Organizational culture and learning Essay

Feature article Knowledge management, librarians and information managers: fad or future? Brendan Ledgering Introduction This article considers some of the principles and practices commonly associated with ‘ ‘knowledge management” (KM) in so far as they seem to be of potential importance or relevance to library and information professionals.

Competing claims and counterclaims about KM as expressed in a selection of recent professional and academic publications are reviewed, though a truly comprehensive survey of the topic would, as Waltham (1997) suggests, have to take into account the domains of information systems strategies, information policies, computer science, knowledge- based and expert systems, the economics of information and knowledge, intellectual capital, human resource management and organizational culture and learning.

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While various definitions, or attempted definitions, of KM are quoted or referred to, the complex conceptual and epistemological aspects of, for example, the meanings of and relationships between data, information, knowledge, expertise, know-how and wisdom, which are often confused or ignored altogether in much of the literature of KM, are beyond the scope of this article (but see, for example, McCarty (1993) and Abidance et al. (1994) for interesting discussions of these topics).

Although terms like ‘ ‘knowledge economy”, ‘ ‘knowledge worker” and ‘ ‘knowledge management” have been in circulation for a considerable time, there appears still to be no real consensus of opinion about how, and to what extent, KM differs clearly from and/or represents an advance or improvement on established librarianship or, more specifically, information management or information resources management theory and practice (see Trucker,1967; 1969; Michael, 1980; Sieves and Lloyd, 1987).

There are also differing views about both the validity of the conceptual foundation and framework so far developed for KM and the claims made for it as a major paradigm shift in the theory and practice of information resources management and its credibility as an approach to the management of human and intellectual resources in organizations. Some commentators have been inclined to dismiss KM as yet This article is based in part of a paper presented at the 3rd British-Nordic Conference on Library and Information Studies in Boras, Sweden, 12-14 April ? 1999. The author Brendan Ledgering is Lecturer at the Department of Information Studies,

University of Sheffield, Sheffield, ASK. Keywords Knowledge based systems, Training, Librarians, Information management Abstract This paper reviews some recent professional and academic publications on aspects of the theory and practice of knowledge management, with particular reference to the curriculum of professional education for library and information management and the career roles and prospects of information professionals. Some commentators dismiss knowledge management as a fad; others view it as a major paradigm shift in the management and exploitation of ‘ ‘intellectual capital”.

It is concluded that many aspects of knowledge management practice bear a close resemblance to willingness practices in librarianship and information management. However, the emphasis by knowledge management theorists and practitioners on the importance of knowledge elicitation and knowledge creation, groundwork and team work, greater involvement in organizational strategy development and support and IT may require greater attention to the personality, motivation and career aspirations of potential entrants to the profession in order to prepare them better for watermarking, multi-role careers.

Electronic access The current issue and full text archive of this Journal is available at http://www. Emerald-library. Com New Library World Volume 100 . Number 1151 . 1999 . Up. 245В±253 # MAC university press . SINS 0307-4803 245 Knowledge management, librarians and information managers Brendan Ledgering New Library world volume 100 . Number 1151 . 1999 . 245В±253 another, transient management fad (for example, Waltham, 1997), while others have recognized in it at least a partial reincarnation or resurrection of familiar library and information management processes and procedures (for example, Koenig, 1996;

Broadband, 1998). It has also been seen as both a threat to and challenge and/or opportunity for new career paths for information professionals (for example, Erosion, 1998; Hill, 1998). In spite of, or perhaps because of, these conflicting views, there has been an explosion of publications, Internet resources, conferences, workshops and seminars about KM; a recent monograph on KM, for example, records that a search for relevant Websites conducted while the book was being written produced as many as 137,038 sites apparently relevant to the topic of KM (Webb, 1998, p. ). Terms and titles such as ‘knowledge culture”, ‘ ‘knowledge-creating company”, ‘knowledge- based assets”, ‘ ‘chief knowledge officer”, ‘ ‘knowledge architect”, ‘ ‘knowledge director ‘ ‘knowledge manager”, ‘ ‘knowledge specialist”, ‘ ‘knowledge assets” and ‘ ‘intellectual capital”, now appear regularly in Job specifications and advertisements.

Much of this activity, as noted above, has been concerned primarily with the development of a KM approach to organizational or corporate information strategy and policy, and concepts such as the ‘ ‘learning” or ‘ ‘knowledge” company and the management of ‘ ‘intellectual capital” (Monika and Attacked, 1995; Brooking, 1996; Lester, 1996; von Kroger and Ross, 1996; Wilson, 1996; Chuddar, 1997; Davenport and Prussia, 1997; David Seeker Associates, 1997; Seeker, 1997; Seeker and Amandine, 1997; Severe, 1997; Stewart, 1997; Bonaventure, 1997; Knowledge Management, Bibb; Seeker, 1998; Murray and Myers, 1999).

There is also evidence of a growing interest in the public sector, including health information services and several police forces (West Marcia, Surrey) in the I-J, and the Scottish Museums Council, for example, has recently awarded a contract to Solon Consultants to review the management of knowledge at the Council and formulate a strategy for knowledge management at the Council’s Intimation Centre (Knowledge Management, 1 19th; Solon Consultants, 1999). As for academic and research libraries, some university libraries in the USA are now promoting themselves as ‘knowledge centers”.

