Should librarians be interested (or not) in Knowledge Management?

In the opinion of Denise Carter, Managing Director of DCision Consult and a long-time information professional, the answer is yes, librarians should be interested in KM, but they should consider why and when, plus what value that interest could deliver for them.

As an information professional, I am convinced we all need to be aware of other related information and knowledge disciplines. Librarians, records managers, archivists, information managers and knowledge managers share a passion for getting the right information—the right knowledge—to the right people, at the right time, in the right format. I believe we all also share an ethical and values-based approach in how we perform our roles within our respective communities or organizations. I have been a librarian, an information manager and, latterly, a competitive intelligence professional. And I know I am not alone in shifting paths as careers evolve and different opportunities come into view.

Improving our own knowledge and developing our professional capabilities is one good reason to find out more about KM or another information discipline.

Anyone who is a CILIP member will surely have at some point worked their way through its excellent PKSB—The Professional Skills and Knowledge Base, discovering that, although there are separate sections for different disciplines describing the key skills needed to succeed in these areas, there is a varied degree of overlap among all the sections. Exploring the PKSB can be an excellent way to set new professional development skills for ourselves.

Broad-based learning

Learning about KM and other information disciplines outside our current sphere is surely also why we attend conferences or sign up for training courses. It is always interesting at a conference to find speakers who can provide a bridge to another discipline—someone who can shine a light on that discipline without expecting any particular expertise from the audience but who can give us a peek behind the curtain, so to speak. A way for us to see if there are elements we can use and adapt for our own work.

Finding out about more about KM and other information disciplines can add value to the services we can offer our communities, organization or team.

For example, in my years running a library and information service for a pharmaceutical company, I understood which deliverables from our group fed into parts of the organization where records management was key for regulatory and compliance reasons. To facilitate the work of our colleagues in those teams, we made sure that we presented those deliverables with the correct metadata and in the correct formats. This required us to at least have a basic understanding of how they handled documents and information.

Similarly, we worked in close collaboration with colleagues in research and development who introduced KM projects to capture research knowledge for the organization. To help with this, my team attended some external KM courses so we could effectively tailor our deliverables, or create some new ones, to assist our colleagues’ KM efforts. Another advantage of learning more can be to bolster our own elevator pitch and ability to describe the value we bring.

But I will add a caveat. While yes, I think we should be interested in KM, we should also be clear that one course or a single conference session doesn’t make us an expert in another area. If you like what you hear and want to shift lanes, then you have to put in the work to move disciplines. What is critical for librarians is to be clear about what we do and why we do it, whilst realising we can benefit from adopting some tools and techniques from other disciplines. Just remember, because we perhaps run a lessons’ learned session after a project, we do not suddenly become knowledge managers.

Describing our value

To dwell on a pet peeve of mine: Sometimes KM can be viewed as more “important” than information management or library activities. In organizations where you may be a solo information person or on a team reporting to senior management, the perception too often is that there is a hierarchy of information disciplines—and KM sits at the top. In my opinion truly excellent KM can only be delivered when the organization is also excellent at information management. That does not translate to one being better or more important than the other—just that if both are done well, then the organization benefits. The relationship is not one-way. Good KM should inform good IM.

Being able to describe what my library and information team delivered in value terms—which projects we supported, at what points, how we helped move projects forward with our deliverables meant I could always make the case for excellent information management. Understanding the difference between the KM and IM also meant I could explain that and clarify why the organization needed what we delivered independent of any KM activities.

So in conclusion, yes librarians should be interested in KM. But all information professionals in any sphere should always be interested and knowledgeable about any other information discipline. And there is no issue in popping across boundaries and occasionally using or repurposing an element from other discipline if it helps add value to what you delver for your community, organization or team.

Denise Carter MSc FCLIP

Denise is Managing Director of DCision Consult a research and analytics company providing competitive intelligence and business analysis support to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Prior to setting up her own company 10 years ago Denise worked in multiple information roles for a variety of multinational companies in the U.K. and Switzerland for over 20 years.