Chapter 3: Components of a knowledge management system at a special library – Special Libraries as Knowledge Management Centres


Components of a knowledge management system at a special library


Knowledge management combines elements from the domains of information and library science and from management science. A special library is the information management unit of the institution. Hence, the special library is the appropriate place to host a knowledge management project. The phrase ‘putting knowledge to work’ comprises the entire work of special libraries, which are placed in the centre of the knowledge equation. Librarians are traditionally trained to organise information and knowledge. Among the elements of a knowledge management system at a special library are: institutional/knowledge repositories, taxonomies, the intranet, technology embedded, the OPAC, records management, selected dissemination of information, ‘Ask a Librarian’ service, electronic records management systems, electronic journals, Web 2.0 technologies and communities of practice. The central idea is to persuade people to share their knowledge in the knowledge management system.

Key words

knowledge management

information science

knowledge management centre


knowledge management projects

institutional repository




records management

selective dissemination of information (SDI)

Ask a Librarian service

electronic records management systems (ERMS)

electronic journals

Web 2.0 technologies

communities of practice


Information science or information management as a field of study has adjacent disciplines: computer science or information technology, and management science. Knowledge management is an interdisciplinary area of study. It combines elements from the domains of information and library science and from management science. A library as an entity and a business unit is administered under management science principles. The special library is the information management unit within an organisation. Consequently, the special library is the appropriate place to host and maintain a knowledge management project. This rationale is the basis of the idea that underlines the present book.

Furthermore, the secret of a successful company is its approach to managing the creation of new knowledge (Nonaka, 2007: 164). However, since the concept of knowledge management arose in the early 1990s, there have been several developments that affect special libraries (O’Dell, 2004: 18):

 The need to apply knowledge management thinking to every aspect of business processes is widely recognised.

 User-friendly technologies, which support collaboration, have been created.

Therefore, the milestones of a knowledge management system at a special library are knowledge, people and technologies.

The roots

Although it is self-evident, it is surprising to admit that a special library gathers the knowledge created in an organisation. This idea is not new. In 1910 Guy E. Marion,

Librarian, Arthur D. Little, Inc., in an article published in The Library Journal (Marion, 1910: 403) wrote:

If the Paper and Pulp department brings us a request for information which we know is common knowledge in the Fuel department, why should we not exercise our ingenuity in bringing the proper parties together? Again, if the Fuel department works out successfully a problem which we know would help the Electric Railway department, and the data is filed with us, why should we not call it to the latter’s attention? You will readily see the effect this will have upon the general esprit de corps of the laboratory.

He described what is easily identifiable as a modern knowledge management system at a special library. In its simplest analysis, this extract describes what a special library exists to do: it connects people together, collects and distributes the knowledge created by the organisation. A central unit that is capable and pertinent to monitor the flow of knowledge in a company is, beyond any doubt, the special library.

Later on, in 1915, in an article published in Special Libraries, Ethel M. Johnson wrote (p. 159) that ‘the most important part of its [special library] equipment may not be the printed matter at all, but human brains’. The main concern of a special library is included in the phrase ‘human brains’. All of its functions are built around this perception. In modern times, one of the parts of knowledge is the tacit knowledge that lies in the heads of human beings. Indeed, right from the beginning, the pioneers of special librarianship realised the difference between a general and a special library. The distinction relies on information services. It is based on behaviour, knowledge, specialisation and willingness of special librarians to properly serve the special requirements of their clients.

The essential duty of special libraries is to get acquainted with the employees of the organisation and take the necessary actions to bring people together. A main task is to become familiar with the operations of the parent organisation and with its subject experts. Thereafter, special librarians become the mediators in connecting individuals as knowledge owners either in the same or in peer organisations. Furthermore, authors in the library science literature very early realised the close relations between special libraries and knowledge (human brains). Today it is clearly witnessed that the term knowledge management is the modern expression of what was articulated in the first stages of special librarianship and in the first steps of the Special Libraries Association. Today, special libraries continue their traditional role to provide information services and to be the bridge that connects people. As it is obvious, only the approach, perspective and point of view have changed in order to act in accordance with the technological and scientific advancements.

‘Putting knowledge to work’ was a motto expressed in 1915 to define the role of the special library. It is currently included in the Competencies for Information Professionals of the 21st Century by the Special Libraries Association (2003). It also embraces the essence of information services at a special library. The above is a strong statement to prove why special libraries are the appropriate places to handle the knowledge located in their corporation and to organise it with knowledge management principles. Special libraries have a new role to play. The term knowledge management is a recent development, but special libraries have been acquainted with the handling of information for a long time. The new field of knowledge management gives them the challenge to thrive in this domain, too.

In recent years, St Clair and Stanley (2008b: 40) very concisely describe the expression ‘knowledge nexus’ within an enterprise as the base for the development of knowledge services. The knowledge services in the knowledge nexus include executive and planning teams, human resources, product development, research, legal, accounting/financial services, communications/public relations, client relationship management, sales and marketing services. They perceive knowledge nexus as a function, rather than a place or a space. We can paraphrase the term knowledge nexus to name it a knowledge management centre and locate it in the special library, as is the purpose of this book. The knowledge management centre plays a vibrant role in the entire organisation and makes a tangible contribution to the mission of the parent institution.

The significance of knowledge management systems for parent organisations

In the present economic downturn, financial crisis is a suitable motivator for senior managers to try to reshape their organisations (Foster, 2010: 11). It is the right time to make crisis an opportunity. On one side of the fence, as libraries struggle with the fallout of the digital age, they must find creative ways to remain relevant to the twenty-first-century user (Parker et al., 2005: 176). On the other side, organisations must make effective use of the key resources they possess and align them with their business strategies, objectives and goals in order to survive. It is recognised that knowledge is one of the most valuable resources that organisations hold. A knowledge strategy, though, is needed to eliminate the so-called knowledge gap, which is the difference between the knowledge the organisation will need for its success and the knowledge the organisation currently possesses. Therefore, the purpose of knowledge strategy is to minimise this gap and to help organisations determine how to handle their knowledge in order to meet their goals and objectives. Identification of the knowledge needed in order to diminish the knowledge gap between what is known and what might be useful to be learned is an important step in the knowledge management process (Wang and Belardo, 2009: 636, 654).

Many firms have introduced knowledge management initiatives to improve their performance. It is a necessity for organisations to develop knowledge management systems, so that they capture, store and disseminate the knowledge they create, as well as the needed information. Organisations use information not only to streamline the company’s processes and to improve its services, but also to provide intelligence about the operating environment and competitors to gain competitive advantage (Parker et al., 2005: 176). Knowledge management has always been present in flourishing ventures of all kinds. Desirable goals for an enterprise are transforming corporate information into active knowledge, embracing explicit and tacit knowledge, promoting the sharing of organisational knowledge and managing the company in a way that goes beyond technical systems (Foster, 2010: 18).

The management of knowledge is a complicated and difficult, although rewarding, task for a company. According to Harrison (1995: 10–14) it has two edges: on the one extreme edge lies the choice that the management of knowledge is the maximum regulation of the circulation of information that leads to rigid controls of the distribution and the consumption of information. On the other edge is that the management of knowledge encompasses the maximum deregulation of the circulation of information that leads to free distribution of information. From those two phenomenally contradictory views, the first approach generates values by restricting the circulation of information and ideas, while the second generates values by promoting the circulation of ideas. Most companies face a dilemma to decide which model to follow but very often they pursue a kind of double-edged strategy. On the one hand, they try to protect their product, for example the software, by keeping its technology secret and safeguarding it with patents. On the other hand, they believe that it is advantageous to release some knowledge of their technology to the public in order to make it attractive by publicising it. They try to balance both approaches, because they produce and manage knowledge, but at the same time they are forprofit organisations whose existence depends on producing and communicating knowledge.

The literature, the research and the application of the theoretical approach to the real world show that knowledge management has a long-term future in enterprises. Therefore, companies cannot neglect its existence. Moreover, knowledge management must converge with information management and strategic learning to support enterprise success. According to St Clair and Stanley (2008a: 57) there are two reasons for this statement:

1. In today’s business environment, the management of information, knowledge and strategic learning as unconnected activities is insufficient. The efforts of each of them are not enough to lead to organisational success.

2. In order to provide the highest quality of service delivery, the company’s employees have to understand what they are doing and what they are talking about when they describe what they are doing.

Unconsciously, although at the back of their minds the organisation’s leaders know that they use knowledge, in fact they have to understand that working with knowledge is difficult to accomplish, because knowledge is an intangible value. However, it is a valuable construct for the company’s executives towards their efforts to bring intellectual infrastructure to a more effective level.

It is patently obvious that knowledge has become the primary resource for organisations. We live in a knowledge society, as the European Commission declared some years ago. The personal knowledge of the corporation’s employees is turned to corporate knowledge that is widely shared throughout the organisation. Corporations are implementing knowledge management practices because they expect to increase their effectiveness, efficiency and competitiveness. In their glossary, organisations incorporate concepts such as organisational learning, organisational memory and culture, information-sharing and collaborative work. These notions are closely related to knowledge management (Schultze and Leidner, 2002: 214, 218). Many practices of knowledge management resemble well-established practices in libraries and information management. Consequently, knowledge management is relevant to library management in theory and practice, while it should not be neglected that knowledge management is the future for business special libraries. As a clarification for the purpose of this book, we emphasise that when we refer to information managers we mean the managers of library and information services, or information centres or knowledge centres.

