Monday, January 24, 2011

An employment resource of questionable value

The Harris Pennsylvania Industrial Directory is intended as a business-to-business resource, a guide to all of the businesses in the state of Pennsylvania indexed by municipality, cross-indexed by business type and business name.  I first encountered it during a job search four years ago.  A friend who is an expert in connecting job-seekers with employers recommended a similar book - Moody's Million Dollar Directory - which is not available at Wilkes-Barre's Osterhout Library. The Million Dollar Directory is published by Dunn and Bradstreet, while the Harris Industrial Directory is published by Harris Infosource, a division of Dunn and Bradstreet.  Both are apparently similar in layout, though the Million Dollar Dirctory is more exclusive, listing only companies with at least nine million dollars in sales volume and 180 employees (or 900 employees, if the listing is for something other than the main headquarters of the company.)

The Harris Industrial Directory is a remarkable reference book - and, at the Osterhout Library at least, is kept behind the reference desk.  Coming in at well over a thousand pages and with a price tag of $152.50, the 2011 edition is a hefty tome, jam-packed with information including business names, addresses, telephone numbers, contact names, sales volume in dollars, and a brief description of each business listed.  Here is a sample from page 567 showing some of the employers in Olyphant, Pennsylvania:

I have two issues with this book. The first is a minor quibble that mainly affects job-seekers is using it to try to get information about potential employers, but would also be a problem for anyone trying to use this book for information about industries within a region:  the listings are grouped alphabetically by municipality.  So the listings for Olyphant in Lackawanna County come after the listings for Oley in Berks County and before the listings for Ono in Lebanon County. An individual seeking information about all the companies in a given area would have to know the names of all the municipalities in the area and search through their listings one municipality at a time.  It would be more useful to group all of the municipalities in a given county together, and provide a cross-index showing which municipalities are in which county. (It may be possible to do this sort of re-indexing through the online version of the directory, available on a trial basis here.)

The other issue is far more major, and calls into question the value of the book as anything more than a doorstop or seat prop for small children.  There is one company in Olyphant with which I happen to be intimately familiar, and, as in 2007, curiosity led me straight to the entry for this company.  And, as in 2007, I found the 2011 version to be full of errors.

Anyone who knows about the company listed above can tell you that, besides the company name and maybe the sales figures (I have no idea what the sales figures actually are), every single piece of information in these two listings is wrong.  The addresses (one is for a warehouse, I think, and one is for a satellite facility that was vacated more than eight years ago), the phone numbers (the 717 area code has not been used in this area since December 1998), the contact names, the number of employees (25!), even the garbled description of "prerecorded compact laser discs."  All wrong.

And that's for the one company I actually know anything about!

Yes, there are a lot of entries in this book.  Sure, they're dependent on companies furnishing them with up-to-date information and making corrections as needed.  Of course, there will be some errors in a system like this.

But if the one company I know anything about has an entry that is almost entirely wrong, how can I trust any of the entries for companies I don't know anything about?

The Harris Industrial Directory is intended as a business-to-business resource, but also has tremendous potential as a resource for job-seekers.  Its layout leaves something to be desired and forces any job seeker to do a lot of flipping and searching, ideally with the aid of a detailed map.  But the inaccuracy of the verifiable data calls into question the accuracy of all of the data contained within its covers.  A guide to all of the industries in a given state, with contact information and detailed information about the specific company's product and sales volume is a wonderful idea.  Sadly, the Harris Industrial Directory is not that guide.

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