Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Knowledge Management all the Time: Transitioning into a New Role


NOTE: While the first 3 paragraphs look like this is an article about me, it is really about all of us in the library profession.  Please read on.

It’s been some time since I published a new post.  My summer has been filled with a new job, new industry, new co-workers, new terminology with an overload of acronyms, and knowledge management all the time.  I’m going through a transition that has had plenty of surprises for me and more to come if I’m right.

As someone who has been a director in a public library, technical services librarian in an academic library,   information specialist, cataloger, systems librarian, technical services manager, and director in law firm libraries, as well as a couple stints as a consultant, I ‘ve had plenty of opportunity to develop and use the knowledge and skills of a librarian.  I love my career.   It’s provides me with challenges and variety of work that few people would expect a librarian to experience.

So why would I set aside the library part of the work to take on a role where I will be working as a knowledge manager without any library duties?  In fact, I’m part of the company’s talent development team.  It’s probably because it is a challenge I haven’t tackled.  I’ve worked in knowledge management during the last 25 years but I always had traditional and not so traditional library duties as well.  Knowledge management is what I’ve always said I wanted to do.  Why then, is the transition so difficult.

While many new librarians are coming  into the profession expecting to do work that isn’t traditional, most of us who have been working as librarians find the change just a tad bit difficult.  It’s what keeps us from moving forward beyond the boundaries of what we know and will probably be our undoing.  At the same time, it is our future.  We have a lot at stake here.  It isn’t news that the library and our responsibilities as we know them are changing.

You, like me, have probably taken forays into the unknown by stepping outside your level of comfort while taking on new responsibilities.  When we do that we start a transition from what we know and how we operate, to the future knowledge and skills we will gain.  The change may be easy, but it’s the transition that may send us heading back to what was if we have the opportunity to do so.

When a change takes place, the transition that follows, according to change management expert, William Bridges**, are three phased:

… transition is very different from change. Change is situational: the reduction in the work force, the shift in the strategy, and the switch in reporting relationships are all “changes.” Transition, on the other hand, is a three phase psychological reorientation process that people go through when they are coming to terms with change. It begins with an ending—with people letting go of their old reality and their old identity. Unless people can make a real ending, they will be unable to make a successful beginning.

He then goes on to describe the next phase, which he calls the neutral zone:

This is a no-man’s land where people are (in Matthew Arnold’s graphic image) “Wandering between two worlds, one dead, The other powerless to be born.” The neutral zone is a time and a state of being in which the old behaviors and attitudes die out, and people go dormant for a while as they prepare to move out in a new direction.

Sounds terrifying, right?  Despite the fear it brings, there is hope for a new beginning, which is the final phase:

Only after going through each of these first two phases of transition can people deal successfully with the third phase: beginning over again, with new energy, a new sense of purpose, a new outlook, and a new image of themselves.

While I’ve studied change management and have looked to Bridges as one of the great minds on change process in his focus on the transition instead of the change, when I started this new position, I still stumbled in my recognition of the transition I am in.  It wasn’t until this week when I told someone else that I’m going through a transition, that I realized it myself.

I’m not telling my story because I think it is extraordinary.  I tell it because I believe we are all going through a transition. We’ve been very focused on helping our users with change but what have we done for ourselves?  In past posts, I’ve talked about doing what we need to do to stay relevant.  If we want to be here to experience working with users, information, knowledge, and more in the future, we need to focus more on the transition we are going through rather than the change.

How do we make it through all this?  We need start by saying goodbye to what we’ve known.  This is where I am struggling – you may be struggling with it too.  If Bridges is right, we won’t make it if we try to hang on to the past.  If we do let go, the neutral zone in the next phase, will be a time when things just don’t seem right and we will probably want to go back to what we’ve known.  If we manage to keep moving forward, we will experience times that make changes worth it.  Bridges tells us that the neutral zone is a place where innovations and experiments are possible.  When we get to our new beginning, we will arrive with new ideas, ready for the future.

Saying goodbye isn’t easy.  The good news is, even if the changes we’re experiencing now and in the future seem troublesome, and the transition to the new beginning is fraught with frustration, we have a lot to look forward to.  I say, let’s go for it!

** William Bridges, author of several books on change and transition including:

2 thoughts on “Knowledge Management all the Time: Transitioning into a New Role

  1. I have just made the same transition, from a Law Librarian in a Firm, an eLibrarian in a Gov department to Knowledge Manager. Hard to let go of the research and acquisition side but lots of exciting new areas to learn and develop.


  2. Are you looking for entry level KM books?