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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2003

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[Refereed article]

The Business of Science: Cross-Disciplinary Information Literacy in the Applied Sciences and Business

Mary Feeney
Social Sciences/Business Librarian

Jim Martin
Science Librarian

The University of Arizona Library
Tucson, AZ 85721


Collaboration between academia and industry is resulting in new programs in applied science and engineering across many campuses. The information needs of students in these programs present a unique opportunity for science librarians and business librarians to collaborate in the development of information literacy course components. This paper describes one such collaborative effort at the University of Arizona Library to provide library instruction for the course Materials Engineering and Design. Students in this engineering class are required not only to design and engineer a new product but also to address fundamental business considerations such as cost analyses and market research.


One definition of applied research in the sciences is that of directing research toward practical applications with market potential (Hawley & Lewis 2002). The Bayh-Dole University and Small Business Patent Act of 1980 gave applied science endeavors at universities in the United States a boost by providing significant incentives to commercialize the results of federally funded research. By giving universities the right to own patents and license inventions supported by federal dollars, this Act and its subsequent amendments are credited with creating closer ties between universities and the commercial sector (Demain 2001). There are other trends that have strengthened this relationship. The National Science Foundation's Division of Science Resources noted in Science and Engineering Indicators 2002 that as federal support for research has diminished, universities increasingly rely on alternative funding sources and collaborative agreements with organizations outside of the university [National Science Board 2002].

Another driving force toward stronger relationships between university science and industry is the demand by industry for broadly qualified graduates. Rodrigues (2001) describes the need for engineers who are familiar with basic market concepts and able to conduct business research in "Industry Expectations of the New Engineer." According to Rodrigues the best time for engineers to learn these skills is during their university years, before they are in the workplace.

University science and engineering departments are working to meet these needs by creating programs that are designed to provide students with the best combination of skills for today's job market. In many cases this involves training in business fundamentals as well as traditional science and engineering subjects (Smallwood 2001).

There are also several examples of universities combining engineering and business instruction. At the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Conference in 1998, engineering and business professors from the Pennsylvania State University highlighted a new graduate program in Quality and Manufacturing Management (QMM). The program was created to address "an emerging need for a new breed of professional: women and men who can think broadly as business people, engineers, and technologists, and who have the skills needed to bring new products to the marketplace in the most cost-efficient way possible" (Ruud & Hottenstein 1998).

All of these trends have created an interesting opportunity for librarians. As more applied science and engineering classes are added to class schedules across the country, librarians with specialties in business and science can work together in order to address the unique information literacy needs of these students. It is also an opportunity for librarians to explore what information literacy means when two very different, yet increasingly connected, disciplines come together.

Background -- Applied Science at the University of Arizona

The University of Arizona (UA) has many initiatives designed to capitalize on its research strengths through collaboration with industry, particularly through the off-campus Science and Technology Park. The Park houses approximately 30 companies and organizations, many of which employ UA graduate students and work closely with members of the UA faculty. The UA Office of Economic Development manages the center and works directly with the local business community (The University of Arizona Science and Technology Park 2002).

The College of Science at the UA offers a professional master's degree program with degrees in applied and industrial physics, applied biosciences, and mathematical sciences. The program emphasizes business and science fundamentals, together with opportunities to gain practical experience and to interact with industry leaders.

Alaina Levine, Director of Special Projects for the College of Science, maintains that "the Professional Master's Degree program was developed in response to industry leaders' interest in hiring highly educated students who understand the connection between science and business" (Manson 2002).

This emphasis is also reflected in the promotional brochure for the Professional Master's Degree program "@ the Intersection of Science & Industry":

In today's global economic climate, science graduates need skills and credentials that place them above and beyond the crowd. In fact, more than ever, corporations, government laboratories and agencies, non-profits, and other industrial sectors are demanding that their science-educated employees also command various business related skills (The University of Arizona College of Science n.d.).

In addition, the Eller College of Business and Public Administration began offering a course in 2000 to "make engineering students more business-minded" (Dirner 2000). Tom Peterson, Dean of the College of Engineering and Mines, believes the course Management and Policy 478, Building a High Performance Company, "would benefit engineering students by allowing them to be more familiar with industry" (Dirner 2000).

The University of Arizona College of Engineering and Mines now offers a new bachelor's degree in Engineering Management. Besides courses in traditional mathematics and science, students in the program will also take courses from the Business College, including courses in accounting, business administration, and three units of business or management electives (University of Arizona n.d.).

Other courses that are not specifically part of these programs are also emphasizing the connection between science and business. Here we describe our experience with one of these courses, Materials Engineering Design, whose students were given the task of engineering a new product and determining what would be needed to successfully bring it to market. We provided a one-hour instruction session on business and science resources and created a customized web-based information pathfinder for the students. When the projects were turned in, we consulted with the instructor to assess the effectiveness of our presentation and online subject guide. We believe that our experience with this class can provide some insight into the information literacy needs of students enrolled in courses related to the applied sciences.

