Mary Abraham’s post on her blog, Above and Beyond KM titled Librarians vs Knowledge Managers, about a blog post written by Morgan Wilson on his blog, explodedlibrary.info , titled reflection on KM and libraries in law firms really got me moving this morning. Near and dear to my heart, the goals of librarians and knowledge managers are or at least should be the same.
Morgan discussed his disappointment in how the two roles evolved when placed in the same department which was called Knowledge Management. Mary discussed her surprise at his musings and questions about whether the two groups should work together. More concerning, comments made by at least two readers discussed the need for librarians and libraries declining in the future.
I couldn’t help but comment myself:
BEGINNING OF COMMENT
This post really caught my attention since I am a librarian and a knowledge manager. I’ve been a librarian since 1980 and I’ve worked with knowledge management in law firms since 1986 where I wrote a two-part article on law firm km – part one, part two. I believe that article was the first law firm km article posted on the web in 1997.
I have a masters degree in library and information science and I’ve taught KM classes for a graduate level program similar to what I attended. I write, speak and consult on KM and, yet, I am not a lawyer. (Note: the caste system is alive and well and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.) I know a lot of other librarians who have the same interest, education, skills, and, yes, passion. Morgan being one of them.
During all these years, I’ve learned that KM in law firms is a messy endeavor that has survived more by the passion of those who work with it, instead of any firm’s commitment to what using KM as a tool can do for them. There have been jumps and starts that have gone no where and there have been some successful projects at some firms. Any consistency in effort has been done outside of the U.S.
I recent years, KM has started to take hold at firms where the lawyer KM manager or the librarian KM manager have been in place. I don’t believe either have moved of the other in the goal to make KM work. I will note, though, that many of the skills needed by one are the same skills needed by the other.
In library school, I learned more than just cataloging and selecting materials. I learned about defining & building systems, human interaction with systems and more. While working on an MBA, I learned about organizational development, change management, communication and more. I am just one librarian to have all this in my background. There are many more of us.
Much of what is called knowledge management today is library science re-branded. It isn’t new to us. Some librarians may not be able to talk the same talk as a KM manager but that is because the language has changed.
Finally, librarians in law firms (and else where) have never been valued to the degree they should because of old stereotypes that continue to live on because of jokes we’ve heard to often and messages that are reinforced over and over again. We are not a shushing, sensible shoe wearing, or angry lot. We are professionals who have skills that most law firms have left untapped because they don’t fit that stereotype.
I don’t believe where the library is situated organizationally matters. Morgan’s situation has and is being repeated throughout the legal industry where a law firm doesn’t understand what the library is capable of supporting/doing or where the individual in charge (no matter what department) doesn’t value or understand the potential contribution.
The library and KM teams are a powerful force when connected and managed properly. Who does what shouldn’t depend on what part of the team someone is on. Look at the education, skills, experience, etc. to determine who should be doing what. If that isn’t done, and the library is relegated to doing what the stereotype describes and the librarian’s traditional role, that part of the team will suffer. Especially when they have already been playing many roles that the KM team may see as their turf only.
P.S.: For Rick, “connecting people to people and facilitating their ability to make sense of their collective information/knowledge, etc” has been a role the library has thrived on for many many years.
END OF COMMENT
My comment to librarians regarding these two posts is as follows:
I have always said that librarians will be employed in law firms for a long time to come and have never been too concerned with those who have been painting a darker picture. Lately, I’ve been doubting my stand on this topic and have been become more and more concerned with our future.
If we do not do something to change the perceptions that the rest of the law firm has about our skills, we will be marginalized. With more lawyers out of work because of the economy, we should expect an influx of the same unemployed lawyers as library positions open in the near future. As law firms decide that having a lawyer, who has demonstrated an acumen for research, in charge of the library, we will see the numbers of professional librarians diminish. Don’t think it won’t happen. There are many law firms who still don’t get it. Our associations should support us in changing that perception but I don’t think we can look for anyone to save us. We each need to take action now!
- What do you or other library staff know/do that others in the firm do not know/do?
- Does your firm understand that you have skills and knowledge that is unique?
- Does your firm know that you have skills/knowledge that can be used in innovative ways?
- Do you understand how you can innovate?
- Do you have any ideas of how to start the discussion about the validity of their perception?
- If you are fortunate to be working in a firm where you are valued, what advice do you have for others?
I am really hoping we can get a discussion going here through your comments. If not here, then consider making a comment on Mary’s and/or Morgan’s blog.