Admittedly, many of my personal business memories start from more than just a short while ago — pre-internet days to say the least. Now that everything is online, we don’t hear much about libraries anymore, except maybe in the case of public schools. Politics aside, I’m delighted people are still interested in reading words on a page, regardless of topic or platform.
When it comes to business libraries, I spent many of my early career days as a graduate student and business researcher gleaning information from reference books.
When media companies were still flush with money, they had in-house research departments replete with voluminous business libraries. Ours had dark wood shelves arranged around a large reading table. Stocking the shelves were decades of annual publications on pertinent topics like nationwide newspaper circulation, ad rates for newspapers, television and radio markets, and ZIP code demographics for the entire U.S. Even more obscure were reverse telephone directories, where you could look up a phone number and find a corresponding name and street address for each listing.
In the days before everything became searchable, downloadable, sliceable and diceable, corporate libraries such as these were where business information was warehoused, waiting to be turned into business intelligence.
After the internet became ubiquitous, however, these company libraries were superseded by desktop computers in every office, laptops in every briefcase and smartphones in every pocket.
Looking at the immediate horizon, artificial intelligence programs such as ChatGPT are predicted to provide all life’s answers. Think of it as big data and technology replacing big libraries and thoughtful research.
Looking back, there was something especially nice about cozying up in a physical library with all that data in one place, copying numbers down on a yellow pad and using a calculator. This is a discipline that’s perhaps lost in the eternal now of today’s copy-and-paste world. The ability to instantly recalculate until an acceptable answer appears doesn’t really replace the innate talent of defining the right research questions at the outset. There is absolutely a difference between data and intelligence.
For me, all of this comes to mind each year when Virginia Business publishes our March issue, The Big Book.
Back during the halcyon days of physical business libraries in the 1980s and 1990s, our March issue served up the State of the State, reporting on the commonwealth’s economy across several industries. (Suffice it to say that we’ve long served as a source for business intelligence.)
In 2013, though, we replaced that annual State of the State report with The Big Book, expanding the issue to include roughly 50 different lists and charts with vital business statistics all in one place — creating an annual reference library of sorts for Virginia businesses.
And while Virginia Business has not yet moved into the realm of artificial intelligence, we have moved into e-commerce. Some of the key lists in this issue are available for purchase at virginiabusiness.com as downloadable spreadsheets in expanded formats beyond what’s included in the print version.
Whether digitized and downloaded or delivered as a paper magazine to your mailbox, think of us as your personal corporate library. Regardless of the platform, context is important, and that’s why we are especially proud to still be bringing you words on a page after 37 years. Enjoy!