What our business needs is a real researcher – some team that can scour home and abroad, find all the details about competitors and even investment potential.

But who can afford it?

Actually, the odds are good that you have already hired such a team and are unaware of it. Adding to its already impressive business collection, Princeton Public Library has just made available to patrons the OneSource database. This enormous listing service offers unmatched, exhaustive profiles of over 3 million foreign companies and four times as many domestic firms. If you are sharp enough to hold a Princeton Library card, you can send those high-priced consultants packing.

To explain the many services, as well as the inner navigation of the vast OneSource business database, Jane Brown, the library’s head of adult services, is holding a free, hands-on seminar on Tuesday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Library. Call 609-924-9529, extension 223.

Even after 20 years with the library reference department, Brown is markedly impressed with OneSource’s capabilities. Brown grew up in Souderton, Pennsylvania, and attended Elizabethtown College, earning a bachelor’s in history. Then in the mid-1980s she moved to New Jersey and got her masters in library science at Rutgers. She has worked at the Princeton Public Library since 1987.

"The two big advantages to OneSource," says Brown, "are the overall depth of each company listed and its unprecedented international reach." And equally important for many cardholders, all this coverage can be accessed from your desktop or laptop.

Insider profiles. Even for small businesses, the OneSource standard profile leaves little unturned. Brown types in the name of one 60-person company. Instantly the screen flashes with the names of the president, CFO, comptroller, head of sales, director of human resources, and three executive assistants. An analyst’s report is included. When she calls up a mid-size firm, the database displays the same long list of officers, each accompanied by a Reuters biography write up.

The extensive corporate overview includes the standard profit and sales charts, listed by division and history. The profile also includes the firm’s entire corporate family, showing who owns what, all the subsidy holdings, and traces the chains of ownership.

For the investor, a full stock charting, ratio comparison, balance sheet, and cash flows are available, as well as several recent analysis reports. Eight to 12 such reports are standard for publicly traded companies.

Scoping the competition. "I think what I really love about OneSource as a business tool is its peer analysis feature," says Brown. Select a company, and the system will deliver all the competitors with comparative profiles. The reader can choose parts or the full profile, then with a few clicks see how the company as a whole, or how certain aspects, stack up against up its competitors.

But there is a catch. While the body of knowledge is growing larger and stronger, the state is about to cut it off at the knees. New Jersey, in its latest round of service cuts, has dropped its statewide subscriptions to the expensive databases Reference USA and much of EBSCO Suite (which costs $80,000 a year). Until now, these massive and vital databases have gone from the New Jersey State LIbrary out to every public library in the state as part of New Jersey’s Knowledge Initiative. Anyone could access these databases, for free, from the smallest town.

But after July 1, the end of the fiscal year, public libraries and citizens will no longer get these databases that hold so much important business information, listings, and thousands of journal articles. What happens after July 1 remains a question mark, but the raw fact is, Princeton Library’s brand new, very expensive, and several-months-in-the-making information database could become a casualty in the state’s budget-saving efforts.

Hopefully people will force the state to restore these resources to their libraries, says Brown. "If they do not, databases, like OneSource are very much in jeopardy." The $4,000 that Princeton Public paid for OneSource will in all likelihood be dropped to make up for the state’s cut in services.

No one can doubt that beneficial business information is growing in leaps and bounds. But if access is denied, it does little good. Hopefully New Jersey can find the revenue and the many vital databases in the Knowledge Initiative will no longer be considered a lavish frill. If not, then the business person seeking a top-flight research team may be forced to seek it in the realm of high-priced consultants, begging the question, who can afford it?

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