THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

04 June 2013

Interested in Business History?

In this post Andrew Dixon, Lead Curator for Management and Business Studies, writes about his engagement activities with Management and Business Studies researchers and asks how we can support the Business History research community   

It has now been almost six months since I took up my present role at the British Library.  This personal landmark seems like a good reason to share some thoughts about how the British Library has been engaging with the MBS research community (here at the Library we refer to the subject as Management and Business Studies or MBS for short).  The phrase “MBS research community” is perhaps a misnomer as it implies that there is one heterogeneous group of like-minded, like-funded and like-reported researchers and projects.  In fact members of the business and management community are a diverse bunch whose interests range from post modernist critiques of capitalism to full on number crunching of raw economic datasets.  Still, this diversity makes for an interesting life and one thing that they do all seem to have in common is that they like to share their thoughts and opinions. 

To give some examples of how we try to engage with the MBS research community for this subject, I have attended a number of meetings and events in order to build contacts and tap into the collective wisdom of academics, policy makers, students, practitioners and stakeholders. The overriding purpose of these activities has been to engage with our readers to help make informed decisions about how best to develop coherent collections to meet their research needs.   Some of these activities have been hosted at the British Library such as the Open Access event that marked the end of my first week in post.   This resulted in a number of contacts that were to prove useful as time progressed.   Attending the Annual Research Conference of the Association of Business Schools held at Lancaster University was another useful exercise.  My colleague Sally Halper and I had the opportunity to give a presentation on the MBS resources at the British Library, to explain our content strategy and to elicit opinions about how best to meet the research needs of the business schools.  This event formed part of a pattern with others undertaken along with colleagues.  These included a presentation about the Business & IP Centre, a Library facility that supports entrepreneurs and innovators in launching and developing businesses, at Brunel University and participation in a Study Conference at Kingston University.  These reinforced our view that there is a large demand from business and management academics for resources that support specialist research rather than the teaching and learning support often offered by their own institutional libraries.  The British Library as a national library has a vital role to play in this.  Of particular interest to participants across events were the implications of the coming into force of the Non Print Legal Deposit regime, British Library plans to engage with Open Access and the use of the British Library MBS Portal as a means of doing this.

Another more specific project that I have been involved in is a review of how we can support the Business History research community.  Anecdotal evidence suggests this group have been seen as “falling in the gap” between MBS and History research support.  As a practical first step we have targeted the development our annual report collection as a type of resource that is particularly valued by many business and management historians.  To this end I have conducted focus groups and targeted interviews with business historians and other stakeholders with a particular interest in using such material.  The Library has traditionally received a large amount of such items but in a rather uncoordinated way as annual reports have not been covered by legal deposit and active collecting had tended to be focused on the leading FTSE companies.  Other material has, however, found its way into the collection often as part of donations of wider collections relating to companies or industries.  So far we have received a variety of opinions as to how best configure and develop our holdings so as to make them of most use to researchers.  Widely proffered opinions have included that we should build collections around industries and sectors across time and that we attempt to develop holdings for the “lost years” from the mid sixties to the end of the century where this kind of material can be particularly difficult to find.  We are also investigating how researchers react to digital storage and provision for such collections.

This is very much an ongoing consultation so if you would like to offer your opinion individually or take part in one of the forthcoming focus groups then please do contact me, preferably by the end of June, at andrew.dixon@bl.uk and we can find the best way to feed your ideas into the process.  Indeed, do feel free to contact me on more general MBS related topics as well.  A part of the purpose of all of the activities outlined above and of others that are taking place in the Library is to engage with our users to sense-check that our actions will lead to outcomes that help them to access and exploit our unique resources and collections to best effect.  We are always keen to hear from those in the MBS community, be they students, academics or practitioners, who want to contribute to this ongoing process. 

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