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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 017-123-E
Division Number: VII.
Professional Group: Education and Training
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 123.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Knowledge management: the discipline for information and library science professionals

Denis F. Reardon
School of Information Studies
University of Central England,
Birmingham, England


The intention of this paper is to examine and respond to an assertion that librarians are knowledge managers. The view is taken that knowledge management is a rapidly developing area that has its roots in the medium term past and that interest in it has increased somewhat meteorically mainly because of the revolutionary rather than evolutionary changes that are occurring particularly in the business and public sectors internationally. The knowledge and information control situation created for organizations as a result are related to the initial assertion to test it. The proposition is put that knowledge management is an emerging discipline within which information and library science rightfully resides and that elements useful to knowledge management have been present in syllabi for some long time. Some suggestions are made as to the content of "real" knowledge management courses that should be developed by the Schools of Information Science



Knowledge Management has burst upon the information scene with suddenness and great intensity within the past seven years. Certain questions will be explored to establish the significance of knowledge management to the information professional as conventionally understood. The questions which need answering include:

The writer takes the view that knowledge management is still a rapidly developing area within which it is essential that the information and library professions realise they have a critical role. The rate of change prompted by the advent of knowledge management is such that we are in clear danger of being left out as the framework of career opportunities develops and changes over the next few years. Already, some of the most important posts to emerge in knowledge management - Chief Knowledge Officers, Head of Knowledge Management Architecture, Director of Intellectual Asset Management, etc. - are being captured by professionals from management, finance and information technology. There is a need for significant changes in thinking, attitude, education and training before we can confidently face the knowledge management future that awaits in many important areas of the information and library professions. The Schools of Information Science have a responsibility for initiating and leading these changes. Drucker (2) was not alone in focusing our attention on the emergence of the "knowledge society". Many significant public and private sector organizations, for example, Anglian Water Services, Dow Chemical Co., National Westminster, Hewlett Packard, IBM, ICL, Monsanto, Skandia Corporation, and UK Department of Defence have demonstrated strong commitment to the idea that enhanced effectiveness and greater success can come from knowledge management. Investments of the order of millions of dollars or pounds by these organizations are the clearest evidence that knowledge management has a future. The context in which knowledge management has emerged is one of very significant change in organizational management structures. Much of the impetus for this change has come from the need to meet the equally rapid changes in the global economy and trading and in national economies, structures and societies. Within the business sector, for example, management has adopted, used and abandoned a series of "new ideas" to keep up with or ahead of the competition, including total quality management (TQM) and business process re-engineering (BPR). Implementation has resulted in increased organizational volatility, one effect of which has been a shortening of professional tenure. What has become apparent from the restructuring that usually results, is that middle and junior professionals who have been some time in post, constitute an important part of the memory store or "corporate know-how" base of an organization. This know-how is unrecorded and so loss of these as a result of downsizing caused by BPR, removes this knowledge from the organization. This is an unquantifiable loss which is rarely, if ever recoverable. The public sector in most national economies has not escaped this organizational volatility. Structural changes have happened and are happening at national and local levels - and a few at international level. Again, the knowledge drain is not measurable but becomes evident, often very quickly.

Is knowledge management present in our syllabi?

How near are we to a satisfactory situation in information and library science (ILS) education in respect of knowledge management? To answer this, it is useful to set a broad, somewhat general context. This context will, naturally, have a somewhat biased perspective, reflecting the UK position more than others, though it is informed by attention to appropriate literature on other, non-UK systems, with particular attention to the English speaking world. ILS education has concentrated upon skills, techniques, processes, and bibliographic and information resources management. Thus, it cannot be regarded as having produced knowledge managers, although some information professionals have made themselves into knowledge managers by self education, assimilation of appropriate knowledge and understanding and updated, possibly upgraded skills. Knowledge management is seen as the discipline within which information and library science reside.

