5 Smart Research Tips 

Do you have the next great business idea? Is your small business ready to move into the mainstream? If so, you probably know that business intelligence is key to making an informed decision about the next stage of your career. That means you’ll need to navigate the exciting world of business reference sources! 

Getting started with your research can feel overwhelming. With so many websites, topics, and techniques to choose from, it can seem like doing research is more trouble than it’s worth. With a little guidance, however, you too can find the key facts to jump-start your business.  

Here are 5 smart research tips from the James J. Hill Center: 

1) Start with Broad Topics 

It’s very tempting to search for the exact fact you want, but looking up “2010 household spending trends” might be counterproductive. By searching so specifically, you might miss a great article on that topic that doesn’t have your key words included. Instead, start with wide-ranging topics like “household income” and “domestic spending trends” to maximize your research results.  

2) Limit your Date Range 

When searching online or in the databases at the James J. Hill Center, pay attention to the date range on your results. You don’t want to build a pitch deck around an article on real estate trends only to find out it’s from 2002. Give yourself a range of two to five previous years to find the most recent information. 

3) Use Synonyms 

Is your search for “trade shows” coming up short? Remember, there’s many different ways to describe what you’re looking for, so brainstorm some alternate search terms. You may hit the jackpot when searching for “convention expositions” instead.  

4) Combine Resource Types 

Plenty of people are satisfied with a couple online searches, but true entrepreneurs go beyond Google. While some helpful information, such as the Economic Census or labor statistics, are freely available online, subscription databases can elevate your research process. The James J. Hill Center subscribes to a series of databases, such as IBISworld and Business Source Premier, that contain valuable information not available anywhere else. Stop in to use our resources on-site!  

5) Ask for Assistance  

Remember, research is a long, slow process, but it’s not something you need to handle alone. Make an appointment with a business librarian at the James J. Hill Center and let us connect you to the business information you need.  


Written by Jessica Huffman, Business Outreach Librarian, at the James J. Hill Center. To meet with Jessica about your research needs, make a free appointment hereIf you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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Innovations on the Shelves

The bookshelves in the James J. Hill Center are more than mere places on which to rest historic volumes. They tell a story which reflects the Hill’s vision of supporting innovation. Original to the building, our copper-toned shelves were designed and built by Snead & Company, a cast-iron that adapted with the times and “built a better bookshelf.”

Around the turn of the 19th century, public libraries were becoming increasingly popular, largely due to grants distributed by Andrew Carnegie. At this time, most libraries used wooden, fixed bookshelves. Snead & Co. recognized that these shelves were inadequate for these new, large libraries. They applied their metalwork expertise to design and patent innovative metal shelving that included features such as customizable shelf heights; a standardized length to introduce interchangeable parts; and more evenly distributed lighting. The goal of these shelves was both practicality and affordability, along with options for a fancy detailing.


Snead shelving took off—their shelves can be found in the Sterling Law Library at Yale University, the Vatican Library in Rome, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress, among many others.


Another feature of early Snead Standard Shelves is that they were load-bearing, yet another way Snead saved libraries money. Such is the case with the Hill shelves. More so than the grand columns gracing the Reading Room, our bookshelves are vital as structural reinforcements, holding the building up.


Of course, Snead & Co. never anticipated the ways this feature may cause problems in the future, as libraries today adapt to then-unbelievable electronic technology—the New York Public Library recently wanted to remove some shelves to create a larger services-oriented space, but were unable to do it due to the structural necessity of the shelves! Here at the Hill, we don’t quite have the same problem since our large Reading Room affords us lots of space for events.


Snead & Co. recognized a need in their community as public libraries grew in both size and popularity, and stepped up with innovative products for that market—forever changing the world of library shelving and, in turn, libraries themselves.  


Written by Ann Mayhew, Reference & Support Specialist, at the James J. Hill Center. 
If you have more questions about the reference library our our historic collection at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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A Story in the Ceilings

Between the magisterial Romanesque pillars, blue Japanese cloisonné vases guarding the back door, and, of course, the hundreds of thousands historic books, it’s easy to overlook a small detail of the James J. Hill Center Reading Room: the ceilings among the stacks. But these ceilings—specifically, their colors—tell a grand story.
When James Hill passed away without a will in 1916, his family took over the final throes of constructing the James J. Hill Reference Library. His wife, Mary Hill, began to actively manage financial affairs, which including contributing to the Hill Library’s endowment to make the library financially independent.
It is believed that Mary Hill left her touch on the decor as well. We know that Louis Hill, one of the Hills’ sons, wrote to his mother and sisters on a number of issues including furnishings and wall texture and color. Tragically, Mary, like her husband, did not live to see the magnificent library complete; she died only a month before it opened its doors on December 20, 1921.
Next time you are in the Reading Room, look up at the ceilings immediately above the third and fifth stacks of books (i.e. right under the second and third floors). You’ll notice the former is a pale yellow and the latter is a pale pink—the very two colors rumored to be Mary Hill’s favorites.
Learn more about Mary Hill in her diaries, accessible online through the Minnesota Historical Society.
Learn more of the story behind the Hill Center, these images, and the epic building in our Cabinets of Curiosity Tour every third Thursday at 10:30AM. In this one hour experience you will go back in time, up and down catwalks, through vaults and peek in hidden nooks and crannies. Our December tour is coming up so get your tickets early! 