There is a relationship between knowledge management and organisational learning, categorised in three sets of processes:

1. In the operating business processes, individuals intend to use existing knowledge.

2. In the knowledge processes, individuals perform not only the task to produce new knowledge, but also to reveal the knowledge of others within the organisation.

3. In the knowledge management processes, individuals perform tasks that aim to accomplish the above-mentioned two tasks of the knowledge processes.

Generally speaking, through organisational learning the corporation presents its ability to acquire existing knowledge and to generate new knowledge. Consequently, knowledge becomes the primary product of learning activities (Wang and Belardo, 2009: 637). But external experts, such as former or retired employees, acquire knowledge and learning, too. It is essential that the organisation seeks opportunities to learn from others and to take care of the lifelong learning of their employees.

A knowledge management project is a tangible and pragmatic entity. Such projects attempt to use knowledge to accomplish the organisational objectives through the structuring of people, technology and knowledge content (Davenport et al., 1998: 44). The great difference between a knowledge management project and other projects initiated by a firm is that the former involves more human participation than raw data. The content of the knowledge management system is to be organised by taking into consideration the people who are going to use it and the flow of organisational information and data. The deliberation to manage the content involves the technology embedded to store and circulate information, as well as the skills and behaviour of knowledge managers. The management of content refers to labelling, indexing and structuring information, interface design, display and ways of accessing information (Wormell, 2002: 109–10). The knowledge management system at a special library serves as a bridge between the users and their information requirements, and the content of the system. The function is similar to the operation of a library and information or documentation centre. Since the inception of the idea of a library, it remains the bridge between users’ information needs and the library collection. Consequently, the ultimate focus and orientation continues to be the same. What changes is the medium. Once upon a time it was the traditional library and today it is the knowledge management centre with the exploitation of the advantage of information and communication technologies (ICT).

The benefits of establishing and supporting a knowledge management system are plenty. Employees take advantage of it because they use the information of the system, which in turn helps them solve work problems and execute their work effectively. While the corporate culture is gradually changing, the attitude of employees is changing, too. They have been trained to adjust to the idea of sharing information and knowledge. They can be proactive in seeking and using information. As concerns the company, the initiation of a knowledge management system improves its ability to share and access information and to broaden and deepen the expertise of employees (Wei Choo et al., 2006: 508).

When a company is a knowledge-creating organisation, it combines objective and subjective information. It taps the tacit knowledge and subjective insights of its individual members and makes them available for use by the company as a whole. The senior executives of a knowledge-creating company understand that inventing new knowledge is a collective activity rather than an activity of a specialised unit of the company, such as the R&D department, the marketing department or the strategic planning unit. Knowledge creation is an activity that is placed in the centre of the human resources strategy of a company (Nonaka, 2007: 164). That centre deserves to be the special library of the firm.

Why special libraries are the right places for knowledge management centres

The value statement of the Special Libraries Association that was adopted in 1916 and guides the profession is ‘putting knowledge to work’. It is the greatest and strongest argument to advocate the idea that a special library is the pertinent place to carry on a knowledge management system within an enterprise. An opportunity exists for special libraries to provide a service to fill the gap for the need of specialised information and intelligence. To date, demanding users rely on a combination of enhanced resources, sometimes on-demand information, user-friendly interfaces and advanced search tools (Parker et al., 2005: 177).

It is commonplace that the library of every institution, organisation, university or community is their knowledge treasure, backbone and heart. It is taken for granted that knowledge management is an innovative activity, so it is imperative for the special library to adopt, nurse, embrace, take care of and promote the innovation activities of the organisation through cultivating an efficient knowledge-sharing environment. As part of their traditional tasks, librarians select, organise and preserve information. In our days, librarians are extending their expertise to manage all types of information, not just structured and published (Branin, 2004: 48). It is significant that libraries pave the way for the postulation that they must be centres of excellence and, as such, they can take leadership of the ‘newcomer’ called knowledge management. If a special library is concerned about aligning with the company’s objectives, it has to support and pursue its improvement. Nowadays, the focus of a special library is to transform into a more service-oriented operational unit. This will be achieved by identifying and meeting the information, knowledge and research requirements of its patrons and demonstrating the value of librarians as knowledge brokers (Hart and Schenk, 2010: 47).

Literature review

It is obvious that library and information professionals have dealt with knowledge organisation since the beginning of their profession. From a look back through their history during the last 150 years, we realise that they contribute to the evolution of sciences with their classical methods of organising knowledge and, specifically, recording knowledge in written form. With their professionalism, librarians contributed to preserve the public archives of science for future reference and advancement of science (Wagner-Doebler, 2004: 43). They preserved scientific findings and culture for next generations by safeguarding the knowledge embedded in the written word.

The widely established term of the librarian as information professional is the equivalent of the knowledge professional in a company setting. Librarians must be at the centre of the knowledge equation. We keep on reiterating it, but our intent is to demonstrate that librarians are the knowledge management professionals because they are traditionally trained to organise information. They streamline the environment necessary to develop knowledge communities. Planning, designing and managing the so-called ‘social library’ (Green, 2008: 13) encompasses the implementation of an information strategy, the understanding of the user community that ensures contributors help in building, maintaining and managing the social library.

In Chapter 2 we presented the following set of skills that are necessary for personal knowledge management (Agnihotri and Troutt, 2009: 331):

1. retrieving information;

2. evaluating/assessing information;

3. organising information;

4. analysing information;

5. presenting information;

6. securing information; and

7. collaborating around information.

The author of this book asserts that these are the basic skills of information professionals. They shape part of the activities in handling, organising, processing and making information available for users. The above-mentioned authors bring us an excellent incentive to attest that librarians and, in our case, special librarians are the most appropriate individuals within an organisation to administer a knowledge management centre.

In the late 1970s when the electronic media emerged, special librarians began to provide specialised services to their parent organisations in compliance with the newly emerged media. The purpose was to fulfil the growing information management needs of the company. Thus, special librarians had to quickly adjust to the new tools and learned to perform online information searches using keywords. These kinds of services that special librarians offered to their users are highly relevant to today’s knowledge management efforts in enterprises (Boeri and Hensel, 1998: 36). Special librarians perform search services for their patrons. Additionally, they evaluate and compare information sources before purchasing them, in cooperation with potential users of the company. In that sense, a knowledge management system is a huge internal database fed by knowledge workers and contains internal information. Therefore, it is apparent that special librarians hold the knowledge and expertise to manage a system of this calibre, although they need the assistance mainly of the IT department. The one-page article by Boeri and Hensel (1998: 36) ended with the question of whether special librarians might be the key to the success or failure of the corporate knowledge management project. After 12 years, the answer is that they remain at the cutting edge and are the key to success.

Who is better qualified to manage knowledge than librarians? Everyone in the organisation needs to be aware that knowledge management belongs to the expertise area of professional librarians. Information professionals are conventionally responsible to deliver knowledge services to their parent organisation. They thrive to provide the highest levels of services for their prestigious clientele. Expected by their corporations to deliver excellence in the management of information, knowledge and organisational learning, information professionals as knowledge workers become partners with the management of the organisation to utilise knowledge services in providing service delivery (St Clair and Stanley, 2008a: 55).

The question ‘why the library’ was raised by Pradt Lougee (2007: 323) regarding her discussion about the library’s interaction with authors and content providers in the scholarly communication process: ‘the library may be uniquely or strongly positioned to uphold principles of cost-effective or low-barrier access. Also, libraries bring other important characteristics associated with integrity, authenticity, and trust.’ A special library is responsible for acquiring materials in any format for collection development. It acts as a small company because it plans, manages and implements an annual budget. With a business-like attitude, the library negotiates with vendors, content producers, publishers, subscription agents and companies to achieve low prices for the best-quality products and services. It signs licence agreements with electronic journal providers and vendors of electronic databases and it struggles to attain low-barrier access to its electronic resources. At the other end of the spectrum, the library as an entity is a trustful organisation because it is a not-for-profit institution. So the aforementioned fundamental values of integrity, authenticity and trust are realistic for an institution, such as the special library, with a long tradition and existence.

It is worth mentioning that in a book published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2003: 37–8) a case study is analysed. It concerns the UK Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), an organisation consisting of engineers, scientists and strategists that belonged to the UK Ministry of Defence before being split into two organisations. In 1998 the second knowledge management strategy was devised by a team of librarians and IT specialists. Trusting librarians is evidence that the agency realised how significant the library is. Its knowledge management system included intuitive navigation maps, search tools, software agent support, cross-linking between the content of the library and integration of existing websites. The experience of DERA had shown that a knowledge management initiative requires the enthusiastic cooperation and contribution of all staff within a supportive environment.