Review of ILS education

It is useful to review the substance of educational courses in information and library science to understand where the Schools are and how they arrived at this point. It is suggested that they do not yet produce knowledge managers per se, but do provide many studies that are pertinent to or should form part of a knowledge management syllabus. Until about fifty years ago, the information and library science professions enjoyed a relatively stable situation. The major interests served were bibliographic or scholarly in nature and the consequent education provided for the professional concentrated upon bibliography, bibliographic enquiry techniques, administration of bibliographic resources, classification and cataloguing and such aspects of financial administration as were appropriate to the acquisition and preservation, conservation or retention of the resources. Updating of skills meant becoming familiar with new editions of cataloguing codes and classification schemes. Scholarly stirrings within information science manifested in the work of Otlet and La Fontaine and of Ranganathan on classification theory. Their work marked the beginnings of development of a theoretical foundation of an important area of information and library science - representation of the document via the information content. This is but one step away from knowledge representation.

During the 1940s and 50s there was still a strong concentration on historical, analytical and physical bibliography , and on managing bibliographic resources. This really equated to administering the resources to enhance use on demand. There was little attention to human resource management, financial management, facilities management, and transferable skills and perhaps even less to the behavioural aspects of understanding the information and library user. There was still a tendency to concentrate on the basics of "how to run a library". To this there were added some information skills such as abstracting and document production, and an increased emphasis on active dissemination as compared with reactive dissemination processes. Attention to cataloguing and classification - describing and arranging for representation, organization, storage and retrieval on demand continued in the professions and was taught in the Schools. A significant feature was the importance attached to classification and indexing theory. Maybe here lay the area of information and library science that, properly studied, inherently develops and trains the intellect of the student. The contributions of FID/CCC and the Classification Research Group were significant here.

During the 1960s and 70s the growth in information and publication outputs continued at an increasing rate. More information media were developed. The handling problems for the information professional increased in tune with this. The need for more and different education was very clear. The value of computers in information storage, processing and access was clearly recognised. Therefore, computing in some form was added to the "process skills spectrum" of the curricula. In the UK, first degree courses in library studies were introduced. Until the 1960s, information and library science education had been provided either at a non-graduate (sub-degree level) or at postgraduate level as an add on to a conventional disciplinary degree. The new degrees appeared to be a recognition of enhanced status for the profession as well as satisfying the increasing demand for well qualified information workers. There was an increase in the proportion of time devoted to management studies and a steady decline in the proportion and amount of the course devoted to classification and indexing. Yet this was an area where true intellectual development of the student was possible. It contributed to the development of analytical, synthetical, integrative and systematic thinking. Citation analysis and bibliometrics provided some gain here.

By the 1980s and 90s, confidence/maturity in information and library science as "respectable" is much more in evidence. The decline in hybridization of degrees may be regarded as one illustration of this. This is coupled with the development and growth of pathways of study within ILS. There is now too much to cover in information and library science for it to be even a generalist degree in its own subject. Classification and indexing theory continue to experience neglect. A strong element of information management appears and quite quickly segments into specialisms, for example, health information management, business information management, records management, health records management, information management in the voluntary sector. This process of segmentation and growth is typical of the emergence of dynamic disciplines such as physics and biology. There is a "fury of demand" for information to support decision making in, for example, business, industry, health, science, technology and the public sector generally. The shortening life cycles of products, services and, perhaps, therefore, of information and its sheer quantity have impressed an urgency on information work. Access, dissemination and response mechanisms used by and understood by, even designed by information professionals, have to match this with appropriate action and reaction rates. Hence the incorporation of advanced studies in information technology, multi-media, and communications technology, at the same time recognising their convergence and the advantages gained for information work by such convergence.

Knowledge oriented information courses

The organizations that have implemented knowledge management appear to view it as an important off-shoot, or part, of mainstream management. The ILS Schools need to develop education and training that will meet the new professional demands of knowledge management and demonstrate the relevance of courses and understanding of the competences which must be developed in knowledge management students. A clear picture is needed of why knowledge management is practised and what knowledge managers do. Knowledge management practice seeks to gain "leverage" for an organization. The knowledge manager seeks to support the increasing or maximizing of return on investment. Thus, they have a tight focus on what they are doing, determined by their organization's needs. This suggests that knowledge management is very context dependent.

