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Knowledge management:
making use of
hidden staff talent

Karolien Selhorst reports on how a


knowledge management audit was

Image: Sean Prophet, Black Sun Journal


the first step in making best use of
the hidden knowledge potential of
a Dutch library’s staff.

L
ibraries excel in managing infor- knowledge sources, gaps and needs. lined strategic knowledge domains of our
mation and knowledge captured In order to find out how to conduct an library (customer knowledge, information
in books and documents, but audit, we studied a large body of scientific dissemination, reading promotion, library
they fail in locating and man- and business-related literature. Unfor- management development, community
aging the knowledge potential tunately, very little material was useful information and media education). One
in the heads of their own people. because it did not go beyond the theoretical of the biggest challenges was to encourage
The public library of Vlissingen, in discussion of what a knowledge audit is or people to fill out the rather extensive ques-
south-west Holland, where I work, pro- might be. So we turned to other organi- tionnaire. Promoting the audit as a stra-
vides services in its main building, and in sations experienced in the KM field. The tegically significant project proved to be a
the nearby village, in the local school and practical tips from Tatiana White (Oxford very useful solution.
in the local hospital. It has a staff comple- University Library Service) and Caroline 3, 4 We analysed and evaluated the results
ment of 44 people, who work together in a De Brún (NHS), combined with the more of our audit and prepared for a series of
strongly team-oriented environment. theoretical research, gave us an insight into recommendations.
The library management has always what knowledge management is about and 5 A second meeting was organised to thank
been convinced that, to stay relevant, the how we could implement it in our library. senior management and library workers
library has to provide more specialist serv- The two-month audit was organised in for their co-operation and to present the
ices. To do this, it knew that more efficient six different phases. results of the audit and our recommenda-
use had to be made of the knowledge and 1 We planned the actual audit. For tions.
skills of library staff members. In the past example, we spent a considerable amount 6 At present we are developing and imple-
there had been problems related to knowl- of time analysing the library structure and menting the recommendations.
edge transfer between library workers at the culture. We considered this a crucial step,
different sites and between library staff and because it provided us with the enabling Audit results
customers. Library staff had been through and disabling conditions for making rec- The most surprising result of the audit was
many training programmes but manage- ommendations after the audit. Another that, although the majority of library staff
ment had no clear idea of who possessed important issue was to determine the aim members were willing to share knowledge,
what knowledge and what knowledge and the scope of our KM audit: we wanted they did not feel encouraged to do so. Rea-
could be made use of in order to achieve to give all library workers – not only man- sons given were: library management did
the library goals. agers and supervisors – the opportunity to not explicitly support them; they did not
participate. know who knew what; they lacked time to
The knowledge audit Prior to the audit we also organised a share knowledge, etc.
Prior to formulating a knowledge manage- meeting with all staff members to tell them The respondents had the chance to sug-
ment strategy and encouraging knowledge about our plans and to ensure a broad own- gest how management could encourage
transfer, we wanted to locate, analyse and ership base for the future implementation them to share knowledge. Answers
evaluate the library’s internal knowledge. of our recommendations. included: by allocating time; by explicitly
It was decided to organise a ‘knowledge 2 An online survey was launched for all stimulating people to share their knowl-
audit’. library workers to complete. When we edge; by embedding knowledge sharing in
The main objective of the audit was to had the results, we organised a series of everyday practice; by providing the means
map and evaluate current knowledge prac- in-depth interviews with some of the key to share knowledge (an ‘open platform’
tices and culture and to identify potential knowledge players in the previously out- as someone suggested). During the inter-

38 | update 7 (6) June 2008


feature


Although the majority of library staff members were


willing to share knowledge, they did not feel
encouraged to do so.

