Answering tough accounting questions often involves pinning down moving targets: contexts differ, regulations change, technologies evolve, and best practices get refined. In fact, the Big Four firms alone generate over one hundred billion dollars of annual revenue simply by helping companies cut through the confusion and solve their accounting issues.
But if your company is a small businesses, you probably handle the majority of your accounting in-house. That’s significant because your ability to identify the right answers to your accounting questions will heavily influence such fundamental business outcomes as:
- The size of your tax burden,
- The degree to which you can fully capture costs for billing,
- The quality of your financial data for making planning decisions,
- And, even overall profitability.
Given the importance of sourcing the right accounting answers, let me pose a relevant question: Do you have a reliable, go-to resource for instances when you need to conduct critical accounting research?
If your answer is no, it doesn’t have to be. There’s actually a resource you can access at any time that’s easy-to-use, unbiased, and carefully vetted by experts. Better yet, it’s free.
Online Library Resource Guides: Putting an Unexpected Resource to Work for You
Online library research guides dedicated to the subject of accounting can be tremendously useful to small business owners, financial executives, and accounting professionals.
What is an online library research guide? Essentially, a library research guide is a collection of topical resources curated by subject librarians at higher education institutions designed to help researchers source authoritative information.
Library guides are publicly accessible via the internet and not at all hard to find. While they are designed with the intention of assisting students (a portion of the resources often require student registration to access them), the bottom-line is that they are a great asset for professionals, as well. Consider some of the web resources collected in accounting library resource guides which are openly available to professionals: standards organizations, trade associations, influential journals, software and CPA directories, tutorials, and governmental tax publications.
Why Give Online Library Guides a Try? Here’s 5 Reasons
Google may always be your first stop for a quick search. But if sourcing an answer to an accounting question is turning out to be trickier than expected or you just need to focus in on the most credible results, it’s worth giving online library research guides a try.
The reasons accounting subject guides work well for students are the same reasons they provide value to the professional. In the words of the professionals who compile the guides, these resource collections are:
1. Reliable and quick.
“A good library guide will save a user time by organizing the key resources, by directing the user to the best sources right off the bat, and by they telling a user (or implying to a user) which sources are most reliable.” Tom Ottaviano, Cornell University
“I would say that the value add of library guides is that they take some of the randomness of an internet search out of the equation. They can direct students to more relevant information.” -Tom Orrange, Medaille College
3. Plugged into the professional community.
“I include accounting associations… The purpose of a library or an accounting libguide is not to merely direct patrons to business-related publications… Even the best literature in the field is no substitute for making connections with other accounting professionals.” -Curt Friehs, The College at Old Westbury-State University of New York
4. Independent and unbiased.
“Any sites that appear to be selling something or are biased don’t make the cut. Google is great, but web searches return a lot of commercial content and a ton of unprofessional, opinion type content.” -Lily Morgan, Independence Community College
5. Spam free.
“Google also doesn’t guard against spam and un-trusted websites. Guides written by human librarians will not have these.” -Karen Niemla, University of Louisiana-Monroe
26 Great Guides for Every Neck of the Woods
Not every university or college offers online library research guides. But there are quite a few out there which do.
How do you find the most useful guide for your needs? Often it’s useful to target a guide from a school in your region, as many guides will have a local focus, especially when it comes to links to professional organizations. Also, it’s worth exploring several different collections. Certain web resources come up time and time again in the online guides, but each college has its own distinct approach, drilling more deeply into particular focus areas.
Here’s a list of some of the most bookmark-worthy guides I’ve found, organized by region, including observations on what might make each guide especially useful for your research purposes.
1. The College at Old Westbury, State University of New York (Old Westbury, NY)
- Compiled by: Curt Friehs
- Don’t miss: This guide includes a section dedicated to CPA Exam Prep, useful to many professionals looking to advance their career with accounting certification.
2. Queens College (Queens, NY)
- Compiled by: Manuel Sanudo
- Don’t miss: The Queens College resource page offers a strong local focus with a number of links to New York state organizations.
3. Medaille College (Buffalo, NY)
- Compiled by: Tom Orrange
- Don’t miss: I’m always looking for unique resources for professional research. This page provided a couple I’d previously missed: an excellent free online textbook and the QuickMBA accounting tutorials.
4. Boston University (Boston, MA)
- Compiled by: Arlyne Jackson
- Don’t miss: The concise descriptions of resources provide researchers a clear understanding of the value and purpose of each link from the guide page.
5. St. Joseph’s University (Philadelphia, PA)
- Compiled by: Cynthia Slater
- Don’t miss: While the St. Joseph’s collection is slanted more heavily to journals and library resources that require student registration, the area dedicated to international accounting is a great place to start research on the topic.
6. Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)
- Compiled by: Tom Ottaviano
- Don’t miss: At first the Cornell page may seem to be of use only to students, as the collection takes advantage of a robust set of journals and databases, but there are a couple very nice hidden gems in the career section for professionals seeking quality job resources.
7. University at Albany (Albany, NY)
- Compiled by: Chris Poehlmann
- Don’t miss: This guide provides a section dedicated to accounting tutorials, especially useful for continued professional accounting development.
West & Great Plains:
8. San Jose State University (San Jose, CA)
- Compiled by: Ann Agee
- Don’t miss: The San Jose State guide balances links to standards boards, professional organizations, and other resources, with finance and accounting news via a MarketWatch.com feed.
9. Rio Salado College (Tempe, AZ)
- Compiled by: Kirstin Thomas
- Don’t miss: With more personality and visual attention than most subject guides, this collection also directly engages the question of how to most effectively conduct searches with resources discussing that very topic.
10. Independence Community College (Independence, KS)
- Compiled by: Lily Morgan
- Don’t miss: The attention to detail and local-focus is evident, as this collection includes links to multiple Kansas-based professional associations.
11. Gonzaga University (Spokane, WA)
- Compiled by: Linda Pierce
- Don’t miss: The Gonzaga University collection offers links to several auditing focused research sources and provides a good starting point for professionals tracking down compliance and fraud information.
12. Washington State University (Pullman, WA)
- Compiled by: Mary Gilles
- Don’t miss: The one-page format of this library guide makes it easy to scan and useful for quickly identifying top research sources in the form of the most helpful .org and .gov sites.
13. Salt Lake Community College (Salt Lake City, UT)
- Compiled by: Michael Toy
- Don’t miss: Community and technical colleges have earned a reputation of often being more likely to get ahead of universities in terms of responsiveness to technical trends. The inclusion of multiple accounting software related resources in this collection further supports this notion.
14. University of Montana (Missoula, MT)
- Compiled by: Susan Caro
- Don’t miss: The U of M guide includes accounting related sources as part of a wider collection of business resources. It’s a good bet for professionals whose role includes accounting as part of a larger set of responsibilities.
15. University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC)
- Compiled by: Emily Doyle
- Don’t miss: This guide features the most extensive collection of resources related to financial statement generation I’ve encountered.
16. University of Louisiana-Monroe (Monroe, LA)
- Compiled by: Karen Niemla
- Don’t miss: The Univesity of Lousiana-Monroe collection features links to a handful of excellent .gov sites that are often overlooked: the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, the Financial Management Service, and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
17. Southeastern University (Lakeland, FL)
- Compiled by: Kathleen Kempa
- Don’t miss: This collection is heavily focused on professional development resources with links to 10 different associations for accountants.
18. Houston Community College (Houston, TX)
- Compiled by: Angela Secrest
- Don’t miss: Aside from including a very well organized and varied set of resources, the inclusion of multiple open educational resources is particularly useful.
19. Franklin University (Columbus, OH)
- Compiled by: Alyssa Darden
- Don’t miss: The Franklin University page features a strong focus on associations, including links to organizations dedicated to government accountants, accounting historians, African-American accountants, internal auditors, and management accountants.
20. Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)
- Compiled by: Breezy Silver
- Don’t miss: This guide is particularly well organized with databases, journals, standards organizations, disclosures, and career resources clearly delineated and grouped into their own areas, making research easier. The CPAdirectory.com link is a useful, but often overlooked resource.
21. Youngstown State University (Youngstown, OH)
- Compiled by: Christine Adams
- Don’t Miss: The Youngstown State University guide is notable for its depth. It is one of the more comprehensive web resource collections to be found on library guides.
22. University of Northwestern (St. Paul, MN)
- Compiled by: Jessica Moore
- Don’t miss: This private university’s resource page covers the usual standards and organizations links, but also includes links to notable business and accounting thought leaders such as Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, and the Library of Economics and Liberty.
23. Edgewood College (Madison, WI)
- Compiled by: Jonathan Bloy
- Don’t miss: The concise guide to conducting keyword driven accounting research on the “Searching Tips” page is worth checking out.
24. Kent State University (Kent, OH)
- Compiled by: Karen MacDonald
- Don’t miss: The Kent State University page includes easy access to industry classification code resources, as well as concise coverage of professional associations and accounting regulations .gov sites.
25. Wayne State University (Detroit, MI)
- Compiled by: Rhonda McGinnis
- Don’t miss: This guide features an especially strong focus on taxation, including not only the more standard .gov sites, but useful .com directory and information sites.
26. Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI)
- Compiled by: Valerie Beech
- Don’t miss: Marquette’s accounting resource collection includes a page dedicated to standards based research. While a few of the sources are restricted to student access, the page includes freely accessible links to numerous other standards setting bodies.