What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your job?
My job, which I started on October 19, 1992, has changed radically.
In case you did not know, I am a business librarian for the New York Small Business Development Center, “library information specialist,” by title. The SBDC program, which exists in every state in the US, offers free and confidential business advisement.
People come to the NY SBDC and have questions of the counselors. There’s quite a bit those professionals already have at their fingertips, but when they get a query that they cannot answer, they contact the Research Network library. We answer questions, using a number of paid databases and other resources – personally, I use the Census page quite often – send the answers to the counselors, who share the information with the client.
When we started, we had no Internet. We got our information from something called… it’ll come to me… oh, yeah, books. We would copy pages from books. This was supplemented by info from database information – some were paid services such as Nexis/Lexis, plus some on CD-ROMs. These were a pain because we had to wait our turn to use them at a dedicated machine.
The first big “breakthrough” was when the half dozen CD-ROMs were put on a Local Area Network (LAN) so that we all could access the info on the CDs AT THE SAME TIME. This sounds mundane now, but it was a real time saver.
What did we do with this information? We printed it out and mailed it, which killed many trees and was expensive in terms of postage. And when a packet got lost in the mail, which happened, we had to start the process almost all over again. We may have saved the electronic searches, but not always the paper information.
There were programs at the State University of New York that had Internet before we did, and it was frustrating. I know that one of our library directors gave a talk to our advisors about being able to get information about the Kobe earthquake of January 1995 almost immediately. But at that moment, in the spring of 1995, only she and another librarian, out of seven of us at the time, had Internet access.
Eventually, we all got Internet connections, and this thing called email. One of my colleagues remembers sending me a message from ten feet away, and we delighted about how silly that was when I could just hand him a piece of paper, or tell him. Of course, now I email everything.
We went through a period of trying to email our information to the counselors, attaching PDFs and other electronic files. The trouble was that the recipient’s email capacity could be easily overwhelmed in those early days. As of five or six years ago, we have an electronic delivery system hosted on one of our websites where the counselors can pick up the information we’ve created for them.
One other significant change: for the first six years of the program, we were provided reference service for the whole country, through a contract with the US Small Business Administration, and had as many as seven librarians. Now we provide services just for the New York State offices, and presently have four librarians.
The constant is that we provide reference service. The difference, in addition to the resources used and the delivery method, is that, because everyone has access to the Internet, the questions are more specific. Whereas we might have gotten a question for a restaurant, now it’s for a Thai-Mexican fusion restaurant.
Oh, most of the librarians make fewer calls to agencies, associations and the like, but I find that people are still great resources.