In Chapter 1, while discussing the competencies and skills of special librarians, we referred to an extract by Ulla de Stricker (de Stricker 2000, quoted in Colvin, 2009: 22). She declares that the traditional roles of librarians and information professionals have shifted in response to changing business conditions, but information professionals can play a vital role in most areas of an organisation, if they ‘play their knowledge management or “knowledge engineering” cards right’. Traditionally, special librarians are involved in the creation, management and distribution of information. Therefore, they face a similar challenge to be actively involved in the creation, management and distribution of knowledge.

The content management, archival and dissemination functions coexist in the library. They are the most important functions that libraries perform. The library’s role remains well bounded because it typically acts on behalf of and in response to the needs of the client group. Specifically, a core activity of a special library is to add value in the advancement of the organisation. It is active in harnessing the potential of content and systems for particular user communities and in organising content by creating and using tools and standards that enable users and scholars to exploit the content (Pradt Lougee, 2007: 324).

Reasoning for establishing a knowledge management centre in the special library

Special librarians are serving as partners with other business areas of the parent enterprise using their expertise and guidance. They are working together with the human resources, the training and teaching communities to enhance the production, availability and preservation of knowledge created within the organisation. Librarians foster not just access, but also the creation, exchange, diffusion and preservation of information, ideas and knowledge. By any means, they are involved in the creation and dissemination of information and knowledge inside the parent organisation. By becoming the knowledge management centre of the company, the special library expands its traditional arrangement and participates in the advancement of the organisation by executing traditional tasks differently with a shift to less strict hierarchical structures.

Libraries operate as collective-action institutions. Additionally, their role is to facilitate creation, sharing, preservation and sustainability of ideas (Kranich, 2007: 105). As Hess and Ostrom observe, libraries govern ‘common-pool resources’ – the shared resource systems that ‘are types of economic goods, independent of particular property rights’ (2007: 7). With this new approach in mind, special libraries are stirring up the stagnant waters of the parent company and bringing fresh air. The result of kicking off a knowledge management project in the library encourages the attitude to teamwork. The library in collaboration with all interested parties of the organisation is undertaking novel initiatives among communities with common interests. To that end, the sponsorship of the parent institution remains vital for the success of the endeavour. On the pages to follow, we display particular characteristics of special libraries’ activities that apply to the knowledge management centre. Thus, with reasons such as the following, we strengthen the assertion that the special library maintains the knowledge management centre of the company:

1. As asserted in Chapter 2, codification is one of the attributes of knowledge management. It is the process of organising knowledge in a way that it can be shared, stored, combined and manipulated for reuse. This function is perfectly accomplished by a special library. Codification and organisation of information and knowledge are two of the traditional characteristics of libraries throughout their history. The codification structure should be flexible, allowing for changes and development.

2. From the content of the term knowledge management it is evident that it derives from library processes of capturing, storing and classifying data, but it also emanates from the company’s intellectual capital and human networks (Smith, 1998: 12). To organise knowledge, a computer system is required. For many years, computers and technologies have been indispensable tools for the development and operation of libraries. Technology helps libraries to classify information and data and to make them available and retrievable. Information professionals are trained to use the technology and tools for research.

3. Organisation of data and information is the core activity of a library. The rapid growth of the Internet and information overload force organisations to entrust an entity that gains control over the increasing amount of information. Consequently, special librarians are the pertinent professionals to organise and filter the plethora of information and to present the requested information in an understandable and effective manner. Therefore, it is easy for the library to organise the content of the knowledge management system. The special librarian has the expertise to create, maintain and retrieve data from internal resources related to the intellectual capital of the parent institution.

    The librarian should be an integral part of teams in the organisation and participate in the creation of corporate knowledge in the format of documents. Then the special librarian combines internal knowledge with external information from the library’s resources. The knowledge is retained and reorganised in the knowledge management system for future use. Those internally produced documents may be kept at the special library to create a repository of the intellectual capital of the institution. To date, librarians make knowledge more accessible by creating metadata and meta-information for information. Although information professionals are not subject specialists, they deal with multidisciplinary topics and have to guide users to their interested areas. Therefore, consultation with subject specialists of various fields of studies is necessary. Librarians’ specialisation to organise knowledge is a sign that they can even play a role in website development, because they know how to organise knowledge and information and, thus, how to organise the content of the website (Porter et al., 1997: 102–3).

4. In their book, Davenport and Prusak (1998: 110) affirm that the most intriguing new knowledge jobs are knowledge integrators, librarians, synthesisers, reporters and editors. This statement comes along with our belief that special librarians are the pertinent group of employees that can operate a knowledge management centre. The above authors also suggest that knowledge administrators are responsible for capturing, storing and maintaining the knowledge that others produce. Does this not remind us of the main tasks of librarians? On page 111 of the above-mentioned book, the authors mention that organisations are redesigning existing groups of workers – often librarians – as knowledge managers. The author of this book finds two advocates in her efforts to provide evidence that a special library is the pertinent place to house the knowledge management centre of the organisation. A special library is often named as a knowledge resource centre or a centre for business knowledge.

    Special librarians are given a unique chance to change their roles. However, if they thrive to become the appropriate team of workers for a knowledge management project, they will have to change their objectives, activities and attitudes (Davenport and Prusak, 1998: 111). In the course of their work at a special library, information professionals behave as knowledge managers and knowledge workers and serve as important hubs in internal communication products and tools, such as intranets.

    The current fluctuated economic environment offers information professionals a unique opportunity to become proactive and to widen the organisation’s knowledge base. At the same time they enhance their role in the knowledge management area by proving that they are capable of introducing and managing innovative projects.

5. Information professionals, as knowledge managers who handle a knowledge management system, assist the organisation in providing informal training to employees by knowledge-sharing. Informal training provides opportunities to retain organisational knowledge, especially tacit knowledge, which is more difficult to capture when there is a great deal of employee turnover (Schachter, 2009: 52). There are many instances when an employee quits, taking with them the knowledge and experience on a specific project or department in which they were working. The sudden departure of an employee costs money for the enterprise to regain the knowledge the retired employee possesses. Nevertheless, the special library as the host of the knowledge management system acts proactively on behalf of the company and collects the knowledge possessed by the employee that left the company.

    The fundamental point of the library profession is to promote the sharing of information. The knowledge management centre advocates this role. Special librarians have the experience to identify internal deposits of information. Their experience in information retrieval, in search engines, in networking activities and in participating in social networks acquaints them with the technology and the difficulties of the online search. The role of special librarians is not limited to the boundaries of the library. It expands beyond it. Special librarians transform the library to a virtual library and a knowledge management centre to serve the whole organisation (Porter et al., 1997: 99). Likewise, librarians encourage and motivate employees to contribute to the expansion of a knowledge management system. Special librarians broadly know who needs what kind of information according to their duties in the company, so that they provide current awareness services to them. They can also develop a network of experts and bring people together. Special librarians are taking on the training role, too. Library instruction is one of the favourite activities of librarians. They teach client groups how to use the resources and the electronic databases and how to perform searches effectively.

6. The special library as knowledge management centre is forced to change the organisational structure. It integrates the process of knowledge exchange, sharing and innovation of the organisation. The library director has to raise the enthusiasm of the library staff in order to rebuild the library to a learning organisation. The characteristics of a learning organisation that enforce knowledge creation are leadership, corporate culture and managing people as assets, structures and processes (Broadbent, 1998: 26). Knowledge management brings fresh life in a library’s culture. It encourages mutual trust, open exchange of ideas and knowledge, sharing and development knowledge. Knowledge management fosters a new type of library culture (Shanhong, 2000: 5–6).

7. According to the SLA’s Competencies for Information Professionals of the 21st Century (2003: 7), special librarians ‘recognise the importance of people as a key information resource’. A knowledge management project comprises both information resources and people. A special library is the marketplace of knowledge. The thought of bringing people together is the main idea of knowledge management in an organisation. The library materialises this thought because it brings parties and experts together. It is the place where people informally meet and talk. They exchange ideas, solve common problems and advance their research and their work inside the organisation.

    A special library resembles the ancient Greek agora of the classical period. This was a place of assembly for political discussions and decisions, a meeting place to comment on the daily news but also a place to buy and sell commodities. Equally, the special library is the pertinent place for people to gather and talk, to buy and sell ideas and opinions and to socialise. For many employees it is a quiet place for a professional meeting, a place that stimulates learning and a treasure of resources. The above metaphors refer to libraries as physical locations inside a building. In the same way, a special library is the virtual centre of knowledge management with similar attributes and features as a physical centre of knowledge.

8. Libraries have had a long tradition of networking, cooperating and sharing resources. They are members of consortia and partnerships. All libraries of any kind and size have benefited from cooperative schemes. Compared with libraries’ tradition in cooperating, a knowledge management system in the organisation is a vehicle to network and connect people together. Hence, possessing the experience to work in cooperative activities, special libraries can be the trusted partners of the organisation’s management to administer a knowledge management centre.

