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Part Two: Building Your KM Nest – 5 of 10 Strategies for Special Librarians

Posted by Stephen Abram on 3/13/2018
Stephen Abram
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In Part One of this series, we reframed knowledge management strategies in the context of strategies for improving the health of the knowledge ecology. We’re using the metaphor of building a nest (sometimes referred to as an intranet) where our eggs can hatch and ideas grow, and decisions improve in quality. Now let’s explore some strategies, tactics and frameworks for accomplishing this.

Strategy #1:

Know the Difference Between Data, Information and Knowledge, and Also Know That These Distinctions Are Not Enough!

  • Wisdom is not the end result one seeks in society. Our goal in the knowledge-based sector is to integrate the data>information>knowledge continuum to fundamentally and positively impact behavior in our enterprises and society.
  • Data is raw facts with no context and no inherent meaning. Data only has value to end-users in context; data professionals can add this value by applying standards such as SGML, HTML, Fields, Tags, MARC; by normalizing data, and through quality control.
  • Information is the tangible representation of data within a specific context. In order for information to be successful, it must be useful. To be useful it must be communicated to a user, and must meet the specific needs of this user. Librarians and other information professionals can add value to information by representing data and content effectively, within context.
  • Knowledge is information in context. For knowledge to exist there must be congruity between the information and the individual’s context. Knowledge can only be stored in a human being. Knowledge cannot be stored on paper or in a computer; only information and data can be stored in this way.
  • Behavior can be thought of as simply ‘‘decisions’’ that result in action, even if that action is non-action. Enterprises exist to provide an ecology for decision-making. The key success factor is intelligent, informed results that have value in proportion to the results required to meet the needs of the individual or social organization.

Keeping this principle in mind, your desired strategy must be to focus your service goals on having an impact on personal and organizational behaviors—and only on those behaviors which will have a strategic impact. To put it bluntly, if you focus on managing information or managing knowledge with your information skills, you will not succeed as well as you might like. If having a bunch of knowledgeable people and lots of information were power, universities would be at the top of the economic food chain. They’re not. To be successful in an enterprise you must focus your information services, collections and strategies on the most desired and strategically important behaviors in your organization. Our lesson for this Millennium is that information is not enough.

Strategy #2:

Spend More Time and Money on People Issues than on Technology Issues

Spend time on markets (customer, clients, users, and students) over infrastructure. Don’t focus more time on organization structure and processes than you do on market dynamics and behaviors. Know your stakeholders. Determine your client’s psychographic profile. The Dilbert team (The Boss, Dilbert, Catbert, Dogbert, Ratbert, Wally and Alice) is a fun way to help visualize and understand client needs. If that doesn’t work for you, use the Simpsons or study the advertising literature for demographic profile inventories. It’s not important to be perfectly right; it is important to start focusing on the market and the maps and reduce the focus on your own navel. Focus on your Knowledge Workers, since they hold the organization’s memory and competencies. They have talents and knowledge that are under-exploited in the enterprise, and this knowledge leaves the building in the elevator every night. Look for under-exploited knowledge and then look for synergies between knowledge pools.

Strategy #3:

Understand That People Are Different and Not Like You

Diversity is the norm not the exception. ‘Learn about learning’ from such great thinkers as Gardner, Bloom and Piaget. A powerful tool for developing learning strategies is the Taxonomy of Intelligence and Learning Styles. It identifies seven key learning styles that are present in all people, in different combinations and proportions:

  1. Visual/Spatial is picture smart. People with this intelligence can think in images and pictures and develop clear visual images and representations.
  2. Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence is word smart. Their talent is to think in words with highly developed auditory skills.
  3. Musical/Rhythmic is music smart. They think in sounds, rhythms and patterns and sing, hum, and whistle to themselves.
  4. Logical/Mathematical is number smart. These people think conceptually and are skilled in reasoning, logic and problem solving.
  5. Bodily/Kinesthetic is body smart. These people can process knowledge through bodily sensation and have excellent fine-motor coordination.
  6. Interpersonal is people smart. They think and process information by relating, cooperating, and communicating with others.
  7. Intrapersonal is Self-Smart. They are skilled in inner focusing and display a strong personality.

