubs” which have, inluenced the need for and provision of business information, This emergence of regional hubs has been magnified by social factors such as the geographical distribution of Scotland’s population. The concentration into key areas and poor transport links have meant that services and content have also reflected such areas. Finally, we have tecnhological factors and these have probably been the most far reaching in terms of their influence on business libraries and indeed all libraries in Scotland. The mass production of pcs in the 1980s, the introduction of CD-ROM technology have all shaped the provision of information. However, if we do have a need for dates it is probably 1989 and Tim Bernard Lees’ development of the world wide web.
  • Firstly, a reminder about the NLS. We do have a very large print based collection! Over 14 million items in our collection including over 25,000 hard-copy journals and newspapers, over 100,000 manuscripts and we receive 320,000 items each year which we accommodate in our 100 miles of shelving. I was reminded of the scale of this print resource when I recently visited a very hi-tech university library. After having a tour which included the ubiquitous stack of bookshelves I assumed the guide would lead me to nother floors to see more rows of books and other printed content. It was something of a shock to realise that this was it! And while I would not wish to play down our electronic content and indeed the great strides we have been making in terms of digitzation it would be fair to say that it is for its printed collection that the NLS is especially well-known.
  • Put simply the nature of how we collect material – the key importance of legal deposit coupled with type of material we purchase and our need to ensure material is available for posterity – all dictate the bias of the print media. In addition, this print collection needs to be physically stored somewhere and this physical static location coupled with the need to register as a reader to use this content all place boundaries on access.
  • A brief history of business libraries in Scotland

    1. 1. A brief history of business libraries in Scotland John Coll Head of Access & Enquiries National Library of Scotland
    2. 2. Outline of talk <ul><li> </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Look at the factors that have influenced business information provision </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Explore the routes to access </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Focus on the key changes </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Consider the future </li></ul></ul></ul>
    3. 3. Visible change or continuity?
    4. 4. Scotland: the PEST factors
    5. 5. Routes to access <ul><li>Public Libraries </li></ul><ul><li>Academic Libraries </li></ul><ul><li>National Library </li></ul><ul><li>Special Libraries </li></ul><ul><li>Government/business support agencies </li></ul>
    6. 6. Public Libraries Stormy days ahead for public libraries?
    7. 7. Academic Libraries Specialist or generalist?
    8. 8. National Library of Scotland Radical change or more of the same?
    9. 9. Special Libraries Changing times for special libraries?
    10. 10. Government/ Business support agencies Friend or foe of libraries?
    11. 11. Summary <ul><ul><ul><li>The history of business libraries mirrors the changes that have effected all libraries </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Business libraries that have survived or even prospered are those that have managed to transform their role in the light of changing user needs and technology </li></ul></ul></ul>
    12. 12. The future? <ul><li> </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Technology is marginalising the need for intermediaries </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Context still remains king </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Public libraries need to redefine their role to remain active in this area </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Special libraries need to move up the value-chain to remain relevant </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Business support agencies continue to influence change </li></ul></ul></ul>
    13. 13. Thank you Questions? John Coll Tel: 0131 623 3816 E-mail: [email_address]