After the build-up in prior posts about the Annual Conference of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) – held in Philadelphia last month – a bit of follow-up is appropriate. I won’t report on the entire conference, but I’m happy to share a few comments about some of the activities. Perhaps this brief post will be of interest to knowledge workers who read these posts and provoke some useful knowledge sharing.
A first impression – and I’ve certainly seen this coming over the past couple of years or so – is that KM/knowledge services is no longer the esoteric but hard-to-define management tool spoken about in the abstract. No way. The formerly amorphous, “shouldn’t-we-be-doing-KM-even-if-we-don’t-know-what-it-is?” point of view has gone by the boards.
And for folks who do not have specific knowledge about or experience with specialized libraries and to put these remarks in context, specialized librarianship is not the same as “librarianship” as generally understood. Indeed, specialized librarianship is so different from public, academic, and school librarianship that these information professionals refer to themselves as just that, as “information professionals.” They see their role as knowledge workers who strategically use information and knowledge in the workplace to advance the mission of the parent organization or business. As such, these information professionals have moved deep into the knowledge domain, with much of their work heavily focused on what – in the broader research and service-delivery marketplace – we refer to as “KM/knowledge services.”
A case in point is the impressive number of programs, presentations, group discussions, workshops, and continuing education courses relating to KM/knowledge services at the SLA Annual Conference. Everywhere, it seemed, someone or some group was exploring one or another aspect of knowledge development/knowledge sharing (KD/KS). For this post, I’ll describe three of the programs.
First up was New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman, the opening keynote speaker. Recognized as one of most astute observers of the global community (and of the American role in that community), Friedman did not disappoint. Considered a thoughtful optimist by many – including Ian Parker in “The Bright Side: The Relentless Optimism of Thomas Friedman” in The New Yorker (November 10, 2008) – Friedman offered a thoughtful description of the place of information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning to his Philadelphia audience. His presentation made it clear that as global corporate, organizational, and institutional “flattening” continues, knowledge-sharing and the professional contributions of information and knowledge professionals will only become more valuable to their employers.
The next day Larry Prusak spoke about the role of knowledge in 21st-century business, the so-called “knowledge economy.” Larry is one of our most prominent KM specialists and – full disclosure here – I’m fortunate to serve with Larry on the Curriculum Advisory Committee for Columbia University’s M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy program. Speaking about “Knowledge in Judgment: Making Good Decisions” (based on the new book he and Tom Davenport have written), Larry looked at the context in which decisions are made and advocated attention to a whole range of knowledge practices for exercising good judgment and making good decisions.
My talk on the afternoon following Larry’s morning presentation was for SLA’s Information Technology Division, and while Tom and Larry and Guy didn’t collaborate on what we were going to say, the three presentations seemed to flow in a natural sort sequence. My approach (“The New Knowledge Services – The Next Decade”) was to speak about career options for knowledge workers. In a session sponsored by Reprints Desk, I talked about how information professionals are natural candidates for a new role as knowledge strategists in their companies.
My remarks (which you can read here) were designed to focus on how organizational and corporate managements are looking for a unified approach to knowledge sharing, and how knowledge workers can help enterprise leaders find what they are looking for. I had a single theme, that information and knowledge workers must give thought to their personal ambition as well as to their professional goals. While the two often combine, sometimes a separation – usually imposed externally but not always – can prevent personal ambition and career success from coming together, so I challenged my audience with specific questions:
1. What are you doing with your life?
2. What are you doing professionally?
3. What are your goals for a successful career?
4. What do you think about, when you think about your work and how you’re going to work in the future?
We’ll have more about future career roles in KM/knowledge services in the next few posts. In the meantime readers are invited to share their own ideas. I’ll be interested in your reactions to what I’ve said.
Ben Fouche says
A good example of what Guy St Clair is talking about – the contributions of specialised librarianship to KM/knowledge services – is OSALL (the Organisation of Law Librarians) in South Africa (www.osall.org.za). Their listserv is heavily used by members from law practices and universities to ask for/and respond to requests for difficult to find legal resources and responses are forth coming in minutes
Wayne Pender at LinkedIn’s SLA Knowledge Management Division Group commented:
It’s encouraging to know that a well respected voice like Thomas Friedman is talking about the information profession. As someone who is building a second career and just finishing up a Masters degree in Information Science (specializing in KM) reading this is a real shot in the arm! Thanks for this post Guy and for the thought proving questions you posed about life purpose and professional goals.
Guy St. Clair responds: Thank you, Wayne, for that cogent comment about the profession. Good luck to you as you pursue your new career. One tiny piece of advice (if you don’t mind): Take advantage of the super networking opportunities in the SLA KM Division. Good group of people interested in sharing experiences and very willing to share what they know.
Deb Hunt says
I missed this session (many to-dos as a candidate for Pres-Elect) and I love that you challenged the audience about where they are going and what they are doing both personally and professionally. I examine this most days for myself, running to keep up with or ahead of what I need to know to do my work well and benefit my clients. And, also volunteering to make a difference.
Thanks, Deb, for the good comment. Yes, thinking about how we are going to be working in the future is a real challenge, but it’s a challenge that provides an enormous amount of stimulation and, not to put too fine a point on it, a considerable amount of intellectual “stretching.” Keep watching the posts. I’m hoping to get more detailed with some of this as the summer moves along….