Let Your Fingers Do the Walking
You need a robust product line or service, a talented workforce, loyal customers and access to capital, materials and markets. You also need insight, intelligence and know-how to stay competitive in your business or industry. While the Information Age is teeming with online resources, more and more people are turning to the James J. Hill Reference Library for access to business information and reference materials that can help their companies.
In the Know
Founded in 1921, the James J. Hill Reference Library of St. Paul, Minn., is an independent, nonprofit business research organization. As Tom Triplett, acting president at the Library, explains, the Library’s core purpose is to help clients access the practical business information they need to craft “informed business strategy” and make sound business decisions.“Whether you work for a large company or a startup, anyone who comes to the Library has free access to a wide variety of online business research databases, along with assistance from librarians with years of experience in business information and research,” says Triplett. The Library offers free reference services via phone, e-mail, online chat, mobile texting and the Library’s website provides guides to common types of business research, such as business plans or information on specific companies. “Our website also provides access to Business-Stages, which is a step-by-step guide to business planning sources and the Special Issues Index, which was chosen by the ALA as one of best free reference websites of 2010,” says Triplett. “The Library also offers a fee-based research service, which allows you to hire a librarian to do the research for you.”
Long known for his railroad prowess, one of James J. Hill’s gifts to the City of St. Paul is the library that bears his name. The Library broke ground in 1913, opened to the public in 1921 and was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.According to Triplett, it was always Hill’s intention that his library would collect only the latest and most authoritative reference books. “He excluded only medicine, law, genealogy and popular fiction,” says Triplett. “Every other subject—history, science, economics, art, music, geography—was to be represented. It was the founder’s dream that the Library would provide the answers to any questions from the origins of art to the electric current, from the philosophies of the sages to soap.”To meet the growing interest in central reference materials pertinent to the business sector, the Library’s Board of Directors decided to specialize in business reference services in 1975. Thanks to the computer revolution of the 1980s and 1990s, the Library began to accumulate, house and disseminate detailed business and economic information that was both current and thorough. “Today, (the) new Hill Center for Ethical Business Leadership also assists in fulfilling the Library’s mission by helping businesses prosper through a strategic commitment to ethics and social responsibility,” Triplett says. “After 75 years, the James J. Hill Reference Library continues to provide a blend of services that enable businesspeople, students and scholars alike to access the best in practical business information.”
At Its Core
The Library is most commonly used as a source for a variety of marketing information, such as prospect lists, market trends, industry data and consumer demographics. “Our databases can be used to download carefully defined lists of companies for marketing purposes and can also access important industry trade journals, demographic statistics and market research,” says Triplett. He notes that people often come into the Library with very limited experience in business research and a lack of knowledge about information sources or what questions to ask. “We can help them organize their research and clarify their information needs. We usually give visitors an idea of what’s more readily available and difficult to procure. We can guide people to sources that will best address their questions,” stated Triplett. “We usually need to provide training in the use of the databases, on successful search techniques and on how to download results into a useable form. We have a lot of experience with business questions and often are able to save people quite a bit of research time by knowing best sources of information for particular questions.”If the Library doesn’t have a source physically on-site, the Library’s databases can be accessed by individuals with or without assistance from the reference library staff. “We are especially helpful to entrepreneurs, those who want to start a new business or expand their sales,” says Triplett. “We also provide contract research services for businesses large and small that want to stay abreast on a regular basis to changes in their competitive environments.”The Library is currently developing a series of entrepreneurship training and support programs, which will be announced soon. The Library’s Business Stages for Entrepreneurs program is a free online information resource for entrepreneurs and small businesses looking for information and insight to help them grow and expand their horizons. To further support its core mission the Library hosts a variety of events including business talks and seminars, a new business book club and business networking events. “We supplement the business-related events with a broad menu of other events. There is everything from Literary Speed Dating to our fun ‘Anti-Valentine’ evening, (and) music concerts including our popular Real Phonic band series and Crossword Puzzle Tournaments,” adds Triplett.
A Thoughtful Venue
The James J. Hill Library has made the beautiful space available for rent over the past several years. Wedding receptions and ceremonies are held at the Library nearly every weekend. “Most of these events occur in our large, ornate Reading Room, but we also have conference rooms available for smaller groups,” Triplett says. The Library has expanded its availability and reach over the past two years, seeing an increase in the number and variety of events. “Increasingly, we serve as a venue for business meetings, seminars, dinners and other events,” says Triplett. “We are seeing a rapid growth in corporations contacting us (as) a site for their external events. Finally, we are identifying sub-groups within the business world for which we’ll be providing special access and services. Examples include returning members of Minnesota Reserves and National Guard units who want to become entrepreneurs.”To learn more about the James J. Hill Library and its plethora of resources available to businesses of all sizes, the Library provides short, free tours geared toward business researchers on a monthly basis. You can sign up for a tour on the Library’s website under the Events tab.