I'm not sure if this practice is common now, but in the earlier days of molecular biology many of the reagent vendors, like NEB, Stratagene, and BRL, were actively engaged in research and in spreading the news of new discoveries. I probably wouldn't know much about inteins – self-splicing proteins – for example if I hadn't seen the NEB newsletter sitting around in the coffee room.
Companies were also engaged in testing research protocols. In the late eighties, molecular biology students were very superstitious, possibly because we didn't really know what we were doing anyway and each protocol had so many steps. As a consequence, we tended to follow protocols somewhat blindly, with few deviations. The protocols were gold and we rarely went "off-book." Fortunately, BRL (a defunct reagent company) used to have a wonderful publication where they did experiments to test the pervasive myths of the molecular biology lab. If it weren't for the scientists at BRL, biologists would probably still be precipitating DNA in dry ice baths and using storing oligos in buffers with the wrong pH.
I frequently used catalogs or technical bulletins from reagent vendors as teaching resources in biotechnology courses at Seattle Central Community College. All my students had their own copies of the New England BioLabs catalog. They used this catalog to find information on restriction enzymes, buffers, absorbance constants, molecular weights, and other facts that they needed for doing molecular biology lab work.
The other catalog that I found essential was the Difco Manual. For microbiologists, the Difco Manual is the equivalent of Harold McGee's classic book for chefs ("On Food and Cooking"). For years, as a microbiologist, I used LB or BHI broth to grow bacteria and made media with all kinds of mysterious ingredients like tryptone and peptone. The Difco manual, with its wonderful descriptions of media ingredients, opened my eyes and provided enlightenment. Naturally, the Difco manual became required reading for students in our media and solution preparation course.
Fortunately, those two resources are available on line. You can get the NEB reference material at: www.neb.com and the Difco manual
Subject: Web resources