In the I-J, interest has, however, been more muted[l]; as Collier (1994, p. 216) says, in a different context, ‘ ‘This is curious, given that a university is a knowledge-based organization par excellence”. A recent study of the management information needs of academic heads of department in English universities found, for example, that the majority of university barbarians interviewed could not see any role for the library in helping to meet the management, as opposed to the research and teaching, needs of academics (Greene et al. 1996). However, the convergence of library and computer services and the requirement by funding bodies that institutions should formulate information policies and strategies have led to a higher profile for the role of information management in the institution as a whole and there is some evidence that both the funding councils and a small number of universities are beginning to investigate the ink between information policies and KM (Collier, 1994, p. 216; Corral, 1998).

Although Corral (1998), in an article based on a paper originally prepared for the Joint Information Systems Committee’s Committee on Electronic Information, notes that KM does not yet appear to have had much impact on the higher education sector, she nevertheless draws attention to research at the Universities of Leister and Warwick, on behalf of the Institute of Personnel and Development, on human resource roles in KM initiatives, and a Know-How project at the Open University involving its Knowledge Media Institute, Institute for Educational Technology and the Library, and also mentions the involvement of the University of Leeds in a Knowledge Management Consortium formed by the Centre for Exploitation of Science and Technology along with a number of companies.

The number of publications more specifically concerned with KM and libraries and information services is growing steadily. The following are worth consulting: Babel (1999), McCarty (1993), Abidance et al. (1994), collier (1994), Koenig (1996), Greene et al. (1996), peters (1996), Abram 1997), Broadband (1997), Attar (1997), Global (1997), Koenig (1997), Marshall (1997), Miller (1997), Broadband (1998), Butcher (1998), cooper (1998), corral (1998), Doyle and du -root (1998), Field (1998), Fisher (1998), Warns (1998), Hill (1998), Infield 246 (1998), Lank (1998), peddle (1998), Erosion (1998), SST Clear (1998), sutures (1998), Foster (1999), Field (1999), Kirk (1999) and Stratified and Wilson (1999).

Rather surprisingly, three recent publications about the challenges and opportunities facing information professionals, issues in their training and education, and the competencies tort facial library professionals, do not specifically refer to knowledge management (Pantry, 1997; Raman, 1997; Burke and Miller, 1998). On the other hand, TFTP Ltd has recently carried out an investigation aimed at the identification of the key roles in KM and the skills and expertise necessary to fulfill them, as well as the assessment of the training and development needed to prepare personnel and to enhance information skills throughout organizations (Hill, 1998, p. 150); at the time of writing, this investigation has been completed and TFTP Ltd has announced a number of events to assassinate the results. We cannot manage knowledge directly В± we can only manage information about the knowledge possessed by people in organizations.

Even then, the information to be managed is necessarily incomplete because the boundaries of personal knowledge are fuzzy and continually changing as individuals get out of touch or extend their knowledge (Straddled and Wilson, 1999, p. 70). Knowledge and its management Introducing a collection of papers on the theoretical aspects of research on knowledge in organizations, von Kroger and Ross (1996, p. 1) refer to the persistent ambiguity of the concept of knowledge and state that ‘There is much to be discovered in the field of knowledge management and we are still on the very first steps of what appears to be a long ladder”, while Erosion (1998, p. 157) describes KM as stumbling ‘ ‘F F F on lack of common understanding, agreed standards, and proven processes”.

Murray and Myers (1999) describe KM as ‘ ‘a slippery concept” and continue: In the last few years, management theorists and academics have burst blood vessels and budgets analyzing what it meaner В± and there are a host of definitions, even embryonic philosophies, circulating the executive hot-desks and aerodromes of the world (Murray and Myers, 1999). While much of this ambiguity and uncertainty may well be due to the often loose and inconsistent definition and use of the terms ‘knowledge” and ‘information”, there is a much more fundamental misunderstanding apparent, or, at least, implicit, in much that has been written about KM, namely, the misleading assumption that knowledge can actually be managed in the same way as the people who possess it. As Stratified and Wilson (1999) put it, however: Monika and Attacked (1995), a frequently cited text in the KM field, devote a whole heaper to a review of concepts of knowledge from Classical Greece to the middle of the twentieth century.

