Question? Go ask your librarian

Bellingham’s library system has a wealth of free resources for the business person that can make a real difference in your bottom line

Margaret Ziegler is the head of reference services for the Bellingham Public Library. She should be the first contact on any information-gathering mission; as a library vet of 35 years, odds are she will be able to point you in the right direction.

   As head of reference services for the Bellingham Public Library, Margaret Ziegler has heard her share of questions from inquiring minds over the years, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
   “We’ve had people call for all kinds of reasons, including the correct spelling of a word,” Ziegler said. “But I still think we’re a resource that isn’t used often enough. We are here for the public, and if we don’t have the answer right then, we can often point the caller in the right direction.”
   This is especially true for the business community, according to Ziegler. As technology continues to change the way information is disseminated, the library has been adapting to make sure accurate information is available.
   It’s the kind of information that can make the difference between the success and failure of a business, said Deborah Brewer, a reference librarian for the Bellingham library.
   “I think anyone involved in business is particularly interested in knowing the demographics of the area, for example, and that kind of information has become very accessible in the past few years, especially on the Internet,” Brewer said. “The key is finding the right agency that releases that information, and I think that’s where the library staff can play an important role.”
   In the past few years the library has expanded the ways the public can access this information. A business owner can go the traditional route of walking into the library and getting information, but they can also access the information online or call or e-mail the library staff to get their questions answered.
   “The Internet has really made things more convenient for our library users,” Brewer said. “Our web site is very busy (there are around 16,000 visitors a month) and we’re constantly adding links when we find useful new information.”
   One might think that the Internet would diminish the role of the local library. After all, the Internet is easily accessible from home and provides endless amounts of information. In actuality, the Internet has allowed a library to be a more valuable resource, Ziegler said, particularly if the staff is well-trained in navigating the information superhighway.
   “We have business people come in all the time saying they were looking on the Internet for some statistics but couldn’t find them,” Ziegler said. “What they are looking for is out there, but it can be challenging to go through all the other web sites to find it.”
   The library also purchases databases that have a wealth of information Internet users wouldn’t have access to unless they paid the fee. For example, by logging onto the library web site ( and putting in their library card number, a library member could access, which lists information about any business in the U.S. and Canada.
   “We also have other subscription databases that are extremely useful to local businesses: ProQuest, which includes full text articles from hundreds of business-related journals and periodicals as well as from newspapers; NewsBank, which lists The Bellingham Herald archives; and Business and Company Resource Center from Thompson/Gale,” Ziegler said. The library also keeps an online index of The Bellingham Business Journal.
   Other databases the library offers for free include Associations Unlimited (information on non-profit organizations), (from World News Digest articles from the past 60 years) and the Washington Occupational Information Service (not available online, but can be accessed at the library).

Advice a popular topic
When it comes to business-related questions, the most common ones Brewer is asked revolve around the topic of starting a company.
   “We’ve been buying a lot of how-to books about business to keep up with the demand,” Brewer said. “Those books are very useful and have much more detailed information than what you can find on the Internet.”
   Local demographic information is also a popular topic, Ziegler said. It has been getting more popular in recent years because more detail information is readily available.
   “The annual Whatcom County Real Estate Research Report has invaluable information (and is not currently available on the Internet),” Ziegler said. “Besides the most recent issue, we also have a run going back several years which is useful when looking at local trends.”
   Other local material that can found at the library include copies of Bellingham’s Comprehensive Plan, the Washington State Data Book, the Greater Whatcom Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, the Washington economic and revenue forecast, the state Business Tax Guide, City of Bellingham business licenses, the Washington Manufacturers directory, the Canadian Trade Index and the Polk City Directory for the Bellingham area.
   Getting zip code information is also a popular topic, especially for businesses trying to send a bill to someone in Canada.
   “That’s a common question in Whatcom County, because Canadian zip codes can be difficult to track down,” Ziegler said.
   To continue to make the library a valuable resource for information, the staff at the reference desk is regularly on the lookout for new web sites.
   “We either come across them or we have library patrons point them out for us,” Brewer said. “It’s interesting to discover new places on the Internet every day. It’s amazing how much is out there.”


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