Acknowledge that there is more than one learning style. Don’t indulge yourself with a strategy that assumes others learn the way you do. The powerful strategy is one that doesn’t work against the diverse ways in which humans learn and adapt information. Focus on people and their diversity, and you will be more successful than if you focus on an ideal, model user.

Strategy #4:

Seek the Understandable Not the Intuitive

There is no single, best interface, and ‘‘intuitive’’ is illusory. If we accept the proposition that people learn in an innumerable combination of fashions, then there will be an unlimited range of potential versions of intuitive. Search out the understandable and learnable interface—not the illusory intuitive one. By focusing on an actual interface, your evaluation will be based in reality and you will develop realistic criteria. Here are some interface design and evaluation principles:

  1. You must design interfaces for humans. Humans come in many cultural types, with various levels of information literacy and differing learning behaviours. Tune the interface to the full range of users or, ideally, allow users to tune it themselves.
  2. Be prepared to adapt your interface continuously. You will discover many improvements as you go along—test and launch regularly—don’t keep dozens in a bucket to launch en masse. Iterate.
  3. Tunable interfaces for now probably means tiers—like basic, advanced, professional, etc. Watch for interfaces in the future that learn and adapt, based on user behaviour.
  4. Understand that search is not equal to find. Librarians love searching and the thrill of the hunt. End-users hate searching and want to find information. Evaluating a ‘‘search’’ interface for end-users solely on its searching ability puts the analysis in the wrong court. Evaluate its ability to quickly produce satisfying answers.
  5. Support the full information continuum—identification through analysis with visible value-add. An interface that merely delivers results or answers without making it easily adaptable to the user’s workflow and needs is not optimal. Recognize that we need to know what happens to the information after it leaves the service. For example, providing a comprehensive pile of annual reports in paper is nice. But if the user must enter those numbers into a spreadsheet, we have merely provided data; we have not added value where the user could import the data into a spreadsheet.
  6. Determine how you can formally integrate internal and external information. Can your users really tell the difference? Can you place the same interfaces on top of both, thus reducing the interface learning curve?
  7. Is the Intranet an extension of the library, or is the library an extension of the Intranet? There is no right answer to this question, but you really should choose one focus. This is the ‘‘enterprise portal’’ question where you need to decide if information access is an enterprise wide issue or a departmental one.
  8. Build products and services that highlight the relevance of the librarian/information professional. The role of the librarian should be explicit, tangible, and accessible from all knowledge products. Are ‘‘you’’ in your interface? How easy is it to find ‘‘you’’ from your portal?
  9. Focusing on the understandable forces you to clearly strategize in the areas of understanding—training, support, and communication. Interfaces must be understandable and as easy to train for as possible—calling them “intuitive” trivializes the role of librarians.
  10. Manage meaning, not content. Content doesn’t need strong management (it’s generally managed by the content providers). Making meaning is what librarians do well in interpreting resources for users. Content in context (meaning) is the goal.
Strategy #5:

Understand the Real Needs of Your Market and the Individuals Therein

Many enterprises base their future success on either targeting future markets (those kids growing up now), by being part of the process of teaching the future generation (schools, colleges and universities), or by providing solutions to ‘problems’. It is common for older generations to understand the next generation poorly. This lack of a complete understanding of one’s ‘‘market’’ drives poor decision-making. Focus on Generation ‘‘J,’’ the ‘‘Joystick Generation.’’ If you’re thinking that keyboards will represent the primary interface to your information products for this multi-literate group, you’re fooling yourself and fundamentally misunderstanding their skills and competencies. Watch for voice response technologies to outpace keyboards faster than predicted. Make your investments with respect for the Next-Head skills they embody. Does your intranet strategy allow for multimedia, chat rooms, and streaming video, or have you limited your future by ‘‘saving’’ money with lower grade experiences? Irony rules here, as the generations move through the future together, yet apart.

Part Three of this three-part series will offer the next 5 of 10 strategies for success.


Stephen Abram is a popular Lucidea Webinars presenter. He is the past president of SLA, and the Canadian and Ontario Library Associations. He is the CEO of Lighthouse Consulting and the executive director of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries. He blogs personally at Stephen’s Lighthouse. Watch for a new book from Lucidea Press on management tips for librarians in the spring of 2018!



Topics: Professional Development, Special Libraries, KM, Innovation, Strategy