9. As Michael Koenig (2005: 2) observes on knowledge management and libraries: ‘KM is of great importance to librarianship, most obviously of course because of the clear overlap with librarianship…. Information and knowledge has always been the province of the librarian, and this development presents obvious opportunities for the field of librarianship.’ It is true that knowledge and information has been the realm of libraries since their existence. The concept of knowledge management has gained interest and support in special libraries. Knowledge management is the process of identifying, organising and utilising the wealth of information and data created in organisations, with the goal to organise the knowledge for reuse in the organisation (Mount and Massoud, 1999: 22). Special libraries have been involved in these activities for years, but they are currently mature enough to undertake the activities of utilising the knowledge.

    The knowledge hidden in the brains of the employees and spread in the organisation is broadened because the information flow is large and it is a demand to have an entity to handle the overwhelming amounts of information. In her article, Smith (1998: 13) concludes that libraries are becoming the centres for knowledge management. Knowledge-based activities are similar to the traditional activities of libraries in organisations. Special librarians have operated at a level superior to mere knowledge management because they play a key catalyst role in the knowledge continuum. The success of special librarians has historically been associated with knowledge-based enterprises (Abram, 1997: 186).

10. A special library gains value and support from its users because it creates information and knowledge derived from the parent organisation. The initiative that the library becomes a knowledge management centre is welcome, if the company’s executives understand how extremely important it is for the organisation. Some knowledge centres offer enterprise-wide solutions such as content selection on the intranets or extranets of the parent organisation. They provide invaluable information from external and internal resources at the desktop of the employees. They facilitate access to pertinent information but simultaneously they save valuable time for the employees because they get customised information. The knowledge centres also save money for the parent organisation because employees have the required information on their desktops and do not spend time looking for it in various locations.

For all of the above reasons, library professionals must actively promote themselves in the knowledge management community and take advantage of the opportunity to be involved in the planning and implementation phases of knowledge management activities. The special library is competent to become the centre of the knowledge management system and, moreover, it is capable to undertake this project. Librarians add great value in the design, updating and maintenance of the knowledge management system, in a similar way to how they traditionally handle information systems in their libraries. Nevertheless, the success of the knowledge management system greatly depends on the dedication, devotion and efficiency of the librarians, the library manager and the support the library receives from the upper management of the organisation. In this connection again, libraries are the most prominent places to host a knowledge management centre.

Types of knowledge management projects

In their article, Davenport et al., (1998: 44–8) categorise knowledge management projects into four types. A common feature of each knowledge management project is the commitment to the human factor and capital resources:

1. Projects to create knowledge repositories. The underlying goal is to capture knowledge by taking documents that have knowledge embedded in them and to store them in a repository to which all authorised employees have access. The knowledge repository consists of documents and information and includes a structured internal knowledge such as research reports that interpret raw information, techniques, methods and policies, memos, presentations, articles, committee reports and an enquiry-tracking database (it is the ‘Ask a Librarian’ service of the library). Also, informal internal knowledge is the tacit knowledge that is not structured and document-based. It can be transferred to a repository in the form of a discussion database or forum where participants share their know-how, lessons learned and experience on a given topic and react to others’ comments. A corporate library is a metaphor for conceptualising knowledge repository projects. It is significant to mention that knowledge repositories are interwoven with knowledge creators. Knowledge repositories cannot exist unless knowledge creators are convinced to contribute with their knowledge to repositories.

2. Projects to improve knowledge access. The objective is to provide access to knowledge. A medium to implement this objective is to build expert networks. Communities of practice are a kind of informal internal knowledge. The emphasis is placed on connectivity, access and transfer of knowledge. Given that people usually hesitate and fear to communicate their knowledge, knowledge managers could encourage knowledge owners to transfer their knowledge with efficient communication. Managers, though, recognise face-to-face transfer as the most effective communication means.

3. Projects to enhance knowledge environment. In this type of knowledge management project the focus is to establish an environment conductive to move effective knowledge creation, transfer and use. In this case the corporation builds awareness and cultural receptivity to knowledge and attempts to change the behaviour related to knowledge by improving the knowledge management process, i.e. the creation, sharing and use of knowledge.

4. Projects to manage knowledge as an asset. In this type of project, knowledge is treated like any other asset on the balance sheet of the company. In some companies the intellectual capital is included in the annual report to stakeholders (see the example of the Oesterreichische Nationalbank in Chapter 5).

In practice, however, a knowledge management project can be more successful when it adopts objectives from a variety of types of project. For example, the main objective could be to create a knowledge repository and at the same time to improve knowledge access by setting a formal face-to-face knowledge transfer programme.

Components of a knowledge management system

We don’t set out to bore readers, but we wish to make it clear again that knowledge management is not the action of publishing a document within an organisation or providing access to a book or replying to a simple reference question within a library. By contrast, knowledge management is how the individual receives, uses, enhances and shares knowledge to reuse it and create new knowledge on a continuous cyclical basis.

The knowledge management system comprises vetted information and knowledge that is monitored for veracity by the creating organisation. It is also made up of the wisdom of the community, which is expressed in various social media and in communities of practice within the company. It is created by individuals who share their knowledge and opinions about the scrutinised information. In other words, the knowledge management centre contains the knowledge repository of the organisation, which is created by the tacit, explicit and structured knowledge in document form. It also contains the expertise of the knowledge contributors and the vetted information of the organisation, under the surveillance and monitoring of the knowledge manager.

The challenge for special librarians and information professionals is to integrate all knowledge emanated from the various resources of the organisation to generate the knowledge management system. A knowledge management system within an enterprise includes:

 internal and external information produced by the organisation;

 presentations and ‘white papers’ that the company has kept; and

 training procedures of staff in the use of databases.

The purpose of the knowledge management system is to aggregate all structured and unstructured knowledge that is scattered throughout the organisation and to make it accessible and reusable to all stakeholders. Structured knowledge encompasses the knowledge captured in published documents, project reports, organisational archives, presentations and external resources. By contrast, unstructured knowledge comprises informal documents, digitised internal files, correspondence and internal memos but also the memories and expertise of people who worked on projects or left the company or retired. These are important organisational assets that should be recorded to ensure their availability for future purposes.

As drawn from the above description, a practical paradigm of what a knowledge management system exhaustively includes is the combined efforts of the library’s expertise with both external information and customer approach. Those two ingredients are put together with the organisation’s knowledge-sharing expertise to establish a pool of information and knowledge. Then, the integrated knowledge base is matched with the business processes and policies. Their amalgamation results in recommendations for changes in the actual workflow of employees. Finally, the knowledge created from the above combinations is used to make decisions on topics in discussion. The last process may lead to the creation of new knowledge and to define new objectives and strategies. Hence, the knowledge cycle starts again.

The special library may commence with collecting the content for the knowledge management system from its own resources. The library has plenty of resources in the course of its daily work: the library’s online public access catalogue (OPAC), the back files of frequently asked questions, the archive of Ask a Librarian service, the selective dissemination of information (SDI) or current awareness services catalogues, listings of favoured expert resources, the online resources that can be integrated in the knowledge management system within the organisation, the electronic journals and the Library 2.0 tools established in the library. Therefore, the library expands the content and context of the knowledge management system and includes organisation-wide resources, such as records management files, departmental and disciplinary documents, experts’ resources, human resource management documents and files.

In the pages that follow, we describe the basic components that comprise a knowledge management centre. Certainly it is not an obligatory list for an organisation that plans to establish a knowledge management centre. The enumeration of components is apt to be comprehensive, but it is still indicative, not exclusive. The parent organisation decides which ingredients to include in the knowledge management centre according to its specific needs.

1 Institutional repositories/knowledge repositories

One of the types of knowledge management projects is to create knowledge/institutional repositories. In any case, the institutional repository is a basic constituent of every knowledge management system. Libraries have worked out published information and they provide it to their clients. Nevertheless, the challenge for special libraries is to manage a new format of information: unpublished corporate material. The handling of this type of internally produced material is new for them (King, 2004: 15). Knowledge management work is both a manual and an automated process that allows the processing and validating of the wealth of knowledge created in the organisation. Systems used for self-publishing products are often open-source, such as D Space, which permits the creation of institutional repositories in companies.

The components of an institutional/knowledge repository encompass document management and content management systems, intranets, directory of internal experts, enquiry-tracking database (for example the Ask a Librarian service that is maintained by the library), memos, reports, presentations, articles, committee reports, spreadsheets, manuals, internal blogs, wikis and Facebook, taxonomy, customer/contact relationship management systems, web conferencing, e-rooms and many others. Despite the number of tools, the knowledge management system comprises people, software, hardware, space and equipment (Trudell, 2006: 29).

A segment of the institutional repository is the publications of the organisation. The organisation that maintains a knowledge management system usually publishes several documents in series, serials or monograph formats. The rule is that the publications of the organisation are held in the library for archival reasons in print and/or electronic format. Nowadays, many organisations proceed to electronic publishing. A concern is usually taken to make the necessary precautions to establish and retain a repository for the organisation’s publications and internal documents. The most appropriate place for an electronic repository is the knowledge management system of the organisation.

