Thursday, 23 February 2012

City Business Library: Can you afford not to know them?

You may recall that I spent a happy evening in the London Metropolitan Archives looking at their photographs. So when I had the opportunity to go to an ASLIB event at the City Business Library (CBL), one of their sister organisations, I couldn't resist putting a few notes down about them.

© City of London
Since 2010 the CBL has been part of the Guildhall complex, sharing the refurbished space with the Guildhall Library, Art Gallery and the general administration of the Corporation of London (CofL). It is hard to believe that it was once housed in a separate building, though the nine ways of accessing the Guildhall can make the entrance to the library quite hard to find (opposite the public loo and Boris bike rack...).

About the CBL

The CBL is a publically funded free library service which has been open to all individuals and companies in the area for the past 30 years. As the name implies, its focus is provision of information on all aspects of business - whether you are global conglomerate or small and medium enterprise (SME), start up or sole trader. This information could be economic statistics, market research reports, law, tax, international markets, director/company information or business2business marketing opportunities. Though a large amount of information is available online, they also keep a small collection of books, journals, newspapers available to browse. They also run seminars, clinics, and organise network events which I shall come on to shortly.

 Chance Encounters

I have a theory that libraries thrive* when they are in the centre of an organisation because they are instrumental in enabling information flow. This theory is backed up by the new central position of the CBL; the sheer number of different types of events happening on a daily basis at the Guildhall means that the exchange of information between relevant people is immediate. Whether it is a Dickens event at the art gallery, military reunion in the yard, or a financial services meeting in a council chamber, every chance meeting can result in opportunities and reap rewards.

Necessary Networking

Librarians attend many of these events because they have no marketing budget. Networking provides the means whereby they can promote their services to potential customers. The librarian made a number of important points:
  1. If you're lucky enough to be in a team situation, 'don't network if you don't like it' but send your liveliest chatty people out to talk to people 
  2. Go prepared and use 'a hook' to grab people's attention. For example 'you can't afford not to know about the services of the CBL'
  3. Take professional business cards and be sure to ask for theirs
  4. Take risks, 'if you don't ask, you don't get'. For example she has successfully obtained sponsorships for events, clubs and programmes by asking the right people
Simple, yet effective. They have been promised a small amount of cash for marketing but given their ingenuity without, I am sure they will be doing some very interesting things with it.

Customer Engagement

A large part of their work now is organising seminars and talks. It seems like an obvious place to bring people together to talk about all manner of business related issues but their first event was only 8 years ago. A barrister offered to come in to talk about IP and the web. It was a roaring success and now they have 60-80 events per month with 300 speakers on their books, covering everything from social media, finance, tax advice, presentation skills, hair loss and diet techniques. There are rules about speakers but they operate a strict feedback system to maintain standards.

As well as group events, they offer one to one clinics where you can spend a set amount of time to discuss particular issues with an expert, whether it is 15 mins on LinkedIn or an hour on branding/marketing. These used to be free, however they found that people are more likely to turn up if they are asked to pay a small sum (£10). A good idea for most appointments...

Maintaining Contact

The library has embraced social media with a Facebook page, twitter account and a LinkedIn group which enables to stay in touch with many of their users directly. It also provides further fora for discussions, cross selling, keeping in touch and generally helping knowledge circulate.

Whenever possible they attend the Business Startup Exhibition but as it is very expensive, they only do it annually. Given their other ways of raising their profile, this may not be too limiting but it is a shame for the business that are unaware of their services. If this piece raises their profile even a little bit, I am happy to do my bit for them.

Love Librarians

As I have said time and again (as my friends' eyes glaze over), librarians are the perfect people to bring together people and information. From our central position we can oversee how things can be brought together, weaving webs of knowledge by providing the right resources and speaking to the right people. And guess what, everyone benefits.

* Yes I know, the library thrives, the organisation thrives, everyone is happy

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