Academic journal article Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations

An Investigation of a Knowledge Management Solution for the Improvement of Reference Services

Academic journal article Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations

An Investigation of a Knowledge Management Solution for the Improvement of Reference Services

Article excerpt


In recent years, researchers have recognized the importance of knowledge as an asset to an organization (Gandhi, 2004; Rowley, 1999). Knowledge resides in various places in an organization and represents experiences, education, and other valuable lessons for the management and operation of the organization (Alavi, 2000). Recently, libraries have acknowledged that because they have been traditionally responsible for the organization of knowledge, they must not only engage in organization, but must also actively spearhead initiatives for the management of that knowledge (Prokopiadou, Papatheodorou, & Moschopoulos, 2004; Stern, 2003.

A reference librarian in an academic library answers hundreds of questions each year. To answer these questions, a reference librarian refers to a significant number of resources in a variety of formats, such as books, journals, the library catalog, electronic databases, and the Internet. This process of identifying information for patrons has allowed reference librarians to acquire a vast amount of tacit, as well as explicit, knowledge. Because of the exposure to this vast amount of information and resources, it is impossible for any individual reference librarian to have complete and accurate recall of all the materials in the collection and the best tools or resources to use for any specific question (Gandhi, 2004; Lamont, 2004; Stover, 2004). As a result, reference librarians sometimes provide inaccurate information (Crowley & Childers, 1971; Dewdney & Ross, 1996; Hernon & McClure, 1987; Olszak, 1993).

Although individual librarians may not always be accurate or remember the specific sources, there is, collectively, an enormous amount of information among all reference librarians. One way to benefit reference librarians would be to capture this communal knowledge and house it in one place for future use (Gandhi, 2004; Roberts, 2005). A process that could facilitate the capture and storage of this knowledge for later sharing is the process of managing knowledge, or knowledge management (KM). A KM tool is designed to aid organizations in determining how well they collect, store, retrieve, and share knowledge (De Jager, 1999; Gandhi, 2004; McGown, 2000). Although many organizations spend an inordinate amount of money purchasing these tools, they do not always use them correctly (Barth, 2004).

One example of a library tool that offers the possibility of capturing knowledge for later sharing and collaboration is QuestionPoint. QuestionPoint is a virtual reference service, that is, a reference service initiated electronically, often in real-time, where patrons employ computers or other Internet technology to communicate with reference staff without being physically present. QuestionPoint has a feature that can function as a KM tool. This feature is the knowledge base, which is built from various reference transactions (Markgren, Ascher, Crow, & Lougee-Heimer, 2004). After students ask librarians questions through the online chat format, these questions, and their correct responses, are added to the knowledge base. Records may be added to the knowledge base, not only from the library users' online questions, but also from offline activities, such as walk-up questions, telephone reference questions, and any other source of questions or tacit knowledge, including informal discussions, guidelines, or rules of thumb.

Based on the manner by which records may be added, QuestionPoint has an extensive online knowledge base archive. Thus, whenever a question is repeated, the knowledge base could serve as the primary discovery source. The knowledge base facilitates knowledge retrieval because it is searchable by keyword and can be browsed by subject. It also permits the capture both of explicit and tacit knowledge and, therefore, facilitates knowledge exchange and knowledge creation. Because the system facilitates knowledge creation, knowledge retrieval, and knowledge sharing, it can be considered a KM tool (Huysman & DeWit, 2002). …

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