2 A search engine for the repository and the knowledge management system

Search engines are the tools to offer multiple access points to content using simple, advanced and browsing search capabilities, as well as Boolean or proximity operators. Help pages, search tip pages, hyperlinks and user ratings are some of the common features enabling users to explore content.

Layering a search engine over a database, a file management system or a content management system and, in the end, over the entire knowledge management system does not solve the issue of managing the vast amount of information and knowledge contained in the knowledge repository. It must be firmly ensured that the information and knowledge searched is accurate and current. Otherwise, the search engine will come up with results that are inaccurate, outdated and irrelevant. The knowledge repository should have poor information filtered out. The librarian as the organiser of information is in a good position to filter out irrelevant information. However, this task cannot be executed by the librarian alone, simply because it is not a one-man show. It is work that requires consultation with the creators of the recorded knowledge to monitor its relevancy. Therefore, the library must be at the centre of managing the knowledge repository with the assistance of other stakeholders throughout the organisation (Green, 2008: 13).

3 Taxonomy

Taxonomy is an integral tool of a knowledge management system. Taxonomy is a controlled vocabulary where each term has hierarchical and equivalent relationships (broader, narrower and equivalent). It resembles the widely known thesaurus in libraries. Nonetheless, taxonomy is what librarians conceive and know as classification. Taxonomy is derived from ‘taxis’ (order or arrangement) and ‘taxinomissis’ is the Greek word for classification. Obviously, taxonomies, indexing and classification structures are the natural domain of library and information professionals. In the new environment of knowledge management, taxonomy is the indexing and classification processes. It is the architecture of information and the management of the content that is embedded in the knowledge management system (Oxbrow and Abell, 2002: 22). Consequently, even in the terminology, the fields of knowledge management and library science use common expressions.

Potentially, all stakeholders of the knowledge management system are enabled to develop taxonomies when they publish their documents but we wonder if they are doing it in the right way. It is easy for everybody to place tags in the text they post on a Web 2.0 tool, but is its structure understandable to be used by others or should we follow rules and standards for taxonomies and tagging? In my judgement, this is the work of the special librarian within an organisation to apply rules for controlled vocabularies and to monitor tagging and taxonomies.

Taxonomy is a type of knowledge organisation system. Knowledge organisation systems are schemes that are designed to arrange information in a way to become retrievable and searchable. They refer to a broad range of systems that are intended to organise information and to facilitate the description of resources and to dig into their content. Knowledge organisation systems include general classification schemes, special classification systems, thesauri, subject headings – such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings – taxonomies, ontologies and other types of standardised controlled vocabularies. These systems are important for digital library collections to enable users to connect to the information they seek. Thesauri – as a type of controlled vocabulary – historically have been considered to be an extremely useful knowledge organisation system. A thesaurus improves the precision of searches for experienced users (Shiri and Chase-Kruszewski, 2009: 121–22; Shiri and Molberg, 2010: 604).

Before preparing a taxonomy, the librarian has to determine the targeted audience and the content format. To that end, the librarian has to analyse and examine the content, as well as to understand problems and concepts. At first, the major and broad categories are developed. The terms need to be descriptive, meaningful and unique. Afterwards, a deliberation between stakeholders and subject experts is helpful in order to attain consensus about the broad subject categories. Their comments are taken into consideration to refine taxonomy and make all necessary modifications. Then taxonomy is applied to navigate through websites, to find materials and to locate services and knowledge workers.

Taxonomy is to be integrated with existing applications, systems, documents and programmes. The next step is the maintenance and ownership of the taxonomy. It is a requirement to periodically review taxonomy terms and update them (Whittaker and Breininger, 2008: 6) because taxonomy is a dynamic and living feature. Taxonomy pertains to knowledge systems in the same way that classification and thesauri are appropriate for library management systems. Taxonomy is different from assigning metadata. Metadata is information about information. It is further information on specific access points. It relates to library and knowledge systems because it links one piece of information with another by using computers. In spite of that, taxonomy is the architecture of information and the management of content.

Managers can use taxonomy to keep a close eye on the changing value of their knowledge assets. Besides, taxonomy offers a functional tool for managers to measure the durability and profitability of their knowledge assets. By using taxonomy, managers can have a complete picture of the distribution of knowledge assets within their firm. Taxonomy has the potential to help a corporation align its knowledge assets with its strategies (Li et al., 2010: 52).

4 The intranet (internal portal)

A company introduces a knowledge management strategy in order to encourage professionals in the organisation to share their knowledge and expertise and to collaborate for the benefit of the organisation. An important tool for sharing knowledge is the internal portal, which supports the exchange of knowledge (Wei Choo et al., 2006: 497). Via the portal the right information can be delivered to the right recipients; it encourages the sharing of knowledge; it supports communities to exchange information; and it provides further access to systems and resources.

The intranet is the internal local portal that facilitates the creation and storage of a variety of files and documents of projects, products and meeting reports. Internet portals are single-point access software applications, designed to provide easy and timely access to information and to support communities of knowledge workers, namely the communities of practice who share common goals (Lee et al., 2010: 21). The operation components of an intranet are internal databases and integrated search engines, groupware programs and communication tools (Accart, 2001: 165).

The intranet is a medium to disseminate the knowledge organised in the knowledge management centre of an organisation. It is the internal portal where access is permitted only to a defined group of people within the company. The intranet is a vehicle to store and make accessible the company’s information. It facilitates information transfer and knowledge transfer. Free access to company information gives employees the opportunity to be aware of the information leading to the creation of new knowledge. However, the top management of the company is required to provide the policies and standards for justifying the value of the knowledge that is constantly developed by the organisation’s members. In a knowledge-creating company, what counts more are qualitative values on top of increased economic efficiency, lower costs and improved return on investment (Nonaka, 2007: 170).

A company’s intranet is not regarded as a knowledge management system per se. Of course, it is false to consider that a company’s knowledge repository is its hard drive or the intranet. In that case it is the ‘junk drawers of the Internet age’ (Green, 2008: 13). Indeed, the intranet includes internal information generated by the firm that is shared within the organisation, but the challenge is to integrate all the knowledge of the organisation inside a knowledge management system. Thus, the intranet becomes a component of the knowledge management system.

In its simpler approach, an intranet is the first step to introduce a knowledge management system in an organisation. Intranet as a technical innovation changes the traditional working style of a company (Cropley, 1998: 29). It allows group working where information is shared and it facilitates posting of material that overcomes traditional formal structures of internal communication. It is important, though, to organise the information available on the intranet in order to make it searchable. Otherwise it is like the Internet, where the searcher can be confused by the overload of information and comes up with dozens of irrelevant results on a given query. However, the reaction of the user who is overwhelmed by the plethora of information is that they look only at the first or second results pages. Therefore, the quality of the intranet, its content and searchable terms are of immense importance. The quality factors an intranet portal should meet are accuracy, authority, coverage, currency, interactivity, objectivity and openness regarding the content, design, aesthetics and disclosure of authors (Lee et al., 2010: 22).

Since libraries are the places that provide public services, they are also the places where sharing of knowledge takes place. Hence, they have the appropriate staff to manage local sharing initiatives, such as intranets (Davenport, 2002: 86). A special library is the pertinent place to administer the organisation’s intranet in collaboration with several departments, such as the communications and IT departments. This knowledge can be presented in the intranet, which offers a great tool for the special library to deliver and distribute information to the company’s employees. Librarians acting as knowledge brokers combine the skills of organising, packaging and disseminating knowledge, which enhances the value of the intranet as a knowledge tool. They are the skilful workers who locate quality materials from an intranet but also the Internet. They become searchers themselves and facilitators of knowledge retrieval to assist users in their searches.

5 Technology embedded

It is commonplace that technology has increased access, added functionality and enabled interaction among people. A knowledge management centre requires technological infrastructure to build on. But the danger is to focus only on technology and not on the content itself. Davenport and Prusak (1998: 78) assert that in such a project ‘the rule of 33VS percent’ should apply: if more than one-third of the total time and money resources of a project is spent on technological aspects, the project results in an information technology project and not a knowledge project. Information technology is a pipeline for knowledge creation; it is the device to store information and knowledge. Therefore, there must be a balance between the content of the knowledge project and the technology underlying its infrastructure.

It is obvious that the key component and protagonist is knowledge, which is supported by technological tools in order to become accessible to the users of the knowledge management system. Technology facilitates knowledgesharing, connections and communications but it will not act alone. Information technology is an enabler. Therefore, the work of the chief information officer, who is developing and managing the information technology infrastructure and systems, is not to be confused with the work of the information professional, who is managing information per se (Lee, 2005: 1) and with the work of the chief knowledge officer.

The knowledge management system is not a technology-driven system. Nonetheless, information technology enables bringing together disparate information technology systems under the umbrella of the knowledge management system. Information technology improves the intranet and at the same time develops an information/research repository maintained within the company. Technologies that support knowledge management mainly contain textual documents in structured and unstructured forms. They enable interaction among participants, stakeholders and users who comprise an integral part of the knowledge management system.

