Knowledge Management and Public Libraries

Knowledge management (KM) and knowledge sharing are increasingly common in public libraries. In this case, knowledge is described as information with the added value of experience and judgement plus an understanding of the organization’s best practices and decision making.1,2,3 Though this can shift, KM is unique from other forms of information management because it deals with the knowledge in people or the “brain power of an organization.”2,3,4

Looking at a sample of the extensive Library and Information Science (LIS) literature on the topic, KM is a somewhat fluid concept still being adapted from management. The best, specific definition found was from the Oxford Dictionary of Business and Management: “The creation and sharing of knowledge in an organization. Knowledge management is a relatively new concept and there are many different definitions. Successful knowledge management initiatives will typically lead to improved employee involvement, improved individual and organizational creativity, and enhanced intrapreneurship and innovation.5

The issue encountered is that phrase “there are many different definitions.” It seems every organization has a unique concept of KM, partially because it relates to other organization-specific factors like workflow and strategic goals.3 Another reason it is difficult to pin down an exact definition is because knowledge management directly relates to people. Knowledge sharing, sometimes referred to as the separate and closely related concept, is the pivotal point where people willingly share information.4,6 Knowledge sharing is a key component to successful knowledge management. Because this sharing can take whatever form is deemed best to meet the organization’s needs, a successful KM requires strong leadership and vision.1

Key Aspects of KM

Even with all the possible variations, there are a number of key aspects to KM that guide its implementation in not-for-profit organizations like public libraries.

  • The process should facilitate the creation, capture, inventory, organization, access, use of knowledge, and corporate strategy.2,7,8 In this sense, it may be argued that librarians have worked under the same principles of KM for some time.6
  • The components of KM can be described as knowledge, management, IT, and an open corporate culture. Each of these can encompass various elements and has a different roles in the KM process.7
  • KM can help manage information overload and congestion as well as employee specialization and mobility/departure.2,4
  • A successful KM system can record and share knowledge from members of the public as well as librarians across numerous branches.4,9
  • As well as storage, KM can be used as an effective form of electronic communication either within a community or to bridge communities, depending on the intent.10
  • KM can be used to improve communication between levels of employees (eg. management and staff) and foster a culture of sharing.3
  • KM can help facilitate the constantly changing information environment and “increase the effectiveness and sustainability of the growth of an organization.”6  
  • These systems tend to work best when they become self-sufficient, run by the librarians that use and require the knowledge.3 

There are many ways to facilitate KM processes and knowledge sharing, but we’ll talk more about that later. There is a lot more information out there, but this gives you a taste of the LIS literature on KM.

Pic is Knowledge sharing by Ewa Rozkosz.


1. Kumar, S. A. (2010). Knowledge management and new generation of libraries information services: A concepts. International Journal of Library and Information Science, 2(2), 017–034.
2. Serban, A. M., & Luan, J. (2002). Overview of Knowledge Management. New Directions for Institutional Research, 2002(113), 5–16.
3. Teng, S., & Hawamdeh, S. (2002). Knowledge management in public libraries. Aslib Proceedings, 54(3), 188–197.
4. Selhorst, K. (2008). Knowledge management: making use of hidden staff talent. Library & Information Update, 7(6), 38–39.
5. Knowledge management – Oxford Reference. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2016, from
6. Sarrafzadeh, M., Martin, B., & Hazeri, A. (2010). Knowledge management and its potential applicability for libraries. Library Management, 31(3), 198–212.
7. Gandhi, S. (2004). Knowledge management and reference services. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 30(5), 368–381.
8. Parker, K. R., Nitse, P. S., & Flowers, K. A. (2005). Libraries as knowledge management centers. Library Management, 26(4/5), 176–189.
9. Daneshgar, F., f. daneshgar@unsw. edu. a., & Parirokh, M., parirokh@ferdowsi. um. ac. i. (2012). An Integrated Customer Knowledge Management Framework for Academic Libraries. Library Quarterly, 82(1), 7–28.
10. Kuhlen, R. (2003, August 3). Change of Paradigm in Knowledge Management – Framework for the Collaborative Production and Exchange of Knowledge. Paper presented at World Library and Information Congress: 69th IFLA General Conference and Council, Berlin.

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