Literature Review

Librarians' awareness of the need for cross-disciplinary knowledge in libraries has been examined in the literature. Frank and Kollen (1989) discuss humanities and social sciences librarians providing reference services and collection development in a science-engineering library. Cawsey and Staninger (1996) acknowledge that business students need to learn about basic information resources in the sciences and concluded that "business librarians need to be prepared to assist patrons who are seeking to achieve scientific competency." Weiner (1996) describes team teaching a mechanical engineering course with faculty members and science-engineering librarians. The students needed to locate business and market information as part of their design projects.

But there has been little written about librarians teaching information literacy skills to students outside the librarians' discipline or area of expertise. There are many examples in the literature of librarians collaborating with faculty, but little in the way of cross-discipline collaboration between librarians. With the move in science and engineering curricula to include business courses and/or business research skills, there are increasing opportunities for business librarians and science-engineering librarians to share the knowledge in their specialties and collaborate with each other in providing information literacy instruction, allowing for better understanding on the part of business librarians of science-engineering needs and vice versa. Leckie and Fullerton (1999) believe that the science and engineering faculty may not use library instruction because they are not aware of this service. There is the potential to make connections between faculty and students in different departments. For example, Audet and Pegna (2001) describe the collaboration of Commerce students with Mechanical Engineering students to develop a new product and a business plan for that product.

The Course

The course, Materials Engineering Design, is a senior-level class in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at the University of Arizona. The class is typically small, with about ten to twenty students enrolled, and is a prerequisite for the Design Competition course. In the class, students work individually on designing a product and performing an economic and market analysis to determine if the product would be feasible and profitable. The students deliver two oral reports and three written reports to their professor over the course of the semester. The written reports cover:
  1. Design and manufacturing of the product; size of the market
  2. Costs; design/project planning
  3. Economic analysis and assessment of profitability

In the Fall 1999 semester, the author who is a business librarian assumed responsibility for teaching the library session for this course in conjunction with the former materials science and engineering librarian. When the course was taught again the following year, the author who has the science and engineering expertise began collaborating with the author who has the business expertise. Through working with the professor over several years, we were able to develop a partnership in which the library instruction session was continually refined and improved to address the learning objectives established by the professor. For example, after the second time we taught the class, the professor asked us to exclude the discussion of writing a business plan because he had eliminated it from the course requirements. We kept the business plan information on the research guide for informational purposes, but did not cover that material in the library instruction session.

Prior to the beginning of each course, the authors met with the professor to discuss changes made in the curriculum, specific design ideas that students would pursue that semester, and what should be modified from the previous library instruction session. The professor's objectives for his students included learning how to find information on:

Because the professor wanted a large amount of information to be presented to the students in a one-hour session, and because these engineering students had little or no experience with doing business research, it was important to develop instructional materials they could use later to guide themselves in their research. Science and engineering faculty often want their students to develop self-sufficiency in finding information (Leckie & Fullerton 1999). Beginning in Fall 1999, the librarians shared in the development of a web-based research guide for the class. Prior to that, bibliographic instruction for the course consisted primarily of lecture and handouts. The web-based research guide presented resources to find information in support of designing, producing and bringing a new product to the market. It was divided into clearly defined sections to lead the students through this research process:

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Figure 1. Screen shot of web page: Library Resources Guide for MSE 443: Materials Engineering Design.

To help make these concepts more concrete to the students, we used a case study approach with our own new product idea, a solar-powered cooling bike helmet. This type of product, the combination of an existing product with a new or modified use, is typical of the innovation in design employed by the engineering students in this class. Using the web site as a base, we led them through the research process using this example product, pointing out particular resources, and demonstrating some of the electronic sources. Also included in each section of the guide were questions, which we discussed with the students, to prompt them to think about what information they would need, for example: Who is your target market? What are their demographics and lifestyles?

As co-instructors, we alternated presentation of the resources according to our areas of expertise. Due to time constraints, the timing of transitions was a challenge, but we had prepared in our lesson plan approximately how much time to allot for each of our sections. During the hour-long session, we spent about ten minutes on each major section of the guide. For example, the students' first step after identifying a design idea is to determine what materials with specific properties would be needed to create the product. Then they need to identify if there are any existing patents on their idea or a similar idea. The science librarian demonstrated how to search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Patent Database, using "photovoltaic and helmet" in his search, and displayed entries like a Ventilated Welder's Helmet, which was similar to the example product idea. At the end of this section, students were given a few minutes to practice searching for patents on their own product ideas.

In the next section of the guide, Locating and Pricing Materials/Parts/Production Equipment, the science librarian presented some questions to consider in their research, including who manufactures and/or sells parts and chemicals and how much would it cost to produce their products.

