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Public Libraries and KM

date: 2014-02-14 21:58


This semester I am teaching a knowledge management (KM) course. I will be posting entries throughout the semester that describe, critique, summarize, etc. KM articles that my students are not reading. The purpose here is to leverage the amount of material I can expose them to.

Article under discussion:

This post is about:

Teng, Sharon, & Hawamdeh, Sulivan. (2002). Knowledge management in public libraries. Aslib Proceedings, 54(3), 188-197. doi:

The article was picked based on a simple search for knowledge management and public libraries in WoS.

Notes and discussion:

The authors start on a good direction by connecting KM practice to the mission statement of the organization. They use the term company, though.

They make a prescriptive claim by stating that KM,

can and should also be applied to non-profit-making organisations … (p. 188).

Some interesting comments about the relationship between knowledge and power. The authors write that in some types of organizations, the staff

would tend to hoard information, practise secrecy and needless confidentiality to prevent the so-called privilege, and hence the “superiority” of their enlightened position, from being taken away from them (p. 189).

The authors list additional factors that prevent good KM best practices or implementation.

Since there exists the knowledge and power assumption, the authors make a reasoned leap to the politics of power and discuss Davenport's five models organizational structure and that shape KM practices and argue that of these five factors, federalism is the most desired.

The authors begin to discuss Singapore's National Library Board1) (NLB) and the Board's mission to expand service to Singaporeans and to do so within a 21st century and beyond context.

The authors list the 6 “strategic thrusts” (p. 190) of the Board. The Board has received over $6 billion dollars in funding and grants from their government.

As is often with KM literature, much of the language is phrased in business terms. The terms also define the actions. So:

Customer satisfaction and retention are the primary focus of the NLB, whose existence relies upon the public's patronage of the library (p. 191).


Front-line performance and service are of paramount importance in presenting and preserving the corporate image of the statutory board (p. 191).


The knowledge of users' behavioural patterns, for example that most readers tend to visit the library to browse books according to subject categories, has led to the revamp of the library's collection classification system (p. 191).

The NLB serves an educational service to students (no mention of what level of students). It does this by

moving away from “spoonfeeding” readers, students in particular are heading towards a self-help or
self-reliant culture. These efforts not only help readers to obtain information they need faster, but also provide good training for them to learn about the way information is organised and to educate them on how research should be conducted. User education sessions, information literacy programmes and Internet talks have also been implemented to aid in these efforts (p. 191).

More discussing but also differentiating between businesses and non-profits:

These efforts are comparable with the marketing strategies adopted by commercial corporations, with
the aim to garner customer loyalty and boost sales. The NLB serves a different clientele altogether and the ultimate goal is not commercial profitability but customer satisfaction and an accelerating exponential increase in loans (p. 192).

The authors discuss how new libraries are deployed and new projects are planned and also highlight the benefits of outsourcing certain tasks, such as labeling books with classification labels, to reduce staff processing of books. Selection of books has also been outsourced although the authors note that librarians either approve or reject vendor recommendations.

Staff are financially awarded for making suggestions that improve the library's operation.

There is some discussion of standardization of practices among all the libraries and sharing knowledge among all staff.

The staff use databases and note applications for ready reference services (i.e., to answer frequently asked questions quickly).

Much concern about efficiency and some discussion about the benefits of central administration. For example, a group was formed to oversee program development for all the libraries in the system:

As a result duplication efforts are eliminated, as the librarians at each library are no longer required to source for speakers and programmes on their own. With a central programming unit overseeing and managing the planning, sourcing and organising of various large-scale as well as bi-monthly programmes, the programme workflow for branches is shortened and has become less operationally intensive. Staff at the libraries are thus freed from such administrative duties and can focus on serving the needs of the public more concertedly (p. 194).

Lotus Notes is used to keep track of staff activities.

Librarians have two defining roles in this environment:

  • “Librarian as information manager” (p. 195)
  • “Librarian as teacher” (p. 195)

The first role highlights the need for librarians to be excellent managers of information. This means librarians will need:

to reach out to the community by targeting, anticipating and then meeting their informational requirements (p. 195).

The second role is nicely described:

Librarians' roles have evolved from being mere disseminators of information to taking on the responsibility of “teaching” the public to acquire the basic reference skills necessary to conduct research on their own, with additional guidance from staff (p. 195).

The next section discusses methods related to implementing a knowledge organization. The two methods discussed are knowledge auditing and knowledge mapping. The first method

involves the identification and audit of intellectual assets and tagging a non-monetary value to them (p. 196).

The second method

involves a visual representation of intangible assets in an organization in the form of a tree or map (p. 196).
  • categories:
    • academic libraries
    • knowledge management
    • LIS658
blog/public-libraries-and-km.txt · Last modified: 2017/03/07 10:34 by seanburns