Class Reflection – Managing Knowledge

“Is knowledge management possible? It depends on how you define knowledge. When you define knowledge more as information, management is much more feasible.”

That’s what I have written at the top of my notes from our class discussion. In fact, I think the question “is knowledge management possible?” goes to the very heart of our identities as current/future librarians.

I have some other notes written down that have not yet gelled into a discourse and so I’ll add them here and then comment. Hopefully, by the end of this, I’ll be able to answer the question that I first wrote during class, “What the hell does this mean to us?”

One thing that I found interesting was that the phrase “knowledge management” came from the business world and has the implication of external control. Maybe it’s this implication that really cheeses people off. When we think abstractly about knowledge, we want to give it the nutrients it needs to flourish. The idea that someone else may determine in which direction it grows and how big it will get can be very irritating. We also tend to think of knowledge as something that is much more unpredictable and uncontrollable. Heat from a fire is knowledge. Heat from an electric element is knowledge managed. There is something much more visceral about the unmanaged knowledge. We like the sense of freedom.

At the same time, if the development of knowledge does not address the needs of a community (small or large), it serves no purpose. I think that is probably a big reason that “community of practice” has become such a catchphrase among those who would seek to manage knowledge. These communities tend to address a need and serve to corral and develop knowledge that is vital to that community. I also have written down “negotiation of meaning – careful navigation along with give & take between community members as a means to develop identity.” Not only do communities of practice develop the knowledge required by its members, they also help to create languages and develop identity. The creation of language and development of identity establishes the credibility of that community with larger communities. This seems to be a pretty critical aspect of communities of practice as knowledge development pools.

The analogy of communities of practice as a type of farm seems pretty apt. You have a farm whose purpose is to sustain a group by producing and distributing a crop (or crops). In the case of communities of practice, the purpose of the community is to provide for the knowledge based needs of a group of people united by a common something by producing and distributing more knowledge about that something. The main goal is to provide “food” for the farm family or knowledge for the community members. At this point, it is a subsistence farm. When, however, the crop becomes larger than the needs of the group or more lucrative as a commodity than a food source, it can be harvested and sold outside of the community. In the same way, a farmer may choose to focus on developing one crop that is more lucrative rather than a kitchen garden that only serves to benefit his family as a food source rather than a source of income.

Communities of practice can be a way to manage knowledge in much the same way that a farmer manages a farm. He provides a place and a purpose – soil and crop production. He kills the weeds and kills the bugs. He harvests the crops, and then finds a way to make money from them. A “knowledge manager” provides a place and a purpose – the workplace (or something else) and the development of knowledge surrounding something relatively specific (Xerox copier maintenance). He harvests knowledge and then finds a way to apply that knowledge in a way that represents investment in the company (tangible or abstract). It’s important to note that neither a farm nor a community of practice is a one-off endeavor. Farms should not produce for only one season and cannot produce only one type of crop. Communities of practice do not exist only to figure out the solution to one problem (that’s what teams are for) and cannot produce only knowledge defined within a certain range. Farmers that try to kill everything that might adversely affect a crop end up doing irreparable damage to the land, their crops, and their reputations. Managers who try to stifle all criticism in their pursuit of perfection also stifle creativity and community and often undermine their own credibility and effectiveness.

Now, I feel like I need to answer the initial question. “What the hell does this mean to us?” I guess I should begin by saying that, in my mind, I define the us (at least for this) as “public librarians.” I know that others may think this is too narrow, but I find a vast difference between public librarians, school librarians, academic librarians, and special librarians (fodder for another fire). On the one hand, I think of our patrons as a community of practice. They are seeking knowledge of some sort. It is our responsibility to provide the mechanism for them to find and develop that knowledge. We need to be paying attention to what they’re asking for; we need to be facilitating conversation; and, in some ways, we need to be connecting community members. They may not even see themselves as part of a community. We, as much as we are information specialists, also need to be people specialists recognizing potential community members. On the other hand, public librarians are already members of a community of practice. We need to recognize the value in participating with our community. We must also recognize that we, as a whole, tend to be rules based and that this can stifle the creativity and effectiveness of a community. It’s important that we don’t let our individual proclivities be the weeds that choke out our knowledge development.

