17 March 2011

Social enterprise and library collections

A comment on an earlier post asked an important question about how I'm connecting social enterprise with library collections. It's a central issue for the project and I hope this post will help to provide an answer.

I think the connection between social enterprise and collections exists on two levels. Firstly, the overall ambition for this project is to draw conclusions about library collections generally, developing a concept of what the library collection is in the digital world. Hopefully, looking specifically at collections for social enterprise will provide a wide-angle lens for identifying and exploring more general issues. Later in this post, I'll go into a bit more detail about why social enterprise seems to be useful field to study, and the ways in which it can be seen as reflecting some of the issues affecting modern library collections.

Secondly, I hope there will be a practical connection: helping to suggest how those involved with social enterprise can benefit from library collections, and helping to explore how libraries can optimise their collections to meet the needs of these potential customers. I should say that this practical connection isn't an explicit research objective - but I do hope that it suggests the possible practical value which this research could have, both for the field of social enterprise and for the library and information profession.

When considering how library collections for social enterprise may reflect issues for modern library collections more generally, I have found it helpful to think about the following aspects of the field:

  • Social enterprise has a wide range of stakeholders - people who may be interested in information about the field potentially include social enterprise customers, students, and people working in the public or private sectors, as well as social enterprise practitioners, people thinking about starting up a social enterprise, policy makers, and academics and researchers in the field.

  • The social enterprise community seems highly networked - there is a lot of information available on social media and networking websites, or located through personal networks: how do libraries find out about, and meet, the needs of communities which connect online or through networks?

  • Social enterprise is an interdisciplinary field - there may be some general business information which is relevant to social enterprise, but the purpose of a social enterprise is crucial, and may involve finding out about specific topics in any of a range of different areas (health and social care, education, social exclusion etc).

  • Social enterprise information may be found in a range of different types of library - information may be found in the collections of a range of libraries - such as health, government, business or voluntary sector libraries, or the libraries of professional associations - as well public, academic and national libraries. This means that the project can try to provide a genuinely cross-sectoral view of issues in library collections.

  • Types of information for social enterprise - the types of information which may be most useful - such as information available from social networking websites or blogs - may not be the types of information traditionally found in a library collection.

There are more issues to explore here (I'm sure I'll return to this topic again), but I hope this helps to begin to answer the question posed earlier - any comments about this would be very welcome...


  1. Thanks for that. I begin to understand. Carry on though.

    SE = business with a social purpose
    LIBs = information gatekeepers, organisers, finders. etc.

    Therefore SE need LIBs to assist, educate, widen knowledge regarding their purpose, if not also on how to run business etc

    How's that for simplistic a formula!

    - Norman A Nonymouse

    P.S. All I need now is pictures on the blog :-)

  2. I'm still a bit confused by this 'social enterprise as a case study' idea.

    To me the idea of a case study is something like:

    - I have a [concept / methodology / product / technology / whatever] that I believe to be generically useful in the context of some issue. ie. I believe it to be usefully applicable to examples of that issue whose parameters lie within significant ranges when considering aspects of relevance to the issue. ie. My 'whatever' is relevant to a significant portion of the 'problem space'.

    - I conduct case studies, applying my 'whatever' to a selection of specific examples of the issue whose parameters sit at specific and different points within those ranges, in order to assess the relative merits of my 'whatever' in different regions of the problem space.

    - So each case study is a specific application of a generic 'whatever'.

    But it sounds to me like you're saying that much of the vaue of using social enterprise as a case study for what you're doing, comes from the fact that social enterprises are very diverse in many of their more significant aspects. Unless your case studies are going to be _specific_ social enterprises, I'm struggling to see how this is a 'good thing'.

    Or maybe I've just failed to grasp what 'social enterprise' actually means. (... Or 'case study'.)

    Also. Not really related; I'm just curious. Of course there must be many collections associated with (or of particular relevance to) specific
    social enterprises, but are there any collections aimed generically at social enterprise?


  3. Thanks for your comment! I think a case study can certainly be used in the way you describe, but I also think it can be used in the opposite way, too, by studying a smaller field to explore big questions in a manageable way, and perhaps as a tool to develop a concept or method etc.

    I have a big and complex issue - the library collection in the digital world - and by focusing on a very specific field within that - library collections for social enterprise - I hope to (possibly) develop a conceptual approach to library collections which can be applied more generally. I think it's a journey towards a potential 'whatever', rather than a testing of it.

    There are parts of larger existing library collections which are aimed generically at social enterprise - the British Library's Business and IP Centre promotes its resources to social enterprises and provides a useful guide to information resources for social enterprise and green and ethical businesses. University business schools (eg the Skoll Centre at Oxford, or Harvard Business School) are also supported by library collections which include social enterprise materials.

    Does this help to address the points you've raised?