A knowledge management system should be built on existing information technology infrastructure. Information technology tools include knowledge repositories, intranets, news updates and access to online databases. Other technical tools include browsers and spidering programs, semantic networks, shared databases, discussion groups, storage architectures, database management systems, metadata, information retrieval mechanisms, content management and data-mining. A technology tool for a knowledge management system is the integrated search engine. A search engine is a powerful component of the company’s portal, too. Lotus Notes, SharePoint and Livelink are examples of technological groupware tools that include databases, configuration tools and allow personalised applications. They are designed for use simultaneously by several people of a company (Accart, 2001: 166).

In particular, information technology has taken a primary role in the course of library development history. The functions of automation, digitisation, networking, digital libraries and, more recently, Library 2.0 are enabled with the use of information technology systems (Shuhuai et al., 2009: 254). Therefore, we can neither overestimate nor underestimate the necessity and instrumental role of information technology in libraries. But in the case of the knowledge management system it is emphasised that information technology and technological applications are instruments that underlie the operation and success of the system. Not to forget that the driving factor is human resources, namely people.

6 The online public access catalogue (OPAC)

The OPAC is one of the components of the knowledge management centre. It is the backbone of the library because it records all material in all formats that a library holds. It allows access from the desktops of the employees as well as Internet access if the library permits it. The new-generation O PAC s provide advanced features because they combine OPAC and Internet search with metadata, such as Dublin Core in open source systems. The metadata is used to describe a variety of objects in all disciplines. For example using, Dublin Core metadata or the Cooperative Online Resources Catalog (CORC) by Online Computer Library Centre is a new approach to capture web information by cooperative efforts. Links from the frequently asked questions and answers to specific items in the online catalogue and in web links is a combination that is easily built on the daily transactions with library users.

The new-generation OPACs comprise one of the library’s databases. The library’s databases, which include e-journals, e-books, the OPAC, archives and directories – just to name some of them – are retrieved by capable unified search mechanisms, which provide federated search. The advantage of those federated search mechanisms is that they facilitate patrons to execute their search on one unified platform and to receive clustered results instead of getting tired and disappointed by searching each database separately.

7 Records management

As explained in Chapter 1, records are documents of current value for the organisation, including correspondence, reports, internal memos, inventories, finding aids, guides, drawings, specifications, photographs, microforms, storage devices and computer discs. Records have long been seen as a source of organisational memory (Yakel, 2000: 26–7). The institution usually has a retention policy in place and a programme to describe the material, which is characterised as records (Mount and Massoud, 1999: 225). Record-keeping is a core activity of an institution, while record centres collect information and effectively manage data related to the operations of the organisation. Record management is an ingredient of the knowledge management system, because it encompasses and preserves all internal information that deserves long retention periods. This information is made accessible to all stakeholders of the company depending on the authority level of the records. Therefore, the access to the records management through the knowledge management system permits all employees to become aware of policies and procedures that should be followed in compliance with the goals and objectives of the parent organisation. The business unit responsible for the retention of the records is usually the records management office.

8 Selective dissemination of information

One of the traditional roles of a special library is to make selective dissemination of information. The specific nature of SDI enforces the library to approach the users on a personal level. It is greatly significant for a special library to create bibliographies and gather information that is distributed to readers according to their field of work and of expertise. This abbreviated term has been known for many years. Now it is articulated as knowledge dissemination. The library might have listings of favoured expert resources that are updated and enriched over time. These listings can form part of the knowledge management system. The manual service of SDI can be done automatically by employing the push technologies with great convenience. In the knowledge management system each user can get personalised information with the interactive MyLibrary feature permitting the gathering and organisation of resources for personal use (Lee, 2005: 6). Again the special library lies behind this personalised service. Namely, it provides access to its electronic resources that allow the user to construct the personal profile in order to get the information they are interested in.

The modern term of SDI is the phrase current awareness services, which has the same meaning of disseminating information. Any patrons of special libraries who are interested in keeping abreast of new developments in their discipline can join the current awareness services. The library uses several ways to diffuse information: table of contents, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, acquisitions lists and information disseminated according to the profile of the patron. The key to current awareness services is to keep users up to date with target services. Prior to that, it is necessary to determine user expectations and requirements. As we have mentioned before, user surveys, questionnaires and interviews are the assessment tools for the library to evaluate its services and to identify user needs. Afterwards, the library will take advantage of the assessment results to reconsider and adjust its services and policies accordingly.

9 Ask a Librarian service

At their reference desks, libraries come across diverse queries that demand correct and quick answers to satisfy users’ information needs. Many libraries use online services such as Ask a Librarian to allow patrons to introduce their query and to facilitate reference desks to reply to it. Depending on the library, the Ask a Librarian service is real time or virtual. In other cases, libraries keep internal files of questions answered with notes on the paths followed and resources used to reply to each request. This practice aids the reference librarian to trace back to the database (electronic or paper) to get help whenever a similar question re-occurs. The database is a valuable source of information but it also incorporates the knowledge of the librarian to handle the query. This is another component for a knowledge management system.

The Ask a Librarian service in conjunction with frequently asked questions (FAQs) are sources of precious information that are linked with the online catalogue and with web links. The FAQs is a common feature to many websites. As a consequence, both services are used as road maps and save time for reference librarians because they react speedily and correctly to a user’s query. They comprise a pool of knowledge in the knowledge base that is easily retrieved. Thus, the prestige of the library increases and user satisfaction grows, because the library responds quickly to enquiries providing thoughtful answers. As a first step to enrich the knowledge management system the library can use back files of the Ask a Librarian service and make them accessible and retrievable for public use.

10 Publications by employees on various disciplines

A repository of the work published by employees on various disciplines and fields of study is a valuable knowledge resource to be included in a knowledge management system. For example famous open-source research repositories are RePEC (Research Papers in Economics) and IDEAS, with papers on economics, and SSRN (Social Science Research Network), with working papers and articles on the social sciences. In the library and information science domain the open-access repository of library-related papers and articles is E-LIS (E-prints in Library and Information Science). Given that the author permits republication and redistribution of either the bibliographic reference or the full text of the work, this part comprises a collection of the scientific research of employees and their contribution to the particular field area of the organisation.

Another component of the knowledge management system is the scientific material derived from conferences and seminars. It includes reports from scientific meetings and conference proceedings, where employees participate either as part of the audience or as lecturers. The collection contains valuable, current and state-of-the-art information on disciplines related to the subject orientation of the company.

11 Online resources, document management systems (DMS) and electronic records management systems (ERMS)

To date, most documents created and distributed within an organisation are in electronic format. Versions of the same electronic document may be added and there is danger that it is impossible for the original electronic copy to be perpetually stored. There is also a risk that the integrity, provenance and authenticity of the final version of the document are not guaranteed. Document management systems enable their administrators to monitor changes to the electronic document. But the software industry identified the need to produce systems that are suitable to manage electronic records. These systems are called electronic records management systems (ERMS). The ERMS applications do not allow modifications of the original electronic records that are registered on the system and permit read-only access to the document. Thus, information security is added as a factor to be further developed (Ataman, 2009: 221) and the integrity, authenticity and preservation of documents are achieved with ERMS systems.

12 Electronic journals

In current years, libraries of all types are increasingly acquiring electronic journals related to their subject coverage. Users are delighted to access them from their desktops, instead of visiting the library to make photocopies of articles. Still it is inevitable that there is an overlap among the various databases of electronic journals by different vendors. However, each product has something special that distinguishes it from its equivalents. Therefore, libraries are forced to acquire different packages of electronic journals in their efforts to fulfil all users’ requirements. This trend is similar to acquiring several books on a given topic, whereas each of them is not identical to the others.

As regards electronic journals, there is an ongoing discussion about ownership or access. This issue is rather solved because publishers of electronic journals do not permit ownership but only access to their electronic products. Thus, they preserve their content, whereas libraries are tied to keep on subscribing to the electronic journal service. Otherwise, they will lose the content when they decide to cancel their subscription to the service. Nowadays, libraries increasingly demand to maintain access to the back files of the electronic content they have purchased, even if they cancel their current subscription. The situation gradually changes because libraries organise consortia and discuss this topic on a professional level in close cooperation with publishers.

Even if things change, the situation about licence agreements will remain the same. There are restrictions to use the electronic content and libraries have to abide by the terms and conditions of the publishers. Therefore, electronic journals encompass part of the knowledge management system but they are strictly used by the members of the organisation.

13 Web 2.0 technologies

Inevitably, the World Wide Web has changed the way we work, interact and communicate. The advent of Web 2.0 technologies, or the social web, allows users to become content-generators. They facilitate human interaction, social networking and collaboration among people or groups of people. Particularly the younger generation of Internet users rewrites the rules of social interaction. The term Web 2.0 is defined as the ‘perceived second generation of Web-based platforms’ that allow online collaboration and user-generated content-sharing. Similar terms to Web 2.0 include: social networking, virtual communities, electronic communities, online communities, social networking software and social network services. Specifically, when those technologies are applied to the business sector they are often referred to as Enterprise 2.0 or Enterprise Web 2.0. In the library context the term is Library 2.0 (Van Zyl, 2009: 906, 908–9). Library 2.0 is supplying knowledge management systems with a new philosophy, while Web 2.0 is offering efficient technology for virtual communities.

