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2001 by SLA WCC

Setting up a Library from Scratch

by Shelley Tegart, PMC Sierra

Today there is an overwhelming amount of information available, ranging from publications to billions of web pages. Our training and skillsets as special librarians put us at the forefront of making sense of all this information. But how do we get to the exact piece of information that is going to set our company apart from our competitors? This article discusses how you sift through all the available information for a particular industry and the steps you need to take in the early stages to develop a library presence within your new company.

When you accept the position of librarian with a company you have about three months to make your impact, and definitely no more than six. In that time your management should provide you with the resources you need to succeed. There are three intertwined aspects of an industry that you need to understand: first, the industry itself; second, your company's position in that industry; and third, the critical information your company needs to be successful.

A special library has a focus on a particular industry, and there are individual resources that are critical to that library, in additional to books and journals. For example, in one industry it may be government reports; for the industry I work in it is standards, with the standards' bodies determining how we will build our product.

It is key that you recognize that you are working for a business; even in a non-profit organization there is a bottom-line with deliverables. You need to understand the business aspect of why your company exists.

The First Steps:

Start with the company's annual reports to make sure you understand the direction your company is going. The mission statement will also help to clarify this point. Every library service you intend to provide should in some way reflect your company's mission statement. If the company's goals and objectives are not discussed in the annual report you will need to locate them. Goals and objects are written to strengthen the mission statement and will assist you to establish similar ones for the library.

Once you understand your company's position it is time to focus on the industry. I have found that the most useful approach is to survey the literature, either with a couple of introductory texts or with articles in trade publications, white papers and news clippings. Pay particular attention to articles that discuss historical overview, industry trends and industry forecasts. While you are reading and gathering information, start a glossary or indexing project of all the terms that you encounter. Most people outside of our profession prefer to call these taxonomies. This is a useful task that can be used to assist individuals in your company designing web pages that require meta tagging.

You can supplement this first stage with finding web-related resources, such as industry or professional portals. One of the best vehicles for doing this is to take a course on Internet searching. I highly recommend Gwen Harris's course from the University of Toronto's Faculty of Information Science. It is completely conducted over the web and provides a great template for learning more about an industry.

While you are learning about the industry and your new company there will be a second aspect to consider: what are the resources you have available to provide service to your customers?

While you may have a physical collection of books, reports and journals that requires standard cataloguing, you will still need to set up an Intranet site for the library; in some cases (generally for non-profit organizations) you will set up an Internet site. You can do research on how other libraries in your industry are delivering information electronically. Are you simply going to be delivering a catalogue of materials to your Intranet? Will you provide access to external databases? Are there internal databases of information that could be developed? In the first six months you will not be able to identify all the information resources that require reorganizing for electronic delivery. Nevertheless you should still obtain a sound understanding about the flow of information in your company.

In the first couple of months it is critical that you choose the right software and hardware even if you find yourself with budget constraints. Management usually perceives the library as needing a computer. Well, they are wrong; at the very least you will need three computers, all located in the library: one for the librarian, one for your customers to use when they visit the library and one to be used as a server. The computer for your customers is for easy access to the catalogue and assisting them with Internet searching. Although servers are expensive, a desktop computer can run server software. You should make sure the server remains in your library so you do not need to call in the IT department every time you need to take the databases offline for maintenance upgrades and adding additional software.

The Second Step

The next step is actually choosing the software you are going to need to organize all the material. This is no easy task if you have a variety of vendors all vying to sell you their product. Keep in mind that your position within your company is to organize information to make it easier for your coworkers to find; therefore, you should aim to eliminate needless searching time. You are not just going to look after the library (read books and journals), as information may come in the form of reports being emailed to you and collections of materials may reside in other offices. Is the software you choose going to allow you to develop other databases besides the traditional library catalogue? Step out of the box and think of your position as an organizer of information, no matter what format it comes in.

Final Steps

A few final thoughts: if you have not been fortunate enough to graduate from library school in the last few years, you should think about acquiring some new skills including web page development, Excel, PowerPoint presentation and business writing skills. Budgets are never large enough to carry out everything you would like to do, so track your expenditures, your time, and the usage of your services. Use that information to develop further services and ask for staff.

It has been my experience that the impact a librarian can have on company is profound, but the best marketing job you will do is to deliver the information. To do that, you need a good understanding of the industry and resources that will let you deliver.

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