Since the business information was completely new to the engineering students, the business librarian included explanations of key business concepts like the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes in the Industry Analysis section of the web site. The business librarian explained the coding systems to the students and demonstrated how to determine industry codes for an innovative product that may fit into more than one industry. For example, someone researching the solar-powered cooling bike helmet might need to look at the Photovoltaic Cells manufacturing industry (SIC 3674), the Sporting and Athletic Goods industry (SIC 3949), and the Sporting Goods and Bicycle Shops retail industry (SIC 5941). Section by section, we followed the research guide. Due to time constraints, we could not cover every resource listed, but touched on key concepts, such as why you would want to identify your competitors, how to find analysis of your industry, and what "market share" tells you about a your industry.

The next business section involved Market Research where concepts such as target market were explained. The business librarian demonstrated how to find demographic and lifestyle information for a geographic area or an age group and how that data would relate to the students' products. For example, about 48% of households who participate in bicycling frequently have a 25- to 44-year-old as head of household (SRDS 2002). That information, coupled with demographic data about Tucson from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows that about 30% of Tucson's population in 2000 was aged 25 to 44 (U.S. Census Bureau), may indicate good potential for marketing the bike helmet in Tucson.

The last section of the research guide covered Industrial Processes and Business Operations. Here, students might investigate research questions such as, are you going to lease factory space or build a factory? How much will it cost to build a factory? The science librarian explained the need to determine if there are standards, regulations or codes that may affect the manufacture of the students' products, and demonstrated some resources they may use to gather this information, such as the Tech Data Express (TDX) database.

Finally, the research guide contains links to Tucson organizations that provide assistance to new and small businesses and links to information about requirements for starting and operating a business in Tucson, where the University of Arizona is located.

The library class was concluded with a brief exercise for the students to complete, giving them some hands-on experience using the resources:

  1. Using the online Thomas Register (, identify one company in Arizona that supplies or manufactures solar cells, for the solar-powered cooling bike helmet.
  2. I want to do some research on the industry that includes the manufacture of solar cells. What is the SIC code for this industry?
  3. One way to determine your potential market is to find out how many people may ride their bike to work. Using the U.S. Census American FactFinder, what percentage of the working population in the City of Tucson commutes to work by walking or "other" means? (HINT: Economic characteristics has employment information, including commuting to work).

By the end of the session the students were able to effectively use research tools that we presented in the session to find the answers to these questions.


The opportunities for science and engineering librarians and business librarians to collaborate in providing cross-disciplinary information literacy instruction are increasing. As librarians, we have benefited from the collaboration across disciplines. It has helped the business librarian in her instruction to business students, particularly to students in the Entrepreneurship Program. These students are similar to the students in the materials design course in that they research innovative product ideas and require similar business information. Because the business librarian learned how to clearly delineate for non-business students in the MSE class how to do industry and market research, she was able to create a similar step-by-step research guide for the business students. From the science librarian's perspective, he is able to better understand the business side of research, which many future scientists and engineers will encounter in industry.

The authors also received feedback from the professor in e-mails he sent us after each class. The professor said that the library session is an indispensable part of the course, that his students are very pleased with the instruction and the web site, and that students in his other courses have also found useful information through the site. Further research is needed in assessing the effectiveness of cross-discipline library instruction and assessing students' learning outcomes. A useful assessment would include evaluating the students' reports and bibliographies to examine what resources they used and possibly identify areas of their research and the library instruction that need improvement or augmentation. The authors plan to incorporate this type of assessment in future offerings of this course.


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Demain, A.L. 2001. The relationship between universities and industry: the American university perspective. Food Technology and Biotechnology 39(3):157-160.

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Rodrigues, R.J. 2001. Industry expectations of the new engineer. Science & Technology Libraries 19(3/4):179-188.

Ruud, C.O. & Hottenstein, M.P. 1998. Graduate curriculum focused upon manufacturing & integrating engineering & business. In: ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings. [Online]. Available: {} [December 2, 2002].

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SRDS. 2002. The Lifestyle Market Analyst. Des Plaines, IL: SRDS. The University of Arizona Science and Technology Park. [Online]. Available: {} [December 3, 2002].

The University of Arizona. n.d. College of Science. @ the Intersection of Science & Industry. (Brochure for the programs of Applied and Industrial Physics, Applied Biosciences, and Mathematical Sciences). The University of Arizona. College of Engineering and Mines. [Online]. Available: {} [January 16, 2003].

The University of Arizona. College of Engineering and Mines. n.d. Engineering Management Degree. [Online]. Available: {} [January 16, 2003].

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Weiner, S.T. 1996. Librarians as teaching team members in a mechanical engineering design course. Science & Technology Libraries 16(1):3-10.

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