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Class Reflection – Augmentation

I wasn’t sure how to begin this reflection. That fact is, augmentation, the use of tools to extend human capability, is what is often cited as a reason that humans aren’t mere animals. No other creature consistently recognizes that a deficiency exists in their own ability and then, often automatically, begins searching for something that will remove that deficiency. Once a person has found that “tool,” it will continue to extend (augment) the person’s ability until it breaks, is deemed inappropriate, or a more suitable replacement is found. As a relatively short person, this reminds me of working in my kitchen. I can easily reach the first shelf of the upper cabinets and can, somewhat less easily reach the second shelf. On my own, I have no chance of ever reaching the top shelf. When we first moved into our house, I immediately recognized the limits of my ability. On the first day, I found a sturdy box to extend my reach. Of course, no box is sturdy enough to consistently support 100+ pounds of shifting weight. That tool was deemed inappropriate (thankfully it didn’t break). On the second day, after more of our things were moved in, a dining room chair became the new thing that allowed me to reach heights that were not within my natural range. The chair worked well, for the most part, but was bulky to transport from dining room to kitchen, had somewhat slippery feet, and I was unenthusiastic about leaving footprints on its seat. Finally, my husband and I went to Lowe’s and purchased a folding step stool that could be housed in the kitchen. Now I have a tool that extends my reach even as it stays out of the way when not in use and does not compromise my safety. It also is dedicated fully to serving one purpose and so there are not scheduling conflicts (such as needing to access top shelves during dinner time).

During class, we talked about different types of relationships: synergistic (the sum is greater than the whole); symbiotic (each individual benefits); and, parasitic (one benefits to the other’s detriment). In my example, it’s pretty easy to recognize the synergistic relationship between myself and the stool. Without me, the stool is steel, rubber, and plastic leaning against a wall. With the stool, I am a girl only able to access the first two shelves. Together, we become a system that can do more than we can do separately. Our relationship is not symbiotic. Although I benefit, it would be silly to say that the stool benefits because that implies that it has needs. In the same way, the relationship between the stool and I cannot be parasitic because it or I would have to sacrifice something to the other. Both symbiotic and parasitic relationships tend to exist between beings; not between beings and objects or tools. Of course, humans have been known to treat other beings as tools. That, however, is another conversation altogether.

With traditional tools whose purpose is derived from their physical nature, it’s much easier to recognize how they can be used to augment human ability. With relatively new technologies, however, it can be a lot more ambiguous. In “Fitting the Artifact to the Person” by Donald Norman, the author talks about surface and internal representation and surface and internal artifacts. When I look at a ruler, I see that it is marked incrementally on its surface. I know that I can lay it next to two items and make assertions about their size relative to one another, to the ruler, and to a whole world of things that have been measured by the ruler. Without the ruler, I can only lay the two objects next to one another and say “bigger” or “smaller” (or “same”). Because the purpose of the ruler can be derived from its surface representation, the ruler is a surface artifact. Humans are very good at finding or developing these types of artifacts. I wonder if our excellence in this area has led to the seemingly pervasive that surface artifacts are rudimentary and, therefore, even juvenile.

It seems to be the trend to develop tools that have more internal than surface representation. Rather than a thermostat with a mercury vial to determine temperature and a dial to adjust the furnace up or down, we now have little plastic boxes with digital displays (I’m not sure if there’s a mercury vial in there, but I suspect not) that can be programmed to automatically adjust furnace and air conditional output. When I open an old thermostat, I see a vial and springs and understand the mechanism. I see temperature marks on the casing and a red arrow. When I open the new thermostat, I see wires and a circuit board. On the outside, I see a white casing, a small screen, and two buttons. Without the electricity to power the interface and deliver command prompts, it is useless to me. This internal representation seems to be a huge source of frustration to people.

Our culture is ruled by internal artifacts that rely on intuitive interfaces to be useful. We have computers, cell phones, televisions, and, yes, thermostats, that have the potential to augment our abilities. The key to these being successful tools, however, is, in my opinion, trust. With a surface artifact, we get it. We know its purpose and we can figure out how it works (although I’ve never figured out a slide rule….maybe someday). With an internal artifact, we only know what it says it can do. We have no idea what is causing it to do what it’s doing. In fact, what it’s doing is actually not at all what we’re looking for. We rely on engineers and scientists to translate for us. They make all those electric pulses into something, we hope, is what we’re looking for. And there it is…the issue of trust. With that ruler, I know that there is that piece of string and me. If I measure with that piece of string, only one thing can go wrong. I can misuse the string. With that electronic laser level/measurer, however, I have to figure out how to turn it on, make sure it has power, understand how to get a measurement, and trust that everyone who has worked on it to that point did their tasks correctly. If I trust that electronic tool, I can do a heck of a lot more than I could ever dream with a piece of string. At the same time, I am putting a lot more stock in other individuals than I would have to if I just carried a ball of twine in my pocket.

So, how does this relate to the field of librarianship? In an era of OPACs, integrated library systems, MARC records, not to mention public computers, scanners, copiers, flash drives, digital cameras, MP3 players, etc., we are the ones that have to make up for the deficiencies in those interfaces for a large number of internal artifacts. Although initial searches in OPACs often are pretty intuitive for patrons, the results are not. We have to teach and help navigate through the gobbledy gook that appears on the screen. Rather than just loaning an album out on vinyl, we now have to get those digital files through our firewalls using proprietary software onto whatever device a patron owns. If we are truly serious about providing equal access to information, we have to be experts in technology and people along with experts in information.

