The Library and the Commercial Intelligence Branch of the British Board of Trade, 1834-1914


  • Alistair Black

Business intelligence, broadly conceived, has always been an ingredient of economic life. However, the planned and systematic collection, organization and dissemination of information for commercial purposes did not appear until the abrupt escalation of trade and the massive extension of imperial reach in the nineteenth century. In Britain, investment in sources and systems of commercial information was made by the Board of Trade in the form of a departmental library placed at the disposal of government officials, from 1834; and a publicly accessible Commercial Intelligence Branch, established in 1899, in which new modes of information work appearing at the time in private corporations were employed. With the outbreak of war in 1914, the Commercial Intelligence Branch experienced a considerable increase in demand for its services, confirming the perceived importance of commercial information to national survival and post-war recovery. 

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