Is knowledge management (KM) replacing librarianship as the major job activity for information professionals? I heard that opinion recently when listening to a group of librarians discuss KM. If that’s true—and I should add that not all the librarians in the group agreed with the premise, there were KM sceptics—then where does that leave online searching?
Online searching has been around for almost half a century now. And yet it changes all the time. Keeping up not only with web search engines but also with subscription services remains a huge challenge for librarians. The underlying technologies change, moving from keyword searching to graph, semantic, contextual, and natural language searching. New challenges include determining what information is true and what is fake.
Information professionals in academic settings are taking on additional tasks such as research data management; advising on scholarly publishing; teaching courses on a wide range of subjects, not just library-related; and copyright administration. KM is also appealing, since universities, like other organizations, store a great deal of information that needs to be managed. Library skill sets fit in perfectly with institutional requirements regarding knowledge and information management
In specialized libraries, the motivation to move toward KM from more traditional information activities is even more pronounced. As libraries shrink, both in their physical footprint and the number of professional staff, it’s logical for information professionals to look for other areas within their organization that align with their skills. KM is an obvious choice. Looking at it from a different perspective, if an organization sets up a KM operation and hires information professionals to run it, that could lead to the establishment of a library if it has none.
There are overlaps between KM and libraries, between records management and electronic content management, between KM and taxonomy, and between online searching and all of the functions loosely grouped under information management. The advent of interest in Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) fuels more curiosity about the intersection of KM and information professionals. Librarians preserve knowledge, provide access, and build navigational tools for finding stored knowledge.
Information professionals might be interested in KM because they want to change careers or enhance their current career. Whatever the reason, the fact that major library associations have formed subgroups for KM is indicative of a growing awareness of KM as part of the library universe. IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, has a section for KM. SLA, the Special Libraries Association, has a KM division. CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, recently formed the Knowledge & Information Management Special Interest Group.
I don’t think that KM will completely take over librarianship. But it certainly uses similar and complementary skills. The role of the online searcher can exist in a library, a KM department, an internal web design team, a corporate structure, or an independent consultancy. All it takes is imagination—the ability to see how search skills can be applied in multiple environments.