In his “Knoco Story,” Dealing with the Important Urgent Knowledge First, KM expert Nick Milton discusses the difference between important and urgent information and knowledge. Understanding this difference is key for special librarians and other knowledge professionals as they manage workflow and resources to best support their end users and deliver the most impact.
Mr. Milton asserts that in order to identify “important” knowledge, you should start with your organization’s business strategy, figure out what activities support it, and then identify the knowledge needed to deliver those activities. It’s certainly true that in conversations with our special library clients, particularly with regard to professional sustainability, we often discuss the imperative to stay aligned with top level strategy even if it requires continual change for library services and products.
Per Milton, “The (important) knowledge can be new knowledge which needs to be acquired, cutting edge knowledge which forms your competitive advantage, or core knowledge which is needed to keep your income stream alive, and to fulfil [sic] your commitments. It can even be knowledge which is supplied by your partners and contractors, but which is still vital to your business. You identify the important knowledge through conversation with senior managers.”
Special librarians work with all those types of important knowledge and information on a daily basis, and are experts at identifying knowledge gaps (“new knowledge that needs to be acquired”) and ferreting out/delivering third party information to offer a holistic view of a topic.
Four types of urgent knowledge
As outlined by Mr. Milton, these descriptions of urgent knowledge share a focus on what is needed but missing, and therefore require urgent attention from knowledge professionals:
- Knowledge is important to the organization and its strategy, but it doesn’t exist within the institution
- Knowledge does exist within the company, but is siloed and unmanaged
- Knowledge walks out the door because it is only in the heads of retiring or departing staff members
- Knowledge is held by third parties who don’t have KM strategies
It could therefore be argued that important knowledge is available, and urgent knowledge is that which is important but unavailable.
What’s a librarian to do?
A lack of available knowledge and information requires the library or KM department to focus not just on managing what does flow through the organization on a daily basis, but on:
- Acquisition and creation of knowledge
- Formal methods of knowledge exchange, such as communities of practice, development of proven practices and standardized procedures for information capture
- Knowledge retention strategies such as routine project debriefing, exit interviews, usage of tools that allow for easy and structured knowledge capture
- Development of a knowledge management framework for use by third parties, or active participation in external knowledge networks
It is likely that every organization presents opportunities for special librarians to manage and provide both important and urgent knowledge. Challenges to knowledge availability—such as multiple information silos, purchasing constraints, wisdom walking out the door, and lack of control over third party KM practices—exist even in well established companies. Seeing those challenges clearly, developing strategies for dealing with them, selecting appropriate content, adopting proven practices, and implementing powerful technology solutions are key elements of a special librarian’s role.