Web 2.0 technologies introduce new communication tools that improve collaboration and distribution of knowledge among knowledge workers. More than ever, Web 2.0 technologies promote knowledge-sharing opportunities. Unavoidably, those electronic social applications have intruded on the business domain in recent years. The penetration, spread and popularity of electronic social networking is facilitated by the wide availability of laptops, the low cost of Internet access and working from home (Van Zyl, 2009: 906). Web and Internet communications technologies enhance the communicating and learning experiences of individuals (Jones, 2009: 234).

Some of the social networking tools include (Razmerita et al., 2009: 1022; Van Zyl, 2009: 908):

 Social networking systems, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, allow people to interact with others on a massive scale, on a one-to-many mode.

 Blogs and microblogs, such as Twitter, enable textual communication and are used to exchange opinions. They are self-publishing tools where the owner posts messages. People can subscribe to blogs, share links and post comments. Before being available, the owner of the blog determines if postings comply with the rules established. They are appropriate tools for sharing knowledge on different topics of interest, on a one-to-many mode.

 Wikis, such as Wikipedia, are websites that offer the collaborative opportunity to write, revise, change and edit content, on a many-to-many mode.

 Instant messaging tools, such as Skype, are communication tools to facilitate effective interaction with others, on a one-to-one mode. The private and confidential communication is ensured only by the traditional e-mail exchange.

 Social bookmarking, such as Delicious, enables tagging by authors for easy taxonomy of topics. They allow users to post their lists of bookmarks or favourite websites for other users to search and view.

 RSS feeds are in a web-based format that is frequently updated. They permit users subscribe to favourite ‘feeds’ to automatically receive updates. It is a very powerful tool for the user to harness the overload of information and narrow it only to favourite websites and fields of study.

 Video and photo tools, such as Flickr and YouTube, permit the exchange of photos and videos on a massive scale.

Social networking tools are components of the knowledge management system, too. They generate knowledge in an informal manner by potentially replicating the dynamic interaction of conversation. These applications create and manage people’s expressions and opinions, personal relationships and links. Social networking tools are considered to be the future of knowledge management and its sub-domain, personal knowledge management. Through Web 2.0 technologies in a knowledge management system people can create, codify, organise and share knowledge, but also collaborate in creating new knowledge. Using Web 2.0 tools in a corporate intranet can change the way of communication among peers. As communication tools, social networking media also enable informal learning. They offer new ways to explore things and engage others in the same process.

While broadly accepted, it is argued (Jones, 2009: 232) that the adoption of the new technological tools is often faced with suspicion in enterprises because they introduce new patterns of communication. It means that the company overcomes old habits and adjusts to new ways of communication in order to move forward. However, when companies are interested in embracing social networking tools, they are concerned with security and privacy issues and in many instances they prefer to use proprietary solutions (Razmerita et al., 2009: 1028).

To a large extent, there is an ongoing debate regarding the benefits and risks of adopting Web 2.0 technologies in corporations. Some of the benefits of Web 2.0 include:

1. They can help organisations to aggregate all accumulated organisational knowledge and experience in a searchable format.

2. They create a culture of sharing in the organisation and increase job satisfaction, productivity and workflow efficiency.

3. They increase staff motivation to contribute valuable information and, in return, to expect information, but also reward frequent contributors through ratings, increased visibility and reputation for individuals.

4. They can identify experts, potential customers and business partners.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore the risks a corporation takes when it allows the use of Web 2.0 technologies:

1. User-generated content can harm the company by publishing sensitive and confidential information. Misinformation derived by employees – intentionally or not – can cause legal actions against the company. Therefore, damage to organisational reputation resulting in loss of profits is a danger for the company.

2. Productivity will be affected in a negative way, because employees may spend too much time on social networking. It is easy for employees to deviate to more social purposes and not work postings.

3. The time and extent of using social networking may cause resource waste and problems with the bandwidth being congested for servers and network utilisation.

4. The exposure of names and information can be used in social engineering attacks from spammers and virus-writers or other malware.

By contrast, librarians are inclined and attracted to the promised benefits of social (knowledge) networks and social media, such as Facebook and wikis. To take that for granted, special librarians as knowledge managers can overhaul to re-engineer the entire content and knowledge management environment. In fact, when used independently, blogs, wikis, Facebook and other social media create additional silos of information that are not aligned with the core knowledge repository. However, if librarians, who manage the knowledge repository, integrate the vetted information of the knowledge repository with the content of the social media in one place, then they enhance the searching possibilities for users of the knowledge management system. The wide expansion and penetration of social networking tools in libraries alter the way of thinking and communicating with users. The analogous debate and impact on library activities results in the introduction of the new term social library.

Some managers have doubts about deploying Web 2.0 tools and wonder how effective they will be for their business. The social media can be blocked by the IT security measures of the company for harmful content. However, security measures and firewalls are necessary to ensure sensitive information is not leaked outside the organisation. For that reason the company should have clear policies on the personal use of the social media tools. Nonetheless, managers cannot overlook or ignore the wave of Web 2.0 technologies in their organisation via a knowledge management system. Given that the knowledge management system is to be used within the organisation, the use of social networking 2.0 can be limited within the borders of the organisation.

To be honest, although useful, beneficial, trendy, easy to use and modern, social media cannot replace the conventional communication tools within the company, namely the telephone conversation, e-mail communication and, predominantly, the face-to-face contact. These types of communication will stay in the future and persist in the same way as the printed material of the library will remain a vibrant part of its collection. These are hybrid solutions. They combine the traditional with the modern attitude, but both of them will coexist.

14 Communities of practice

The notion of knowledge-sharing in the organisational environment leads to the creation of communities of practice. In the late 1990s knowledge management initiatives were concerned with informal or existing processes to manage knowledge but not with real knowledge issues. An example of the real management of knowledge is the communities of practice. According to Hara et al. (2009: 740), this concept was developed by Lave and Wenger in 1991. But the term was popularised by Wenger, McDermott and Snyder in 2002 (Cox, 2005: 533). These three authors suggest the following definition (Wenger et al., 2002, quoted in Hara et al., 2009: 740):

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis. (see also Cox, 2005: 534)

As a means to create and share knowledge in today’s corporations, communities of practice have attracted much attention as a way to foster learning and communication among a firm’s members. Communities of practice are composed of people who share work experiences, problem agendas and have similar learning opportunities (OECD, 2003: 31). They convene and learn from each other. Communities of practice are an innovative way to create and share knowledge in organisations (Bourhis and Dubé, 2010: 176). They are informal networks of personnel with similar interests and complementary knowledge or groups of people inside an organisation or in peer organisations that have the ability to share common professional interests, to communicate on a professional level and to transfer their knowledge within the organisation. They usually participate on a voluntary basis; they most often are ultra-organisational and are facilitated by the management to increase learning and creativity among co-workers (Cox, 2005: 536). They stimulate discussion and dissemination of information.

Communities of practice resemble what Pradt Lougee (2007: 313) refers to as the so-called ‘invisible college: informal groups and networks of interested parties that has played a critical role in advancing knowledge within disciplines’. With the advent of the Internet and the development of information technology, the interest in extending communities of practice to the online environment has been expanded. Communities of practice foster knowledge development and create interaction among highly specialised experts within an organisation.

The voluntary nature of the self-organised groups of employees is usually initiated from their desire to foster communication with one another. They share common interests, work practices and aims (Davenport and Prusak, 1998: 38). Communities of practice mainly operate within organisational boundaries. But another type of community of practice, which is open and online and not constrained by organisational borders, is growing today. Recently, many organisations have looked to elicit cooperation outside their boundaries. Virtual communities of practice is a progressive improvement of communities of practice, because they rely on ICT that facilitate communication among their members as being geographically dispersed. They do not face time or space constraints. This trend is facilitated by the advent of Web 2.0 applications that allows users to generate content and share it with others, both inside and outside the organisation (Hara et al., 2009: 741).

The voluntary basis of communities of practice becomes official when organisations are involved in their creation and sustainability. Organisations provide the vision, motivation and systems to support the development and activities of communities of practice or virtual communities of practice (Bourhis and Dubé, 2010: 176). The same authors argue that there are three distinctive characteristics that pertain to virtual communities of practice but also to simple communities of practice. These features lead to their successful evolution:

1. Communities of practice should be implemented in an organisational environment that is not hostile to knowledge-sharing.

2. The theme of each community of practice should be highly relevant to the daily work of its members.

3. The (virtual) communities of practice should be integrated into the organisation’s formal structure.

Communities of practice create new knowledge, while sharing existing knowledge and experiences. They enhance their participants’ learning horizons in an informal way. Communities of practice are a structured but informal and loose communication tool as compared with face-to-face meetings, conversations at water coolers or in the lift. They are particularly important because they connect individuals with common interests. They incorporate the human information system, the professional network and they encourage knowledge transfer and knowledge-sharing.

