Treasures at Your Local Business Library

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I have often felt that librarians are among the most underrated and underappreciated professionals in the U.S. The reference librarians that I have known over the years are among the most intelligent people I’ve met. They don’t know everything, but they usually know where to find anything–and fast!

I started a masters program in Library Science at BYU about 15 years ago, but it was short lived because my first company started taking off and needed me full time. But over the years I have spent hundreds of hours in the business and government reference section of the BYU Library. I have found many hidden treasures there. I have been richly blessed by my time in libraries.

For example, it was a librarian who first told me about Ancestry, the publishing company in Salt Lake City, which she said published 2 of the top 5 genealogy books of all time. Discovering Ancestry led to our purchase of that company a year or so later and the rest is dot com history. Many of the early databases we added to Ancestry.com were scanned from or discovered in the BYU Family History Library.

All of the content in our original CD Sourcebook of American History (which sold tens of thousands of copies) came from the BYU Library. Much of our original LDS Collectors Library content was discovered in the library.

I have gotten more new business and marketing ideas by perusing Directories In Print than any other single source. I now own the 23rd edition so I can browse it any time that I want.

Today I spent a couple of hours with two excellent series, the International Directory of Company Histories, in 68 volumes, and the Business Plans Handbook, which has 8 volumes filled with actual business plans that have been used in fundraising.

I decided that I will require every entrepreneur who asks me for free help to look through the index of the International Directory of Company Histories to find other companies in their space, to see what they can learn from the history of other companies, particularly the keys to their success.

Today I read about the founding of Altiris, a local company. I didn’t know that it was a spin of from KeyLabs, and that the former director of Novell’s SuperLabs was one of KeyLabs’ founders. I’ve know about Altiris for years, but I gained a much better understanding of the company today by reading the brief history. I bet MyFamily.com will be written about within another year or two. New volumes come out every year.

Personally, I think I’ll read every one of the several thousand company histories in the next year or two, trying to identify the key reasons why these companies became large and successful.

Sometimes it was product uniqueness, sometimes it was timing, or sales or marketing strategy. Sometimes it was luck.

I read about one Australian wine exporter who floundered for 10 years and nearly died until they qualified for a government marketing subsidy and then came up with a very obnoxious brand name (which I won’t repeat here). Now they are doing tens of millions in revenue. I read about a Canadian insurance company that succeeded for 75 years in large part because they didn’t require up front payments for policies–they had generous billing practices and therefore wrote a lot of insurance.

My goal someday is to create a Taxonomy of Business Success Tactics and to create some kind of Decision Tree software that will help entrepreneurs. If you are facing a particular challenge, I’d like to be able to retrieve a dozen or more historical examples of decisions other business people made when facing similar challenges. My system will mostly pull up full-text narrative; I’m not going to attempt to create computer generated decision paths. I think decisions must be left to your intuition–but your intuition could be informed by history.

Whether or not I ever built something that could really be useful to other entrepreneurs, I don’t know. I may just end up with a full-text knowledge base similar to my Taxonomy of Internet Marketing Tactics knowledge base that has over 200 ways to increase site traffic and conversion rate. I’ve benefitted a great deal by having this knowledge base at my finger tips for years. I just wish I could polish it up and make it available to others.

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