Preface – Special Libraries as Knowledge Management Centres


Until August 1999, my knowledge on the term ‘knowledge management’ was obscure and limited. At that time I attended the International Summer School on the Digital Library organised by Ticer at Tilburg University, the Netherlands. I listened very carefully and intensively to a lecture by Martin Dillon entitled ‘Knowledge Management Opportunities for Libraries and Universities’. I was impressed by the opportunities and challenges that opened to librarians and the new roles assigned to them beyond their traditional library activities.

After that I tried to get more informed on the topic by keeping abreast of the pertinent literature. My next step in the involvement with knowledge management was to write an article that was published in a Greek library journal called Modern Library (Synchroni Bibliothiki) in 2000. Since then I have been following up the issue of knowledge management and my interest on the topic is augmented. The next stage in my journey with becoming familiar with knowledge management was my curiosity to search particularly how and why a special library can cope with knowledge management and how it dares to become the knowledge management centre in an organisation. Hence, I started preparing this book.

Knowledge management is traced back to the 1990s. At first it emerged, cultivated, grew up and flourished in the business sector because the possession, treatment and exploitation of knowledge engage business to gain competitive advantage. The secret of a successful company is to manage the creation of new knowledge. Due to the fact that knowledge adds value to enterprises, the need to manage the escalated amount of knowledge appearing in a company resulted in the creation of systems to manage it effectively. It is worth mentioning that knowledge management systems exist in academic environments because academic institutions are the appropriate places that produce knowledge through research and educational activities. The purpose of this book, though, is to concentrate on the treatment of knowledge solely in enterprises and to illustrate that the corporate or special library is the suitable location and business area to run a knowledge management centre.

Information science or information management as a discipline has adjacent disciplines, namely, computer science or information technology, and management science. Knowledge management is an interdisciplinary field of study. It combines elements from the fields of information science or library science as well as from management science. A library as an entity and as an organisational unit is administered under management science principles. The special library is the information management unit within an organisation. Consequently, the rationale behind this is that the special library is the appropriate place to host and maintain a knowledge management project. The utmost factor, however, is that the special library gets the support and advocacy of the senior management.

Since the conception of knowledge management in corporations, there have been several developments. A need has emerged to apply knowledge management thinking to every aspect of business processes. This trend is widely recognised. Moreover, user-friendly technologies that support collaboration and communication among people have appeared. It ought to be understood that knowledge management pertains to three factors: knowledge, people and technological tools. The prevailing factor, though, is people. People as knowledge-creators enjoy a central seat in the knowledge management centre. People are the distinctive attribute between information management and knowledge management. Information is analysed and organised data, while knowledge is the product of human minds and resides in people’s heads.

In this book we are talking about the knowledge management project, the knowledge management system or the knowledge management centre at a special library. The meaning of those terms is placed on a gradually increased consequential scale, which we should clarify:

 knowledge management project is the work, including the strategic planning and organisation of the project;

 knowledge management system is the knowledge management project, including the technological infrastructure, namely the software application and the administration of the system;

 knowledge management centre, in our perception, is the special library. It basically embraces the knowledge management system and the involvement of the special library staff as well as the engagement of the knowledge management team that administers and maintains the centre. It is an invisible place because it tackles knowledge, which is intangible, but simultaneously it is a visible and noticeable space because it occurs in the premises of the special library.

In addition, the terms organisation, institution, company, firm, enterprise and corporation are used interchangeably.

When they become knowledge management centres, special libraries introduce the innovation dimension into their corporations. They show their capabilities to play a central role in the enterprise and change the traditional low- profiled status of a library as a place that collects books. Knowledge management centres provide knowledge and information ‘just on time’ and not ‘just in case’. In the first years of the second decade of the twenty-first century, special libraries have to overcome current difficulties that make them vulnerable to closures and to make crisis an opportunity as a business unit in their parent organisation.

Eva Semertzaki

Athens, December 2010