As the Knowledge-based theory of the firm (Grant, 1996), has continued to grow in acceptance and popularity, a wealth of literature is now available regarding its many aspects. One can find a mountain of articles on knowledge management systems (KMS) or their architecture/configuration. What is apparent in that literature is a strongly implied link between knowledge management systems and organizational learning. Despite the stated or implied relationships between these constructs, there are also two noticeable gaps. First, is an explanation of the methodology necessary to bridge the gap between a KMS and Organizational Learning. Second, would be the execution of organizational analyses to define who would be the knowledge workers to build such bridges. IT professionals are widely accepted as necessary to build the infrastructure of a knowledge management system. If we consider them as the “first round pick” of what Matson et al. referred to as “knowledge services teams” (Matson, Patiath, & Shavers, 2003), what other types of professionals would fill the observed skills gaps to complete the team? The trio forwarded the notion that while these knowledge services teams would be the knowledge brokers, and knowledge market regulators, they would only require a lean budget to carry out these duties (Matson, Patiath, & Shavers, 2003). Such minimalism might be effective if the only objective were to create a KMS and to leave organizational learning to happenstance subsequently. Unfortunately, such luck is hard to monitor, manage, or measure, thus hampering, if not defeating the implied link and overall goal of organizational learning.
Therefore, it is the intention of this paper to consider the composition of knowledge services teams beyond the accepted information technology personnel required for the electronic storage and retrieval of the wealth of knowledge within any organization. It will instead, propose that team personnel come from the information or library sciences profession and the ranks of professional educators. In doing so, however, the lean operation budget proposed by Matson et al., may eventually have to be challenged.
Library Science Professionals as Knowledge Services Team Members
The need for a KMS within an organization can often be justified. The easier it is to find information within an organization, the sooner it can be retrieved and potentially transformed into knowledge. However, Yingiie Ju asserts that the problem to be addressed is not the inability of KMS users to otherwise find information, but rather the lack of methods available to assist them in digesting the over-abundance of information available (Ju, 2006). As knowledge services team members, these methods would lie in the purview of library science professionals. Turning information into knowledge will not occur only through the existence of a KMS, or by the retrieval of information from within it. Knowledge transfer, aka learning, will happen, at least partially, through the facilitation by those whom this information is in the care of, and even then, only if these knowledge workers are trained and educated in either the library sciences or in education itself. If the goal for the creation of a KMS is the creation of knowledge for competitive advantage for the owning organization; then such a lofty goal should be in the hands of those experts who are trained in categorization and purposed retrieval, with learning in mind. Librarians are familiar with existing, and well-known cataloging systems that are more than capable of being utilized within any organization. They man other functions, like online ready reference units that facilitate research requests and train new users on library resources, information retrieval, and catalog usage. The mere existence of a knowledge management system, neither guarantees nor encourages its use. The need for information domiciled within said KMS does not ensure its use either; especially if that information is not proprietary. One thing that may guarantee increased usage of a KMS as a tool for organizational learning, in addition to informational retrieval, will be the availability of knowledge workers, skilled in not only the database content, but in the facilitation of research objectives, and the enhancement of the individual learning experience. How then, does a KMS contribute to the final goal of organizational learning?
Professional Educators as Knowledge Services Team Members
As alluded to earlier, knowledge management systems are currently linked to organizational learning more in theory than in practice. A search in any peer-reviewed journal database under either topic will deliver a plethora of results acknowledging the connection within nearly every article. What is lacking, is a clear explanation of how the former, leads to the latter. Without a structured process in place to turn information into knowledge, the knowledge management system can have neither a measurable, nor manageable effect on organizational learning. Without the existence of knowledge services team members with training, education and experience in curriculum design, instructional pedagogy, and other techniques; organizational learning will likely be limited at best and hampered at worse. Organizations routinely hold the opinion that subject matter experts and accomplished technicians are as a result of their expertise and accomplishments, qualified trainers, or educators. This type of assumption proves incorrect all too often, much to the detriment of both the learner and the organization. The existence of knowledge or learning management systems within an organization can often exacerbate the problem when they are used “as is,” without thought of learning objectives, learner demographics, or preferences. This path to organizational learning should be in the “regulator” purview of the knowledge services team; specifically, the professional educator or human capital professional team member.
A well-built KMS is a starting point toward the goal of organizational learning. If we were to consider the motivated learner as a traveler, moving from the point of departure to the final destination, the remaining question then is, “Whom will be the mapmaker?”, And “Whom will establish the objectives for the journey”? Contrary to what seems to be a common belief, the responsibility for mapmaking does not belong on the “To Do” list of the IT professionals who are primarily responsible for, and skilled in creating, the information repositories that are foundational to knowledge management systems. Navigational guides and signage for the journey within those systems must fall to the capable hands of Library Science Professionals. The establishment of the stops, or individual learning objectives along the way toward organizational learning goals, must be the responsibility of capable, professional educators. While many might argue that subject matter experts can accomplish the latter, this practice has frequently been demonstrated to be flawed. When coupled with the lack of process reliability metrics, the measurement of success becomes wholly subjective. In the end, it is evident that the gap between the creation of a KMS and organizational learning is wide. The former does not inherently lead to the latter. Bridging these gaps, however, is possible with the creation of professional knowledge services teams who in addition to establishing the technological platform, can set categorization and pedagogical norms, and organizational learning objectives. These latter two goals should rely on the expertise of library science and education professionals.
Grant, R. (1996). Toward a knowledge-based theory of the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17(Winter), 109-122.
Huber, G. P. (1991). Organizational learning: The contribution processes and the literature. Organization Science, 2(1), 88-109.
Ju, Y. (2006). Leveraging levels of information services and developing knowledge services: The trend of information services in libraries. Library Management, 27(6/7), 354-361.
Matson, E., Patiath, P., & Shavers, T. (2003). Stimulating knowledge sharing: Strengthening our organization’s internal knowledge market. Organizational Dynamics, 32(3), 275-285.