Development of ILS education and training has followed a pragmatic, even eclectic path over the past fifty years or so. Now it is time to take stock, to plan for change, anticipate it, learn ways of predicting it and its potential effects on how to deal with information generation and demand, both actual and anticipated. We must take account of the changed perceptions that information users have of information sources and provision. Availability of information sources and the widespread access to relatively sophisticated information systems in schools, libraries, leisure and even shopping facilities, mean that an increasing proportion of the population will have some of the skills that, less than a generation ago, were primarily the province of the information professional. Many of these people will have a more informed and sophisticated view of information in the work place. They may even assume a competitive position in respect of career aspirations and promotion prospects. A major contributory factor to such competition is the blurring of the boundaries between the "traditional" information education and other, newer courses such as information technology, business information studies, business information technology, and information management. The market place is competitive. The information professions do not have a long history of understanding of the concepts of competition and profit or using the market place to guide change. However, we have built up a very substantial body of experience over the past fifty years and the nature of the courses within the Schools, the short courses as well as the undergraduate and postgraduate courses, have given a very large network of contacts among a wide variety of employers. There is a substantial conference circuit within our professions. Put these together and we have a starting point for developing further within our discipline - knowledge management - and strengthening our understanding of its market place.

Some of the "makings" of knowledge management are and have been present in ILS for a long time. We produce graduates with a wide range of competences, including information skills, information technology, multi-media and communications technology skills, publishing and document design - both conventional and electronic, and data base and information system and service design. These need to be developed and modified to meet the needs for managing knowledge but they do not, of themselves, constitute knowledge management. The information scientist of today has a substantial foundation upon which the knowledge manager of the (near) future can be built. If we believe Drucker (2) and Skandia (3), more than 80% of the work force in some economies will need the services of knowledge managers. We have tended to concentrate upon skills, techniques, processes and resources, including systems, management with some venturing into information management and document design. Knowledge management offers, even demands the inclusion of sound theoretical elements that focus, for example, on the nature of knowledge and on the behavioural aspects of knowledge development, acquisition, communication and use. It may even be appropriate to include study of the generation of knowledge as a prime product of innovation and as a by-product of adaptive learning. These elements of a knowledge management course are likely to be less subject to change than are the underpinning technologies that will make possible the organization, storage, updating, deployment and retrieval of knowledge. They are a recognition that knowledge management focuses on people as generators of knowledge at least as much as users of information.

Conclusion: Some possible course elements.

We need to prepare students for a spectrum of opportunities, with specialisms being made available as the need develops. This critique suggests that our courses should seek to give good understanding of the elements shown in the chart that follows.

Developing knowledge management courses

 Level of	Area of study	          Understanding needed          Rate of change

   LOW          Information       Office software; text & information 	   HIGH
	        technology        retrieval software; database 
				  structures  & software
     	        Electronic	  Multi-media; on-line; Internet/WWW;	
	        resources	  Electronic document design

	        Communications    Networking; intranets; network 
	        technology        management

	        Management        Strategy; change; organization 
                                  structures & cultures; human 
                                  resources; economic, social, 
                                  environmental influences on 
                                  organizations; finance
	        Information       Systems; security & control; records 
	        management	  & information audit; information & 
                                  subject structures
	        Research skills   Project design & management; 
                                  methodology design  & 

                Transferable	  Analysis; synthesis; problem solving;	
	        skills		  presentation - oral and written.

                Knowledge         Generation; growth & development; 
	        studies	          structures; transfer; knowledge audit; 
                                  knowledge as capital/assets	

 HIGH           Behavioural       Work place cultures; ethics; motivation;   LOW
	        studies	          human capital