Monday, April 5, 2010

On Knowledge Management

One of the “new professions” is that of the knowledge manager … a person who is charged with leveraging the “intellectual assets” of a company. It is very akin to what corporate librarians have done since the beginning of the 20th century (and, in my view, why the Special Library Association was formed outside the American Library Association umbrella).

It is more active than librarianship (as generally practiced) inasmuch as the KM practitioner focuses on charting, assessing, cataloging, and publicizing *internal assets* while the librarian focuses on *external assets* … but they are also natural partners since external assets become internal assets once the information is valued and becomes part of an employee’s knowledge. That also works in reverse since internal assets are extremely useful to know about when one is doing a library search.

That said, corporate librarianship … if you’ve a reference background and inclination … has always been about “getting answers.” How was never very important when your immediate need was to establish the value of your services.

(That lesson was drummed into me by a pair of marketing guys. As the saying goes, you can get the answer to a question cheaply, quickly, or accurately – pick two. The library serves to optimize the process. KM brings in a new set of resources.).

That said, KM is not reference librarianship. It creates structures, builds databases, and recognizes relationships … but it doesn’t necessarily do the nitty-gritty work of discovery needed to make good use out of what it creates. Corporate types unfortunately tend to assume that employees will use KM created tools.

Which they will just about as often as they use library resources.

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