Presentation delivered at EURAM 2019 conference (June 27, 2019 in Libson, Portugal).


At a large university in the Midwestern United States, librarians work closely with an undergraduate agricultural innovation competition. Librarians serve as entrepreneurial information guides, providing business information instruction and consulting with student groups to mentor them through the innovation process. The competition, with a winning prize of $20,000, focuses on developing new products from soybeans to foster environmental stewardship and reduce reliance on petroleum. Competitions are a form of experiential learning, allowing students to fully experience the product design process and practice making evidence-based decisions. In order to progress through this competition, the students’ inventions must be shown to have environmental benefits, technical benefits, feasibility, and novelty. Early stages of the competition require students to investigate and report on the marketability and patentability of their inventions. As a part of this process, students meet with a business librarian and a patent librarian. The business librarian consults with the students on how to conduct market research, and discusses concepts such as ideation, evidence-based decision-making, performing a market analysis, and determining a target market for their products. The patent librarian consults with the students on intellectual property and the United States patent system, focusing on basic patent searching tools and methods and discussing the concept of “novelty” in the area of new inventions.

In 2018, the authors conducted focus groups of students who had competed in that year’s competition, to learn how students find and use information in a competition setting and to determine the extent of the impact library support had on the students’ use of information. The groups included students at all points in their undergraduate careers, and some students who had participated in the competition multiple times. This presentation will present the results of the focus groups and how they will inform continued assessment in future iterations of the competition. Themes explored will include information resources, such as market research databases, search engines, and patent search tools; decision-making; the use of information in the design process; librarians as consultants; and future improvements.


innovation, patent research, market research, academic libraries, higher education

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