views respondents were also asked how Weggeman,1 having a collective ambition through a so-called ‘knowledge vision’,
other colleagues could encourage them to is an essential condition for knowledge aligned with the library’s strategic goals.
share their knowledge. Most felt ‘respect’ sharing. If this condition is not fulfilled a The financial investment needed for
and ‘recognition’ were essential. knowledge=power culture will arise, which conducting a KM audit is quite small, but
Library workers were less willing, how- was the case in our library. you should be aware of the amount of time
ever, to share knowledge with colleagues it takes to launch the survey, to conduct the
from other teams than their own, ham- Recommendations interviews and to have people complete the
pering collective knowledge sharing and To provide staff members with a virtual plat- questionnaire. ✪
learning throughout the library. form for knowledge storage and transfer,
Another problem was the fact that we recommended the replacement of the
Practical Tips
the intranet was hardly used by library intranet with an internal wiki. Klobas2 and
workers. Reasons included: the contents Wagner3 have identified many advantages ● The person responsible for analysing
were often out of date; people felt they of wikis as KM tools – for example the low the results should be familiar with the
were not encouraged to contribute to the barrier for people to contribute. KM field
intranet; navigation was extremely diffi- The wiki could also operate as a central ● Get management support. If senior
cult; the intranet was extremely ‘slow’; and knowledge base for storing the knowledge management is unaware of the poten-
it lacked interactivity. Also, the archive profiles of our staff members. These would tial benefits that KM holds for the
was insufficiently separated from current include lists of skills, knowledge, hobbies organisation, all efforts will be in vain.
information, which made it difficult for and previous professional experience. Finding a sponsor in the organisation
people to find the information they were To stimulate knowledge sharing at the who can liaise between the audit team
looking for. Despite the low popularity level of the strategically important knowl- and senior management and who can
of the intranet, the respondents indicated edge domains for the future, we recom- promote the audit may significantly
that they were eager to share knowledge mended initiating so-called ‘communities improve the chances of success.
through a ‘similar medium’ in addition to of practice’. ● Do not fear people’s reactions to the
face-to-face meetings. To help staff learn from earlier identi- outcomes of your survey. If you don’t do
The audit also revealed that projects fied ‘best’ and ‘worst’ practice, we recom- the audit, nothing will happen and that
were hardly ever evaluated. Consequently, mended the use of a simple technique − the is even worse.
staff members lacked the opportunity ‘After Action Review (AAR)’, as used by the ● KM is a lot about common sense, so
to learn from earlier identified ‘best’ and US Army. The interviews had indicated keep things simple.
‘worst’ practice. that lack of time was a big problem and ● A good communication strategy is
Library management was impressed this technique takes only a limited amount essential throughout the entire KM
by the enormously rich ‘tacit’ knowledge of time and resources. A standard format audit process. During the audit process
potential that until the KM audit had was designed to help project leaders eval- it is vital to address concerns or ques-
remained invisible and unexplored. We uate their projects. The evaluation reports tions that staff members have. This
found that 50 per cent of library staff would then be made accessible through the ensures a broader ownership base and
members did not know who to consult if wiki. at the same time increases support for
they needed advice or wanted to share their In order to stress that KM is not simply the recommendations. Also, effective
knowledge. about the present, but also about meeting feedback after the audit will minimise
Finally, it was found that library workers future goals, we explicitly communicated resistance to the suggested changes.
lacked a sense of ‘collective ambition’. to library workers the aim and value of KM
According to Dutch KM expert Mathieu in the library (‘the collective ambition’)
References
1 M. Weggeman. Kennismanagement:de praktijk, Scriptum,
Schiedam, 2006.
2 J. Klobas. Wikis: tools for information work and collaboration,
Chandos Publishing, 2006.
3 C. Wagner. ‘Wiki: a technology for conversational knowledge
management and group collaboration.’ Communications of the
Association for Information Systems, Vol. 13, 2004, pp. 265-89.

Karolien Selhorst holds a Master’s degree in


Information and Library Sciences (University
of Antwerp) and currently works as digital
library manager/knowledge manager in the
public library of Vlissingen. She gives prac-
tical workshops on knowledge management
for information professionals/libraries. She
is also a freelance journalist for Bibliotheek-
blad and a member of the editorial board of
Vlissingen public library, south-west Holland: ‘Management had no clear idea of who pos- InformatieProfessional. Karolien presented
sessed what knowledge and what knowledge could be made use of in order to achieve the the results of her research at ECKM 2007.
library goals.’ selhorst.karolien@telenet.be
http://flemishlibrarian.blogspot.com

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