Open for Business: Visits to City Business Library and the British Library Business & IP Centre

City Business Library visits – 18 June and 14 July 2015

British Library Business & IP Centre visit – 29 July 2015

This summer we, Catie and Hilary, visited two libraries catering to small business owners, researchers and entrepreneurs in London: City Business Library and the British Library Business & IP Centre. As the Information Specialist who showed us around at the British Library said, in the past they competed for users and still offer many of the same services, but as you’ll see in this joint blog post, their different focuses make them two distinct and complementary services, which together establish London firmly as an excellent place to be a small business owner, business start-up, job seeker or a researcher.


The City Business Library (hereafter referred to as CBL) is a public library funded by the City of London Corporation, which is linked to the Guildhall. For a public library, City Business Library has a fantastic collection of print and e-resources. While its main demographic—small business owners, business start-ups, students and jobseekers—have diverse needs, it is able to cater to them quite well. In particular its extensive collection of directories is kept up to date enabling the CBL to avoid ongoing subscription fees.

The British Library Business & IP Centre (hereafter referred to as the BL Business & IP Centre) supports entrepreneurs, inventors and small businesses, particularly distinguishing itself in the area of IP. As one staff member put it to us: through their ability to search intellectual property, the BL Business & IP Centre can save entrepreneurs a lot of time, energy and money with a visit early in the life of the business.


6 similarities and differences between the BL Business & IP Centre/CBL   

1.  Online support – Both libraries provide tailored industry guides. While most of CBL’s industry guides are available in print only, its fashion industry guide is available online. According to the staff who showed us round both the CBL and BL Business & IP Centre, the jewellery industry is among the most popular for start-ups at the moment.  Like all its industry guides, the BL Business & IP Centre’s industry guide for the jewellery industry is on its website. In addition to its industry guides, the BL Business & IP Centre also does Intellectual Property guides for specific industries.

2.  Staff support – While both offer one-to-one and group support with library staff and contractors, CBL charges for all sessions, whereas the BL Business & IP Centre’s are a mix between free and charged.

3.  Databases both libraries, for example, give access to a great database called COBRA (Complete Business Reference Adviser). COBRA allows users to access reports for the different types of business that people might want to go into, e.g. vegan and vegetarian restaurants.  For each type of business, COBRA provides information on the qualifications and skills required to enter into it; key market issues and trends; main trading issues; and start-up costs.  It also provides information on the different start-up vehicles which are available to entrepreneurs, e.g. sole traders, limited liability companies, etc. So whether you are interested in becoming an accountant or a worm farmer, COBRA will give you the low-down on what is required!

  • This handy Venn diagram of the databases shows to which databases we at Cass have access at the moment (as of August 2015) compared with the databases CBL and the BL Business & IP Centre have in their collections.

Database venn diagram

4.  Audience – The BL Business & IP Centre is particularly geared toward small business owners, inventors, business start-ups and researchers. While CBL’s demographic also includes start-ups, it also has many useful resources to help job seekers, including a dedicated webpage and job board.

Business opportunities

5.  Added Value – The British Library has such vast collections that people starting their own businesses can benefit not only from the BL Business & IP Centre, but can also use the resources available in the other reading rooms. So, for example, someone who has plans to launch a scientific venture may wish to consult publications in the Sciences Reading Room.  Visitors to CBL benefit from its proximity to Guildhall library, which holds an outstanding business history collection, if you’re looking for historical business records from the City of London.

  • The BL Business & IP Centre has a wealth of intellectual property resources, such as patent information (more details are available on their website).
  • The British Library has created a Management & Business Studies Portal which contains reports, conference papers and articles across a wide range of management and business topics.

6.  Weeding and archives  – As a repository library, The British Library has endless storage space for print resources, which means that unlike the CBL, it does not need to weed its collection. However, in some cases publishers are shifting away from printing market research to publishing it entirely online.  This means that these publishers are no longer obligated to supply copies of market research to the BL Business & IP Centre. Therefore, the BL Business & IP Centre needs to pay for expensive ongoing subscriptions to the databases for as long as they want access to current and historical information — information which was previously provided for free.

  • CBL weeds much of its resources, but much can still be accessed through the Guildhall Library business history collection to which it archives some resources.

In conclusion… As we found in our visits, these two hidden gems of the city provide local and extremely useful services on which City students, researchers and staff can rely.

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