Organisation of communities of practice

Major factors that drive knowledge exchange in communities of practice are prestige, contribution, reciprocity and recognition. When people are motivated to share their knowledge, they feel confident to openly express their ideas. Some policies for the creation of communities of practice are necessary. The organisation is responsible for setting the rules of their creation and it may decide on the topic of the community as well as the criteria that each potential member should fulfil in order to join it. A standard launching protocol and guidelines are indispensable for consistency reasons under the management of the parent organisation. The structure of each organisation delineates how people should communicate in order to facilitate their work. They have a predetermined structure, including the sponsor, who should be a senior manager that represents the community at the executive level, the leader who provides guidance and micromanagement to build, maintain the community and create a network of members by encouraging participation (Bourhis and Dubé, 2010: 180). Of course, the members shape the integral part of the community and feed it with their contributions.

According to our judgement, the best of the bunch of modified and revised typology for online communities of practice are the following categories (Hara et al., 2009: 747–51):

 The knowledge-sharing culture examines how the corporate culture or the culture surrounding specific professions would influence the attitudes and behaviours of knowledgesharing in professional communities of practice.

 The organisational sponsorship identifies whether and how the parent organisation sponsors and supports communities of practice.

 The environment determines whether the organisational context is supportive, neutral, facilitating or obstructive for the development of communities of practice.

 The degree of institutionalised formalism questions the extent to which a community of practice is formalised by the institution or is informal and not recognised by the parent institution. They often exist without organisational recognition.

 The category of leadership describes three types of leaders/ members of communities of practice, depending on the degree and frequency of their participation: the core members, who are active by measuring the amount, frequency and the significant impact of their contributions; the founding members, who may not be very active but intervene in crisis occurrences to decide on the future directions and overall existence of the community of practice; and, moderators, whose roles are to monitor the list, to filter messages or to resolve conflicts.

 The geographical dispersion refers to the physical location of the participants in cases when communities of practice have boundary-crossing structures.

 The member selection category defines the way a member is selected for the community of practice. In general, anyone who is interested can join.

 The member enrolment determines how members decide to enrol in a community of practice. Mostly, the enrolment is based on a voluntary process, but this is an important factor for the sustainability of the community of practice.

 The membersI CT literacy. Due to the fact that the community of practice operates in an online environment, its members must become familiar and comfortable with the use of ICT. One of the things that discourages people from participating in communities of practice is lack of technological competencies.

 The topicsrelevance to members determines how relevant the topics of discussion are in the community of practice with members’ daily work. Since knowledge-sharing, information exchange and solicitation, or call for advice are the primary reasons for being engaged in communities of practice, people enrolled in them require sharing topics and problem solutions relevant to their daily work.

Functions of communities of practice

A discussion database or forum in a knowledge repository is an integral part of a knowledge management system. Nevertheless the distinction between an online discussion forum and an online community of practice is based on four criteria (Hara et al., 2009: 743). In communities of practice members:

 share practice;

 develop a sense of being a part of a community;

 undergo meaningful learning through experience; and

 possess a sense of identity.

Consequently, through knowledge-sharing, members enrolled in communities of practice create a common ground around their daily practices and build relationships that result in a sense of shared identity. They shape an entity under common goals and interests.

Advantages of communities of practice

Communities of practice are used as a knowledge management instrument in organisations. By recognising their significance, organisations should encourage their creation for knowledgesharing, because this concept becomes more prevalent in business organisations. Managers should regard them as company assets because they accumulate and articulate knowledge. Thus, by spreading knowledge out, communities of practice contribute to the organisation’s growth. However, there is a growing understanding that people have to trust each other in order to share their knowledge and expertise.

Some of the advantages over designing communities of practice include (Nonaka, 1994: 23; Lee and Valderrama, 2003: 29):

1. They may transcend organisational boundaries and include peers in several organisations who share common experiences. In that way, they facilitate networking among people who are geographically dispersed.

2. Members of communities of practice act as resources for each other. These communities reflect the way in which people actually work and differ from the formal task-related procedures that are specified by the organisation.

3. Enrolment in online communities of practice offers the advantage to reduce or eliminate expensive face-to-face meetings.

4. Companies benefit with faster response times to clients, improved quality in work and deliverables, faster implementation time for projects and content ready for reuse.

As happens to the knowledge management system, the success of the communities of practice is based on the support and endorsement of the parent organisation. It is the management of the organisation’s responsibility to support them financially, if necessary, and encourage them constantly, but also to motivate the participation of people. Particularly regarding the success of virtual communities of practice, Bourhis and Dubé (2010: 179) suggest in their research that there are five criteria. They are divided into two dimensions: the first three criteria refer to the effectiveness and the last two to the health of the communities of practice. The criteria include:

 The extent to which the community has met its original objectives that comply with the objectives of the parent organisation.

 The value is created for the advantage of the organisation.

 The benefits return to the members of the community by exploiting this tool.

 The satisfaction of members is high.

 The level of activity and interaction among members is considerable.

To that extent, management practices and decisions that influence the life of communities of practice include (Bourhis and Dubé, 2010: 177):

 individual incentives to participate in the community;

 practices designed to foster a knowledge-sharing culture in the organisation;

 enabling practices by providing IT training and technical support; and

 practices designed to monitor the community.

The success of communities of practice is measured with questionnaires as part of the evaluation process of the knowledge management system. The evaluation of communities of practice, as in every management project, determines their longevity and sustainability. The incentives and rewards for participation are small tips adopted by supportive top management.

A case study on communities of practice is included in Chapter 5.

Sharing internal knowledge

The overall logic of the knowledge management centre is to share internal knowledge. This section summarises the value of internal knowledge, which is included in the knowledge management system. Knowledge-sharing is the range of activities to capture internal knowledge and promote its transfer to and its reuse by others (Trudell, 2006: 27). People possess knowledge that is not codified. Codified knowledge is stored and reused by others. However, not all knowledge held by individuals is captured and codified. We reiterate here what Polanyi said in 1966: ‘We know more than we can tell’ (quoted in OECD, 2003: 39). Sharing internal knowledge is a sort of internal learning. The great proportion of adult learning occurs informally among peers inside or outside the company. Formal learning in the form of the course-based approach is directed by the organisation, while informal learning is pursued by the learner and occurs through communities of learning, daily activities at work, social networking tools and peer colleagues.

The phrase knowledge-sharing ought to be a recognised phrase in a company’s lexicon. The values of accuracy and quality predominate in its meaning. The research conducted by the staff and internal papers are components of the knowledge management system. Among internal documents are operations manuals, directories, regulations, help-desk guides and best practices of departments (Nordan, 2005: 20). Archival data in the format of newsletters, handbooks and reports, but also non-print materials, such as video recordings of events, are encompassed in the knowledge management system.

In cooperation with the human resource department, the knowledge management system can incorporate the database of staff resumes, records and documents related to their professional development. Lists of employees with their main functions in an organisation are essential tools to be used by the library when it acts as the knowledge broker between the knowledge requestor and the knowledge owner. It is evident that this sort of tool must be continuously updated in order to remain accurate. Last but not least, the knowledge management system may include the telephone directory, or the Yellow Pages of the organisation. Of course, the telephone directory fits well in the intranet of the organisation as an information tool but it is not a knowledge management tool. However, the knowledge management system embraces information as well. A knowledge map, like a site map, is a necessary instrument to codify and facilitate the searching process of the knowledge management system. It should be accurate, frequently updated, clear and user-friendly.

The knowledge that is recorded and retained in various departments of the organisation can be shared on the knowledge management system and be reused for different reasons and projects. For sure, it is very important to persuade the owners of departmental knowledge to share it for the organisation’s growth. Otherwise, the knowledge management system is useless, deficient and incomplete.

A potential component of the knowledge management centre, which is unusual and innovative, is storytelling. Sharing narrative stories of routine experience in the form of oral internal history is a powerful device to communicate values and experiences (Foster, 2010: 19). Examples of successful collaboration can be posted on the knowledge management system under the appropriate section. They operate not only as a strong motivation tool for employees to make group effort an integral part of their daily work, but also as a stimulus to contribute to the system. In addition to the company’s staff, stakeholders can be engaged to contribute with their examples of experiences related to the products and services, the information-seeking behaviour, the level of client satisfaction and their experiences with the research staff (Hart and Schenk, 2010: 49).


The examples of knowledge that is captured and stored in the knowledge management system are endless. They may be extended as far as the imagination goes. In conclusion, the key for the success of the system is the support of the executives of the organisation, who are the decision-and policy-makers. They influence every aspect of the firm’s functions. Of course, the success of the system also relies on the participation of stakeholders. They have to change their attitudes of communicating and sharing knowledge. A prerequisite is that the partners ought to be trained to adjust to the innovative system. They have to learn new things and should be receptive to accept changes. Special librarians as the managers of the knowledge management centre should be and remain capable and competent for such a huge pioneering project.

The knowledge management centre is a tremendous and immense project. As we describe in this chapter, it includes several components. It is advisable to start small and grow bigger instead of remaining steady and inert because of being reluctant to undertake a large project.


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