14 February 2011

The research topic

First of all, a few words about my research topic: "Conceptualising the library collection for the digital world: a case study of social enterprise". I'll go into this in much more detail over the coming weeks (months, years...) but essentially the project involves looking at how the library collection is changing, using the example of collections for social enterprise to explore current issues in collection development, management and exploitation. I also hope that it will provide an opportunity to explore perceptions of "the collection", from the perspectives of customers, librarians and other stakeholders. Is this (still) a meaningful term for all or part of the information resources a library offers its users?

The project will also involve getting to grips with the theory and practice of social enterprise - a new field for me, but very fascinating. There are a number of different approaches to defining social enterprise (definitely a potential topic for another post or several) but for present purposes I'll be using the definition provided by the Department of Trade and Industry (2002) Social enterprise: a strategy for success:
"A social enterprise is a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners."
According to this definition, a social enterprise operates as a business serving a social purpose. Other definitions place varying degrees of emphasis on the different elements alluded to here - for example, there is a hint here that the ownership structure of a social enterprise might be different to that of other business types; other definitions may place a more explicit emphasis on this difference, focussing, for example, on the role of democratic decision-making within a distributed ownership structure.

Another useful introduction to the social enterprise field, from the practitioners' perspective, is available from the Social Enterprise Coalition website.

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