Written by Ann Mayhew, Reference & Support Specialist, at the James J. Hill Center. 
If you have more questions about the reference library our our historic collection at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.
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Book Showcase: Richard K. Miller (RKMA) Market Research Handbooks

By Sehri Strom, Business Reference Librarian

Among our most popular print resources are the RKMA market research handbooks. Available in James J. Hill Center’s reference library, the RKMA series provides an overview of consumer demographics, market research methods, and industry information. Handbooks in the series examine international consumer markets; consumer use of the internet; leisure business; the travel and tourism industry; the restaurant, food and beverage industry; and sports marketing. Here we highlight three handbooks focused on consumer behavior, consumer marketing, and business-to-business marketing.

Need help identifying and describing your target market?

Consumer Behavior 2015-2016 contains information on consumer spending, consumer debt, retail spending, entertainment and leisure spending, consumer use of time, shopping behaviors, and more. Pinpoint and describe your target market using descriptions of consumers segmented by ethnicity, gender, generation, families with children, family caregivers, pet owners, and other characteristics.

Need an introduction to consumer marketing?

Consumer Marketing 2016-2017 provides overviews of marketing spending, market research methods, and market segmentation. Spending figures include the total amount spent by companies on marketing and advertising, spending by specific companies, and spending by advertising scopes, including television, internet, email, cinema, magazines, and radio. In addition to the spending overviews, learn about the use and effectiveness of digital marketing, email marketing, loyalty marketing, and several other types of marketing.

One of the hottest market research methods today is big data. This edition contains an overview of the amount companies spend on big data and the key players in providing analytics software, hardware, and consulting services. It also discusses marketing and advertising executives’ perceptions of big data and its potential applications and challenges.

The market segmentation section profiles consumers with brief descriptions and subcategories based on community, customer personality, household type, lifestyle, generation, socioeconomic status, and more. Examples of subcategories of community-based segmentation are Campus and Careers, Monied ‘Burbs, and Tractor Country.

The appendices contains directories for academic centers, MBA programs, Ph.D marketing programs, marketing analysts, associations, marketing blogs, online resources, periodicals, and market research and strategy services.

New to business-to-business (B2B) marketing?

Business-to-Business Marketing 2016-2017 can help you get started with information on B2B marketing tactics and their effectiveness, B2B spending, trade shows, and B2B advertising information. Create an effective marketing plan to fit your B2B product or service by learning about content marketing, customer relationship management, data-driven marketing, digital marketing, direct marketing, lead generation tactics, lead management, marketing automation, product marketing, and promotional events. Lists of trade shows, convention centers, B2B agencies, business news magazines, and top advertisers are also included.

The RKMA handbooks are a great resource for defining your target market and for learning about consumer marketing and B2B marketing. Visit The Hill and a business librarian will be available to help you find the answers to your market research questions. The James J. Hill Center is open Monday-Thursday, 10 am – 5 pm.

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Information is an essential key to success and we can prove it!

By Guest Blogger Scott Odman, former James J. Hill Center Librarian

Have you ever heard someone say that acquiring and using information, especially timely and accurate information, is an absolute necessity if you want to succeed in business? If this does sound familiar, you may have heard it from a teacher, a boss, or mentor, or read about it in someone’s bestselling book on success. Whatever the case, we would like to take a moment to reemphasize this simple but true message by showing how our founder, James J. Hill, used information to build an empire and why he was so passionate about building the James J. Hill Reference Library, which we now call the James J. Hill Center.

Early Life:
James J. Hill, born in rural Ontario, Canada in 1838, demonstrated a voracious appetite for knowledge and learning from a very young age. As luck would have it, Hill was able to find nourishment for his hungry mind by attending a school named Rockwood Academy. Despite its remote location, Rockwood Academy was run by a gifted educator named William Wetherald, and it was there that Hill acquired a set of skills that would serve as the foundation upon which all of his future successes would be built.

Although Hill’s formal education ended in the 8th grade, by the time he left school he was able to read and write, and he was especially competent in applied mathematics. These skills, still essential in today’s world, were highly prized in Hill’s day because formal education was, as yet, unavailable to most people.

