Knowledge Management In Academic Libraries: Librarians In The 21st Century

This article, written by Brendan E. Asogwa, was published in Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, Vol. 13, No. 2, June 2012. The author examines the contributions of librarians in knowledge management, and the implications for academic librarians. 



                                                                        Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, Vol. 13, No. 2, June 2012
                                                                Knowledge Management In Academic Libraries: Librarians In The 21st Century

Brendan E. Asogwa, University of Nigeria Nsukka, Nigeria


This paper examines the contributions of librarians in knowledge management, and the implications for academic librarians. A review of relevant literature on contemporary issues in libraries and knowledge management was undertaken, and the current developments in knowledge management and the future for libraries, librarians, and information science professionals were discovered. There is evidence that knowledge management cuts across all spheres of human and organizational activities including libraries and archives. With knowledge management, academic librarians contribute to the improvement of employees’ capacity in knowledge creation; it promotes and strengthens relationships and inter-networking between libraries, librarians, and users. KM creates enablement to mine and extract the wealth of knowledge in library employees. Information technologies, information explosion, multiple formats of information, changing users’ needs and tools have assigned newer roles and responsibilities to academic librarians. It has transformed them from custodians of recorded human intellect to knowledge navigators; they have migrated from librarians to cyberians, knowledge engineers, knowledge gatekeepers, networkers and knowledge brokers. These skills and competencies have to be gripped and imbibed by all knowledge workers or they will become irrelevant in this 21st century.

Keywords: Information technology, Knowledge management, Librarian, Academic libraries


Ever since the early man discovered the skill of making fire, many initiatives to transfer information, knowledge, and skills are today labeled knowledge management. However, the systematic study of knowledge as a management and scientific discipline began during the 1990s (Gupta et al, 2007). Drucker (1969) was the earliest to distinguish between manual workers and knowledge workers because in 1965 he predicted that knowledge would replace land, labour, capital, machine and other fixed assets of organizations to become the chief source of production.

In library and information science, Ranganathan (2011) was the first to advocate that a universe of subjects is synonymous to a universe of knowledge and therefore proposed the concept of knowledge management in libraries. Lee (2005) also foresaw that in the new knowledge economy, the possession of relevant and strategic knowledge and its continued renewal will enable citizens to gain competitive advantage. Though the predictions by Drucker and Ranganathan did not get immediately attention, it was in 1991 when Nonaka first used the concepts of tacit and explicit knowledge that the term, knowledge economy, knowledge management, and knowledge-based competition finally came into light. First introduced in the business sector during the 20th century, the application has penetrated into many organizations and other sectors of the economy including universities, research institutes, and libraries.

The contributions of knowledge management to libraries is seen where: i) libraries as organizations can tremendously benefit by adapting relevant knowledge management applications, ii) by creating knowledge sharing atmosphere, and iii) by adopting seamless or non hierarchical organization culture and structures in order to facilitate communication and sharing of knowledge vertically and horizontally. Every organization and institution generates and acquires huge amounts of data and information, and without effective management it is difficult to identify the information required and therefore useless. Knowledge management therefore comes as a strategy to harness organizational knowledge and enhance the capacity to derive relevant knowledge from information.

 The Concept Of Knowledge & Knowledge Management

  Knowledge management is a journey that moves an organization (library) from their present knowledge-chaotic environment to a knowledge-centric system (Taylor, 1999). Literature has shown that many writers such as Ugwu & Ezema, 2010; Priti, 2009; Raja et al 2009; Mutula & Mooko 2008, Gupta et al 2007; Pantry & Griffiths, 2003; Shanhong. 2000; Duffy, 2000; Rowley, 1999; Balcombe, 1999; Chase, 1998; Broadbent, 1998; Davenport et al ( 2000); Skyrme, 1997 & 2000; and others, have written extensively on knowledge management yet all agreed that there is no universally accepted definition. For that, writers chose to define the concept the way it relates to their peculiar field of study.

