Knowledge Management as Done by Librarians

Theresa Denton


The process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organisation is commonly known as Knowledge Management. Knowledge and innovation are inseparable from each other, propelling our very evolution as a species. The term, “Knowledge Management” refers to a multidisciplinary approach to achieving organisational objectives by making the best use of knowledge. This field was popularised in the last decade of the 20th century and while librarians, who were at the forefront of information storing are trained in information searching, referencing and locating information, it was business that first came up with the concept of “Knowledge Management”.

Jacob Morse’s fascinating article on the history of our need to manage knowledge and information refers to the cave art of the first people! Who would have thought this was where the first transfer of data occurred? Had those early hunters not left that critical information for those who would come after them, the species might not have survived.

What is information and how do we know what is important?

We have come to the realisation that information has snowballed into an uncontrollable tornado that sweeps through all areas of our lives.

By having a process for dealing with the storing of vital information, appropriate action can be taken to resolve the various issues facing one as a business owner. One first needs to know the difference between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.

Data is unrelated facts such as numbers or symbols. Information is organised data. Knowledge is internalised information, and wisdom is thinking based on one’s values and commitment and the ability to think ahead.

Two types of information exist: explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is documented, structured and public, whereas tacit knowledge is undocumented, experienced-based knowledge that in some cases is embodied knowledge.

When an employee leaves an organisation they take their knowledge with them, especially tacit knowledge. Ideally, important information should be recorded so that the knowledge is not lost to the company. This allows a transition of knowledge to employees.

Library services, as an organisation attempts to create systems for the creation and maintenance of knowledge repositories as well as the sharing of knowledge such as the creation of SharePoint sites. Library services view knowledge as an asset and believe in creating norms and standards which support the creation and sharing of knowledge.

Knowledge management can be categorised into four broad types of perspectives:

  • External knowledge, such as competitive intelligence;
  • Structured internal knowledge such as research reports;
  • Tacit knowledge such as discussion databases that store ‘know how’; and
  • Management of knowledge as an asset.

Libraries’ goals are somewhat different from those of business organisations in that their focus is not on competition. Libraries are focusing on sharing knowledge and their most important mission is to expand the access of knowledge for their users.


Theresa Denton

Theresa Denton is a qualified librarian and is currently oversees a number of libraries in the Western Cape. She is a former Linguistics Co-ordinator at the University of the Western Cape and holds a Masters degree in Information Science.


  1. Librarians has so much to contribute in corporate environments regarding knowledge management. These girls and guys need to get out of the library and into the boardroom!

    They need to be building knowledge communities within companies by actively engaging staff to consume and share knowledge using especially social media.

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