I'm sure that I'm not the only person who experiences that deer-in-the-headlights moment when I get a call from a client who asks me to give him an analysis of, say, industrial waste treatment. Like me, you've probably given no thought to the subject but like me, you know that you're soon going to know and love industrial waste.
Yes, I can always just Google it, and I'll find sites of waste management companies, as well as books on the topic. But I need to know what organizations are most involved in this industry, what the key magazines are, what trade shows focus on this industry -- none of which I can learn from the first couple of pages of Google search results.
Instead, I take advantage of a secret weapon that librarians use -- other librarians! Most large university libraries create resource guides or "pathfinders" to help students find information on frequently-requested topics. Business libraries are great sources for tools for conducting research in a specific industry. While they often include links to resources only available to enrolled students, we have other ways to get to the content -- through a value-added information service like Dialog or Factiva, through association web sites, and even by going to our own local library.
For starters, check with your local university or college library; if they have pathfinders on industries and if they allow public access, you may be able to use the library's resources right there. Otherwise, tap into some of the resource guides from other business school libraries. Some of my favorites include:
Harvard Business School's Baker Library has a collection of Research Guides on topics ranging from Agribusiness to Venture Capital & Private Equity. As you can tell from the first and last entry, the focus is on industries of interest to Harvard Business School students. A good starting place for information on hot industries, for which getting the most current information is particularly difficult.
Thunderbird School of Global Management maintains a collection of LibGuides -- industry-specific guides as well as business topics such as corporate social responsibility and global marketing.
Penn State's Business Library has Industry Guides for just over 30 industries. While it doesn't offer comprehensive coverage of the business world, the guides are in-depth and easy to use.