They argue that there has been a tendency in the Western epistemological tradition to prefer ‘ ‘abstract theories and hypotheses” and ‘ precise, conceptual knowledge and systematic sciences”, whereas Japanese epistemology has tended ‘ ‘to value the embodiment of direct, personal experience” and that this is apparent in Japanese management’s emphasis on ‘ ‘on the spot” experience and networking and the importance of tacit or implicit as opposed to explicit knowledge (Monika and Attacked, 1995, Up. 0-31). (Tacit or implicit knowledge is personal, unarticulated, unrecorded and difficult, some would argue impossible, to elicit and manage, while explicit knowledge is formal, systematic, and comparatively easy to communicate and share. Although generally regarded as a seminal work, Monika and Ticktack’s study of Japanese car companies as ‘ ‘ knowledge-creating” companies has been accused of not recognizing clearly enough the possibility that ‘F F F knowledge is so constrained by culture, style, education, expertise etc. ” that ‘F F F there must be grave doubts that it is possible r desirable for Western companies to copy Japanese approaches to knowledge management F F F” (Waltham, 1997, p. 79). Abidance et al. (1994, Up. 1012) also stress that we must ‘F F F recognize the subjectivity of any approach to understanding information, and its dependency on linguistic, cultural, social and technological influences”. Their summary of a number of definitions of ‘ ‘information” and ‘ ‘knowledge” illustrates the complexity of the relationship between the two, e. G. information is the link between knowledge and observed phenomena; information supplies and supports knowledge; information is an expression of knowledge; information is ‘ ‘useful knowledge”, and, quoting Stonier (1990, p. 17), ‘ ‘Knowledge is organized information in people’s heads” (Abidance et al. , 1994, p. 11). They make the 247 distinction between antigenic and generic knowledge, that is, between ‘F F F the use of the term ‘knowledge’ to describe an internal mental state and an external representation or embodiment of knowledge” and suggest that knowledge is personal, individual and inaccessible”, but that it does, however, ‘F F F manifest itself in (and is created and modified by) information” (Abidance et al. , 1994, p. 3).

They also emphasis the continuous and dynamic nature of knowledge, since it: F F F changes in the course of acquiring information F F F information affects our state of knowledge regarding something (possibly providing Justification for a belief) F F F It should be emphasizes that this state of knowledge is continuous and dynamic, I. E. Existed before the information arrived, and may change rapidly. Thus, knowledge is more than ‘the sum of its parts”, and we cannot seriously consider knowledge to be composed of ‘units” of information (Abidance et al. , 1994, Up. 14-15). Unman-centered assets, such as the talents, skills, expertise, creativity, and problem- solving abilities of employees (Brooking, 1996; Knowledge Management, chic).

Knowledge management, information management and librarianship KM has been broadly defined as ‘ ‘F F F the acquisition, sharing and use of knowledge within organizations, including learning processes and management intimation systems” (University of Warwick, 1999) or, more specifically, ‘F F F the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge and its associated processes of creating, gathering, organizing, diffusion, use and exploitation. It requires turning personal knowledge into corporate knowledge that can be widely shared throughout an organization and appropriately applied” (David Seeker Associates, 1997). Murray and Myers (1999), summarizing the findings of a survey of European business leaders’ views on KM, undertaken by the Cornfield School of Management, report that 73 per cent of those surveyed favored the definition of KM as ‘ ‘F F F the collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination, and utilization of knowledge to fulfill organizational objectives”.

Some of those who have tried to define KM in relation o librarianship, information management and/or information resources management concede that there is much about KM that may arouse a sense of deal- v among many inform?A nation professionals: We would of course recognize ‘ ‘knowledge management” as librarianship, or at least as an extension of librarianship В± but unfortunately the business community does not yet recognize that essential identity(Koenig, 1996, p. 299). Intellectual capital Recently, there seems to have been a shift of emphasis from the concept of ‘ ‘knowledge management” to the management of ‘ ‘intellectual capital” or ‘intellectual assets”: To be aware that knowledge can be tacit, explicit or anything else doesn’t take us very far in trying to understand Just why knowledge is now considered essential to economic well-being and how an organization can managed [sic] it for competitive advantage and indeed survival.

It is more useful to consider ‘knowledge” in terms of intellectual capital (Knowledge Management, chic, p. 11). In this context ‘ ‘intellectual capital” is used to mean not only information, in the sense or senses in which it has traditionally or conventionally been understood and managed by information professionals, but also such ‘ ‘intangibles” as the expertise, know, experience, competencies, talents, ideas, thought and intuitions of the people in an organization (Monika and Attacked, 1995; Koenig, 1996; David Seeker Associates, 1997; Seeker, 1997; Welch, 1997; Chuddar, 1997; Stewart, 1997; Oboist, 1998; Broadband, 1998; Sparrow, 1998).

These ‘intangible” assets have been described as encompassing: market assets, such as brands, licensing and franchising agreements; infrastructure assets, such as technologies, corporate culture, databases f information on markets and customers; intellectual property rights, such as copyrights, patents, registered designs, trade marks; and Of the six steps which Koenig lists as essential in order to enable an organization to capitalism on the ‘intellectual capital” at its disposal, three В± the role of information,

Cooper reports, however, that some of the former researchers were hesitant about involvement in the management of internal information, partly because in their professional education and previous experience they had concentrated on external sources of information, and partly because involvement in the management of internal information was perceived to offer little of value in terms of their own career development (Cooper, 1998, p. 48). Cooper’s list of what he considers to be the key abilities, competencies and talents required for such posts resemble to a great extent those mentioned by Hill (1998) and Erosion (1998), namely: the ability to work and empathic with others both inside and outside the organization; well-developed interpersonal and communication skills; IT skills; the ability to priorities, structure