What’s in a Name? The Library vs. Knowledge Management Center

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What’s in a Name? The Library vs. Knowledge Management Center

As head of the library at a large biotech company, I’ve been asked by my administration to determine whether we should change our name from The Library to The Knowledge Management Center. Initially my response was “Of course! That’s what we do. We ‘manage’ the ‘knowledge’ for our colleagues all over the world.”

But then I read an article that changed how I think about the term knowledge management (KM). The article described two different types of knowledge—explicit and tacit.

Librarians are very familiar with explicit knowledge, often referred to as information. This information is typically documented and public, codified, structured, and externalized, such as journal articles and patent data.

Tacit knowledge, however, is defined as personal and undocumented knowledge that is dynamically created and experience based.  This type of knowledge is difficult to write down, visualize, or even pass on from one person to another, because it is intuitive and depends on experience and context.  In our biotech environment, this might include the brainstorming that precedes the search for a new molecular compound or the steps in a complicated manufacturing process.

What Constitutes a Knowledge Management Center?  

Faced with the conundrum of The Library versus The Knowledge Management Center, I took to the Internet for additional insight. I learned that the accepted definition of knowledge management is a process of creating, sharing, and managing both the information AND the knowledge of an organization. A fully built-out knowledge management center incorporates complex methods for curating and disseminating information, as well as sharing ideas and thoughts that enable groups to create opportunities from unexpected connections and new perspectives.

So where does my library stand in this regard?  As I looked through all our holdings, it became clear that the entire corpus of our library is composed of information, with virtually no tacit knowledge at all.  While we are storing, curating, and retrieving many thousands of pieces of information each year, it is still just the explicit type of knowledge. We have not yet developed any solutions for capturing, managing, and distributing the tacit knowledge of our employees.  As a true KM center is a mixture of tacit and explicit elements, we’re not really a knowledge management center….yet.

The state of our Knowledge Management Center (going forward)

My staff and I are always up for a challenge.  All this talk of tacit knowledge has us intrigued.  Most employers will state that their greatest asset is the knowledge of their employees, yet we’re not capturing any of it.

Moving forward throughout 2017 and into 2018, we plan to begin making changes that will incorporate more tacit knowledge alongside our traditional information resources.  We will start simply and begin by adding a series of podcast interviews with our scientists, and then perhaps branch out into building communities of practice, where like-minded employees can share best practices within an environment that can be both archived and searched.

There will be bumps and hurdles as we take these new steps forward.   But as a library trying to stay relevant and meet the objectives of our company, we’re willing to give this new strategy a shot.  After all, who better to promote lifelong learning than the Library—no matter what we’re called?

Jill Shuman

Author: Jill Shuman

Jill Shuman heads up the corporate library and Knowledge Management Centers at Shire. Jill is also an adjunct faculty member at the Tufts University School of Medicine, where she teaches courses in grant writing, searching the biomedical literature, and expository writing. Prior to her role at Shire, Jill was a healthcare research analyst and award-winning science journalist. She is active in SLA, HBA, and the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). In 2016, she was the recipient of AMWA’s lifetime achievement award for her success in teaching more than 40 classes, workshops, and seminars. When not at work, she can be found reading (on an e-reader to make the print bigger), looking for her glasses, or writing children’s mysteries that feature sick children as super sleuths!

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