Author: Hal Kirkwood, Bodleian Business Librarian and BIR Editorial Board member
In this first instalment of Just A Few Questions, I ‘sit down’ with Seema Rampersad, Senior Business Research and Service Manager at The British Library, and the current President-Elect of the Special Libraries Association to ask her about her current role at the British Library and what she sees as the key issues for the business information profession.
Hal: First, please tell me about the BIPC and your role there.
Seema: The Business & IP Centre at the British Library has been supporting start-ups and established businesses to grow and develop. We have one of the largest free collections of business information in the United Kingdom. Over the last 16 years, we have supported 10000s of entrepreneurs, and the success of the centre has created a strong blueprint brand to expand our network across the United Kingdom to other regionals and local libraries. We have also collaborated on European projects to support business such as in the Erasmus for Young Business and in our own Innovating for Growth programme.
I work in the reference and research section of the Business & IP Centre, which can be very varied on a day-to-day basis. I serve customers in our Reading Room in the centre with their reference or research queries, deliver workshops, webinars, one-to-one clinics, and project work. We have several business information databases which can only be accessed in the centre, these require showing customers how to use the systems, how to navigate the library electronic and hard copy sources. We have an online reference enquiry and chat service using the LibAnswer system where we answer general queries from an international audience. I provided a chargeable business information and evidence for patent litigation research to private international clients.
We have been running programme webinars for over ten years, which helped us transition seamlessly in the pandemic. I usually present about 2-3 business related workshops per month, and we hope to go into a hybrid model soon. There have been a few projects work over the years such as an Open Innovation with European Partners, training and sharing insights with the BIPC Network in the UK, and more recently, the Start up In London Libraries over 10 London boroughs. As a national library, we do host lots of visits, tours and talk on the collection, our services, and the centre.
Hal: Is there a high demand for business information to support entrepreneurial development and growth? What type of projects or clients do you work with?
Seema: Definitely there is a high demand for support, and it was one of the feasibilities for the expansion of the BIPC Network. There has been a phenomenal number of entrepreneurs over the years who are innovative on multiple sectors. We have seen a whole new tech industry develop over the last 15 years in London but also across the UK. There has been an organic growth in persons wanting to start their own businesses as well as using the positive developments of ecommerce and online presence. Business information is still at the crucial to a company who is planning their strategy for launching and growing. We encourage entrepreneurs to look at the commercialisation of their business idea, explore the market and look at the trends and forecasts for their sector, as well as assist them in finding B2Cs and B2Bs using the company data sources held in the library. Our unique selling point is the strong ties with the Intellectual Property Centre and with the collection for patent information, which complements business information for protecting businesses. We frequently provide expert intellectual property knowledge to customers and for project work.
We generally work with anyone wanting to start or grow a business, but we also have academic researchers, other corporations for their paid prior art or business research, and any readers who come into the library to use the collection or spaces. We do also have various partnerships and frequently liaise with our project partners inside the British Library and other outreach stakeholders.
Hal: Is there a strong and supportive information ecosystem between organizations like BIPC, academic business libraries, and other groups?
Seema: There were some organisations who do similar service such as ourselves for the business community such as the Small Business Research and Enterprise Centre (SMREC), London & Partners, the London Growth Hub, and we tend to refer our customers to these complementary organisations. In the past, we have had some projects with academic business departments such as UCL and Edinburgh University – it is an area of work that we can explore more in future; for example, I am aware that the CASS Business School do great work for business. I do regular tours for students on Goldsmith University’s Master in Creative Entrepreneurship. For intellectual property projects and initiatives, we do have regular projects with the PatLib Network, The IPO and the European Patent Office. And not forgetting, we now have a National Network of BIPC Libraries – which is a supportive information ecosystem attached to regional and local libraries across the country.
Hal: What do you see as the biggest or most influential trends within business information?
Seema: There will still be a focus on new data tools. Having seen the evolution of databases over decades, there have been gradual but consistent changes over the years to incorporate new data sets that are available from open data sources, such as the Statista database having a large percentage of content from open sources, as well as from their own content and analysis. The last few years have seen a change in the megatrends that is affecting the way we work and live our lives – this too is reflected in the information and the trends we find on business sources. Global sustainability goals are mentioned more in business information content, as we try to mitigate some of the issues and risks that the world is currently facing. Hybrid models of working have impacted on access and our information needs, plus we have seen a great positive digital transformation for organisations who may have been a bit slow in adopting digital and collaborative technologies. It can only get better.
Hal: Considering the information profession as a whole, what do you see as the biggest challenges on the horizon?
Seema: Financial stability and raising costs will be one of the biggest challenges as we go into the third year since a pandemic as well as the rising cost-of-living and inflation internationally. I am hoping this will not have an adverse impact on libraries, library and information budgets, and professionals as we have already had so much disinvestment over the last 15-20 years. This gives us more of impetus to find positive ways to showcase our role in stimulating business and the economy indirectly by the support we give to entrepreneurs and business small and large – near or far. We must demonstrate our unique access to specialist information, networks of expertise, and a skill-set that is great for supporting research, productivity, innovation and creativity. Therefore, we must actively advocate, invest, and find our allies in industry and the business community to highlight our roles in enabling and empowering economic and sustainable futures.
Hal: Thanks very much, Seema, for chatting with me today.
Just A Few Questions will become a recurring series here on the Business Information Review Blog. If you would like to suggest someone for a future interview, please email me at kirkwoodhal:@gmail.com