From its very earliest days SINTO has been involved with the information needs of industry and business. In the 1930s SINTO was a partnership between Sheffield Libraries and the specialist library and information services of local steel and engineering companies enabling the loan of books and journals. Since then much has changed, but not always for the better. Small and medium enterprises today often face barriers in obtaining the information they need.
In 2000 SINTO produced an Objective 1 funding proposal for a South Yorkshire Business Information Library but it was not taken up. SINTO was involved in the Yorkshire MLA project Libraries are Good for Business which mapped business information provision in our region and looked at how it could be improved. I recently wrote to CILIP Update about the report Access by UK small and medium-sized enterprises to professional and academic information pointing out that public libraries were less able to provide for the needs of SMEs today than they were in the 1930s. This month I Tweeted on the report Business Information Resources: Landscape & Feasibility by Nigel Spencer which pointed out the fragmented nature of the information landscape This report stated that many obstacles exist to prevent businesses from finding and using business information and cited a lack of understanding of business needs by staff providing services. The report went on to identify key roles for public libraries, Business Links and the higher education institutions and recommended the creation of a national integrated service for information provision.
I was very interested therefore in the funding call from JISC to universities for projects that will demonstrate good practice in access to information resources for external parties, particularly small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs, but also other individuals and organisations. The call is part of the JISC Business and Community Engagement (BCE) programme designed to encourage partnerships between universities and the wider community to share knowledge and expertise for mutual benefit. Funds are available to support demonstrator projects in which higher or further education institutions take a leading role in facilitating an integrated information and knowledge service model, in partnership with other key agencies such as public libraries, publishers and business support agencies. The vision behind the business information resources work was for institutions to offer business information resources coupled with tailored advice and guidance from institutional experts. This would be provided both on-site and via remote access, by regional hubs in partnership with public libraries, with the support of local and regional bodies such as Regional Development Agencies. The intention now is that the resources are broadened beyond business information to include serviceable knowledge (i.e. institutional knowledge which is applied to solve external problems or create opportunities) and joined-up services.
Funding of £450,000 for up to 5 projects is available under the access to resources theme. The deadline for application is the 19th April 2010.
This project is to be welcomed as information provision for this sector has been neglected. My only reservation is that the current fragmented nature of the information landscape arose because over the years different organisations have been given a lead role in providing business information. It used to be the public libraries in our larger cities. Then Business Links were formed. The British Library Business and IP Centre was set up. Now universities are being encouraged to take on the role. I understand that collaboration and partnership are at the heart of this call but I wish there could be even more joined up thinking at the start.