In library and information science profession, it is the insights, understandings, and practical know-how that every librarian possesses. It is the fundamental resources that allow professional and para-professional librarian to function intelligently. For that, the intellectual and knowledge-based assets of librarians were classified into two main categories namely, tacit knowledge, and explicit knowledge. Thetacit knowledge includes:

·         The know-how contained in the heads of librarians and other people's heads;

·         The knowledge each of us carry in our heads about how to do things, and the lessons learned through experience.

·         It is the innovation and creativity, which is embedded in every normal human being that helps him or her in solving some daily and challenging problems.  

When the tacit knowledge is expressed, codified and made public, it becomes explicit knowledge. Examples include knowledge shared during meetings, brainstorming sessions, workshops, conferences, seminars, etc. The knowledge is then recorded in the form of minutes of meetings and conference proceedings. The documents from such events represent the insights, experiences shared, codified and disseminated in an easily transferable form.

In librarianship, it is the creation, storage and collaborative sharing of employees' information within the academic library environment. In sharing and collaboration, a library’s effectiveness and efficiency, productivity and profitability is enhanced. KM is therefore the process of capturing, organizing, and storing information and experiences of workers and groups within an organization and making it available to others. It is used in this paper to refer to a process that focuses on five related library activities – capturing, classifying, exploiting, sharing, and applying both the explicit and the implicit know-how for the benefit of the library, librarians, the library users, and the academic community. KM in academic libraries may include:

·         a process of collecting, organizing, classifying and disseminating information throughout a library, so as to make it purposeful to those who need it;

·         Its aims are to capture the tacit and explicit knowledge that employees really have but are needed by the employer and the users in the library repository and filter the surplus out.

·         It involves identification of categories of knowledge needed to support the overall library activities by combining indexing, searching, and technology to help libraries in organizing data stored in multiple sources and deliver only relevant information to users.

The problem today is that in an agrarian economy, land was the main resource. During the industrial revolution, coal, iron ore, labour and other natural resources were the key. Today, there is a paradigm shift and the shift is that knowledge economy has emerged and in it, knowledge-aiding technology and human capital are the vital resources. There is enormous increase in the codification of knowledge whichPriti (2009) described as “networking and digitization of information that is leading to its increase in commoditization”. Knowledge is in people’s heads and managing it is an impossible task and librarians and information science professionals are the knowledge workers who Drucker envisaged.

With knowledge management around us in the 21st century, academic librarians are assigned new and challenging roles, a responsibility that ushered in other opportunities to market their products and professionalism in organization of knowledge. That was the rational Kumar (2010) noted that the role of knowledge management in libraries today has become more vital along with the development of knowledge based economy. In view of this, this paper reviews:

·         The concept of knowledge and knowledge management

·         Justifications for knowledge management in academic libraries

·         Strategies for knowledge management in academic libraries

·         Implications for library and information science profession.

Justification For Knowledge Management In Libraries

In the knowledge economy era, libraries are very importance to vocational training and lifelong education of librarians. It raises their knowledge level and ability in knowledge acquisition. The main objective of implementing knowledge management in an academic library therefore is to ensure an all-round improvement of library staff’s capacity; promotion of relationships between libraries and library users; it promotes knowledge innovation, strengthening knowledge inter-networking and quickens knowledge flow. Other objectives are highlighted below.

Tacit Knowledge In Employee

 Library workers sometimes change employers and or careers. They retire, and or leave their workplace with the professional knowledge acquired in the course of working in the library. When this happens, the establishment loses the experience and expertise of such employees. The wealth of knowledge that is in older employees which can be used to give the library a competitive edge is lost. A knowledge management initiative in libraries becomes imperative in order to harness the wealth, wisdom, expertise, and experiences embedded in the heads of such employees before they leave the library. This can be achieved through brainstorming, open discussions, and provision of fertile ground for creativity, sharing of ideas, organizing workshops, conferences, mentoring, web archiving, digitization, and identification and collectively addressing problems and finding solution.

To read further, please visit:



Copyright © International Islamic University Malaysia. All rights reserved.


Follow i-Hikmah on: