Corporate libraries, including those at many of the top banks, have undergone a quite revolution.
Bank libraries were once largely taken for granted. But at many banking companies, that is no longer so.
Time is money, and a research librarian can save both by freeing bankers from having to search for answers themselves.
One reflection of this bottom-line significance is that managers of libraries of some of the top money-center banks now report to top executives.
At Bankers Trust, Carol L. Ginsburg, a vice president and chief of its Information Center, oversees a staff of 11 full-time researchers who keep the center operating six days a week.
At Chemical's Business Information Center, vice president Melinda Scott has 22 people to supervise. And Ellen Miller of J. P. Morgan, also a vice president, operates the bank's Information Resource Center with a staff of 17.
These libraries have not been immune to cost cutting and downsizing. Bankers Trust closed its lower Manhattan library facility in March of last year, and transferred two of the three staff members to its midtown headquarters.
"We're trying to do more with less," said Ms. Ginsburg. "We're not ordering as many new things."
Smaller staffs have many bank librarians scrambling to keep up with the work load.
"None of us eat lunch. We talk fast, eat fast, run around, and do research fast. We're trying to work more efficiently," said Ms. Ginsburg. "I do on-line searching and research as everyone else does."
Although staffs are smaller, the work load is not.
"The problem is not so much that there is a lack of information out there. The problem is that there is too much," said Chemical's Ms. Scott.
Rather than wait for a specific request from one of their colleagues, today's banking librarians regularly study everything that comes into the library and pass along copies or abstracts to the people who may be interested. They anticipate their users' research needs, providing information before being asked.
Of course, bank librarians still work on special research projects as requested by their colleagues in other departments.
For example, shortly after the riots that destroyed much of South Central Los Angeles in April, the library staff at Bankers Trust Co.'s New York headquarters received a message from the Los Angeles office:
Would it be possible to search for all published information about financing the reconstruction of the devastated area?
Just a few hours later, after an exhaustive hunt through the library's electronic data bases, several dozen articles on this subject were transmitted to the L.A. office.
It was the kind of challenge that the Information Center librarians thrive on. They liked it better than the request for data on companies that manufacture licorice extract, or the query about long-haul trucking in Eastern Europe.
And it was a departure from the more routine searches of financial records and reports, which account for most of the roughly 7,000 projects the Information Center handles monthly.
Quicker Access to Data
Improvements in technology have made this kind of productivity possible. The old Dewey decimal system is being left behind; cataloguing has gone high-tech.
Although these specialized bank libraries still feature stacks of reference books, they are being replaced by extensive - and expensive - electronic data systems that produce facts and figures instantly.
The goal, is to complete every search in two hours or less.
What can make this a reasonable aim, besides research skills, are in-house technological resources.
J.P. Morgan's library, for instance, can plug into roughly 300 data bases. If a banker needs a year's worth of Securities and Exchange Commission filings on General Electric Co., one of the computer-literate researchers can retrieve the data on a desktop computer. That's a big improvement over searching through microfiches.
For now, it is far more cost-effective for librarians to conduct information searches than for bankers to do the job. But before long this practice may end, as other employees become more computer literate and data get easier to retrieve.
In the future, technology improvements might make this scene possible:
The morning newspaper appears at the touch of a button. An executive reads a business story, then types a simple command. Background information appears. And all this happens before the banker can finish a cup of coffee.