Arrives in Saint Paul:
In 1856, Hill left Canada for the United States to seek opportunity and fortune. By August of that year his journey had taken him to St. Paul where his original intention was to spend the winter and continue traveling west the following spring. As it turned out, St. Paul was a good fit for Hill, and it is here that he spent the rest of his life.

Once settled in St. Paul, Hill’s success grew rapidly. He started and operated a number of successful businesses including a fleet of river boats on the Red River of the North. In each of his endeavors, Hill was able to succeed and best his competitors by working hard and working smart. Working smart meant knowing customers, competitors, laws and regulations, and the geographic terrain over which he operated and into which he hoped to expand.

Building an Empire:
By 1877, he was ready to take on the biggest challenge of his life. Hill and a number of business associates set their sights on acquiring a bankrupt railroad known as the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. On the surface this company looked like a disaster, but Hill and his associates saw great possibilities. Hill had studied this particular company closely and knew of its extraordinary potential, as well as the great challenges that would need to be addressed in order to realize a profit.

Hill was determined to succeed at all costs. He read any and all information he could get his hands on. He talked to people with experience in all areas of business and science, and he went into the field himself, instead of relying on subordinates, to see firsthand the business’s successes and failures. By working smart and working hard, Hill and his associates built a railroad empire which would eventually reach from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean.

Hill’s Legacy:
One of the resources that was of particular value and importance to Hill was a book titled Reports of Explorations and Surveys to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. This work was published by the U.S. War Department in 1856, and it describes in great detail the physical landscape, including the flora and fauna, of the great expanse of lands found west of the Mississippi River. As luck would have it, James J. Hill’s copy of this book survives today and is part of the James J. Hill Center’s library collection. The library’s copy is in very good, but clearly used condition, and bears the unmistakable signature of Hill inside the cover page.

Title Page

Title page of the volume signed by James J. Hill.

James J. Hill's signature.

James J. Hill’s signature.

James J. Hill was so sure about the role that knowledge and information played in his own life’s success that he created our organization so that future generations of aspiring entrepreneurs and business people could come to find the information that would help them succeed.

Come to The Hill and a business librarian will be available to help you find the business information you need to succeed. The James J. Hill Center is open Monday-Thursday, 10 am – 5 pm.

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From the Stacks: The vision of light rail in 1976

Light Rail

Downtown St. Paul is certainly no stranger to trains. Streetcars once traversed the area, and of course what was once known as the Great Northern Railway was crucial to our city’s development. With the Empire Builder newly returning to Union Depot after 43 years and the light rail’s Green Line just about ready to go, St. Paul is experiencing something of a railway renaissance – very appropriate for a city made prosperous largely by rail transport and our man James J. Hill! Fast, efficient, and relatively quiet, light rail transit is a system Hill surely would have admired.

With construction complete and test runs being done, the Green Line is set to open on June 14. The cities are abuzz with excitement; finally, the downtown areas won’t feel so far apart!

Though The Hill specializes in business reference, we do have a collection of transportation-related books, including a few about light rail transit. These two were published in 1976, which is pretty obvious from the graphic design.

The James J. Hill Center will be easily accessible from the Green Line. The nearest stop is at 5th and Cedar, about four blocks from The Hill, so after June 14 there will be no excuse not to stop in and see us sometime!

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From the Stacks: The Oldest Book at The Hill

Oldest Book at The Hill

Here at the James J. Hill Center, we relish the challenge of an interesting question. Recently, a family wandered into the building on a scavenger hunt. They had an intriguing mission: they sought the oldest book in our collection. Our Library Services Director and I searched The Hill’s Library Catalog using a specific date range and discovered that our oldest book was published in 1803. It turned out to be a three-volume set, a thrilling classic called The History of the Public Revenue of the British Empire, subtitled “an account of the public income and expenditure from the remotest periods recorded in history, to Michaelmas 1802; with a review of the financial administration of the Right Honorable William Pitt” by Sir John Sinclair. It’s not exactly a beach read.

Special care must be taken when you handle a 200-year-old book. I wore white cotton gloves to protect the pages from my skin oils. Archival gloves are a much-debated accessory (this article in International Preservation News argues that white cotton gloves may actually be more damaging to books than bare hands) but no matter where you stand on the issue, you can’t deny that while they’re not classically hand-shaped, they are extremely fashionable. Selfie time!

This book may not have widespread appeal, but its author did make an interesting contribution to the English language: Sir John Sinclair found that the German word “Statistik” had no equivalent in English, so he introduced it to the language, changing it to “statistics”.

But it probably looked more like ftatiftics.



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Patrons with accessibility needs please access our ground floor elevator entrance via Kellogg Ave at the back of the building. Please ring the doorbell on the right hand side of door and a Hill staff member will assist you. If you have questions or concerns please call 651.265.5500. We look forward to having you visit.