J.Jaba Joselin, J.Issac Arputharaj, M.Dinesh
Academic libraries are information centers established in support of the mission of their parent institutions to generate knowledge, and people equipped with knowledge in order to serve the society and advance the well-being of mankind. In the digital age, academic libraries face challenges from both within (academia) and without (the business sector). Academic departments, or even faculty and students, may purchase or build their own portals to meet their academic and/or research needs. Will that marginalize the services provided by academic libraries? Commercial companies have entered the field of information services.
To prove their relevance and value, academic libraries must strive to provide the right amount of information to the right clientele at the right time with a right expense of financial and human resources. With a stagnant or dwindling library budget, academic libraries have to increase their operational efficiency in order to meet the challenge. One management tool that can help in this regard is Knowledge Management (KM).
The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) 69th General Conference and Council (Berlin, Germany; August 2003) devoted a session on Knowledge Management.
2. Knowledge Management as Reflected in Library Literature
A cursory review of library literature on Knowledge Management reveals the following trends: 1) of all types of libraries, special libraries, especially business and corporate libraries, are taking the lead on Knowledge Management research; and
2) of academic libraries, public services and digital libraries are in the limelight.
2.Knowledge Management :Trend in Academic Libraries
Branin (2003) surveyed the field of collection management over the last fifty years and discerned an evolutionary path from "collection development" to "collection management" and now to "knowledge management". In that sense, he echoes Corrall's claim (1998) that Knowledge Management, when applied to libraries, often becomes how to manage recorded knowledge, that is, library materials.
Digital library is another area Knowledge Management has been actively applied. Rydberg-Cox, et al. (2000), equate Knowledge Management to "the new document delivery and knowledge management tools" in a digital library.
Few articles on Knowledge Management dealt with the operation of the technical services.
3. How to improve the efficiency of library operations
The concept of Knowledge Management originated in the business sector, the purpose of which is to maximize the utilization of the corporate knowledge so as to run a company more efficiently and make the company more competitive in the market. The current trend in library literature on Knowledge Management is a twist of the original intent of Knowledge Management.
As how to present library materials to users is focused in library Knowledge Management research, little effort has been devoted to the study of how to improve library operations through Knowledge Management. As a matter of fact, the lion's share of a library's budget is allocated to its staff and the acquisitions and cataloging of library materials. How to effectively use our staff (human resources) and how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our technical services operations should be the real focus of Knowledge Management in academic libraries.
3. Knowledge Management in Academic Libraries
Knowledge Management has been tooted and hyped since late 1990s, (DiMattia, 1997) first in the business sector, and then in higher education and now in library management. The impetus for embracing Knowledge Management in academic libraries is mainly from a combination of library budget shortfall and higher user expectations.
Rather than adopting an often trumpeted high-tech approach, it is more practical to utilize the existing staffing, technology and management structure for academic libraries.
Academic Libraries are pinched on both sides: reduced budget and increased demand from faculty and students. To implement Knowledge Management in academic libraries is mainly driven by its mission rather than by the competition from Internet-based reference services or electronic books
4. Obstacles in implementing Knowledge Management
Where there is a new phenomenon emerged, there must be an impetus. In Knowledge Management,
the driving force is the necessity to survive in the business sector in face of fierce competition with rival firms or other competitors.
The goal of Knowledge Management is to make full use of the knowledge existed in a corporation to increase the productivity and/or operational efficiency so as to build an edge in the competition. What's the driving force for academic libraries?
Budget shortfall is a primary driving force for the implementation of Knowledge Management in academic libraries. In recent years, budgets in academic libraries are stagnant at best and declining in general.
At the same time, students, faculty and university administration have a greater expectation of academic libraries, due in part to the advancement of information technology and in part to the explosion of knowledge in the digital age.
To provide the right amount of information at the right time is more critical than ever to the fulfillment of the mission of academic libraries and their parent institutions.
It is, therefore, paramount for academic libraries to operate more efficiently with reduced financial and/or human resources. Knowledge Management is such a tool that could help in this regard and at this crucial moment.
3. How to implement Knowledge Management in academic libraries
Most researchers consent that Knowledge Management consists of two components:
1. Human factor and
2. Technological factor
1. Human Factor
Knowledge Management is a new paradigm in academic libraries. Instead of establishing a new network of Knowledge Management managers under a CKO (Chief Knowledge Officer) or Library Officer, it is more practical to utilize the current management structure. Managers at all levels shall be charged to implement Knowledge Management in their respective units so that a network of Knowledge Management managers or Librarians is in place. In addition to managing staff and workflow in their units, each manager is responsible for managing knowledge pertaining to their unit's goals and operations. This calls for not only gathering knowledge existing currently in their units but also knowledge relevant to their operations from other units/departments and even other libraries or professions.
2. Technological Factors:
Many advocators of Knowledge Management stress the importance of using advanced technology to store and retrieve knowledge. And many advocate for a centralized Knowledge Management software product or system. Theoretically, a Knowledge Management system could encompass anything. In reality, no such systems exist. A centralized Knowledge Management product entails a pricy initial capital investment whether purchased from the market or developed in-house. Besides, subsequent and on-going maintenance and upgrades of hardware and software may not be affordable with the ever-shrinking library budget. More importantly, such an approach overlooks the technology competence and preference of individual Knowledge Management managers. It would be costly and unrealistic to train all staff to use such a Knowledge Management system.
Open source technology and software are ideal. However, they require pretty high level of programming skills to utilize. In contrast, most libraries have Microsoft Office Suite installed on their staff 's workstations. MS Word is good for creating operational procedures and other documentations related to library operations. MS Excel is good for keeping statistics and creating charts at the unit/department level. And MS Access can store data for easy retrieval with customizable queries. They can also be easily converted to web pages, be they static or dynamic, to facilitate retrieval. Most, if not all, staff are familiar with MS Word and Excel at least.
In spite of the fact that there are many knowledge base products on the market none of them is well suited for libraries nor flexible enough to cope with the dynamically changing environment in the digital age, not to speak of the initial capital investment and future upgrade and maintenance costs. Libraries, with limited budget and human resources, should utilize the current management structure and technology to implement Knowledge Management, either bottom-up or top-down. With a concerted effort, Knowledge Management will help to increase libraries' operational efficiency and cater to the ever-increasing needs of our clientele
In additional to the Microsoft Office Suite, discussion lists, online help desk, virtual reference desk, web portals, etc. can all be employed to implement Knowledge Management in academic libraries. The beauty of the digital age is that all documents are created in a digital format, which can be later ported to other storage and retrieval media/carrier.