Class Reflection – Post Coordinate / Thesauri

More time dedicated to Mary Dykstra seems like a little bit of overkill, but what the heck. It was good to spend time talking about what really constitutes a thesaurus and the difference between LCSH and standard thesauri. Although LCSH is not a standard thesaurus (or even a nonstandard thesaurus), it’s easy to see how it could be confused in some regards. It’s also worth noting that even though standard thesaurus notation has been applied to LCSH in a nonconforming manner, the coding has improved subject access, at the very least, for many librarians. Although we can spend endless time debating the advantages and disadvantages of natural language vs. controlled vocabulary, there is no doubt that, as experts in librarianship, we already have experience with a controlled vocabulary that has begun to include the LCSH. It’s true that LCSH and its thesaural notation may have little use to a layman. To us as librarians, however, even a tool as flawed as LCSH can be rich resource.

Class Reflection – Precoordinate Systems

It seems like the most important thing that we covered during this class discussion was the fact that classification of anything is hard. There are many issues that bring to bear before you ever even take into account the variant perspectives of those who are classifying. I’ll admit that I wasn’t surprised by the large variety of responses to our assignment. Something, however, struck me. If you were to take a large enough body of classifiers and have them come up with what they believed should be an appropriate classification of an item, you could take come up with a pretty accurate and rich picture of how an item should be classed. I noticed that while there were several responses, a few responses kept recurring. The conversation reminded me of statistical standard distribution. Even in our relatively small group of classifiers, a pattern of averages and standard deviations began to emerge.

I was also surprised at the vehemence with which some people rail against a system that is not absolute and objective. I tend to think of myself as a pretty black and white person (and have had several people comment to that fact) and yet I have no issue with there being a certain ebb and flow within the confines of LCSH, DCC, and LCC. It was good to see that even my view of myself as pretty fundamental is a subjective view when see in relation to society. It made me appreciate a little better the need for knowledge, diligence, and compassion when entering these areas that mean such vastly different things to different people.

Using Categories to Locate Fonts for Publications in Lieu of Session 7

For the week that we missed class, we were supposed to write about a way in which we used categories in real life situations. Of course, we’ve already talked about how we use categories for grocery shopping and all other aspects of life. We mentally lump and split our environment so that we can navigate through our lives more efficiently. As I was thinking about how I use categories, I was also working on a project at work. The two thought processes eventually merged, and I realized that I was using categories, even as I was thinking about how I use categories.

The project was simple enough. I was working on putting together a t-shirt design for the teen department at our library. For the back of the shirt, I needed lettering. My computer, however, didn’t have a preloaded font that fit the criteria chosen by our teen advisory group or the image I had in my mind. For that reason, I needed to find a free font online. With this realization, the categorizing began. My first step was to do a search using Google for “free font downloads.” I pretty instantly was given the million + responses that are traditional with Google. I instantly began mentally categorizing the results as safe (from viruses) or unsafe. Of course, I have no real way of knowing if any of the website results are truly safe or not, but I’ve created a mental model of what a safe site looks like (right or wrong), and so I began categorizing the results based on that model. When I had chosen two or three sites that fit in my “safe” category, I then began looking for the font I wanted to use. On the website that I ended up going with, the fonts were already categorized. I only had to recognize that the “graffiti” category fit what I was looking for and I found the font I wanted in very little time.

Of course, writing down the process I followed is not really very indicative of how efficient using categories proved to be in my case. In fact, from the Google search to the downloading and installing of the appropriate font, this whole process took only about 15 minutes. The majority of that time was spent in choosing between fonts.

Without the use of categories for this task, it is difficult to say if I would have ever completed the task at all.

Class Reflection – Enumerative vs. Faceted Classification

I’ll be honest. I’m actually glad that these two classes got combined into one. I’m afraid that I would not have understood their relationship as well if we had discussed them separately. It was interesting to hear people try to decide which type of classification was better or easier or more intuitive. From my perspective, it seems like both enumerative and faceted classifications have usefulness, some demonstrated ease of use, and spring from some type of natural human behavior. In fact, I wonder if the action of classification, while it has become an obvious part of library and information science, wasn’t first just the natural response of humans trying to make some useful sense out of a chaotic world. While enumerative classification has been used really effectively in traditional libraries, faceted classification seems to be much more effective in terms of database construction and information retrieval. Unfortunately, faceted classification hasn’t really been greeted with open arms. There seems to be a kind of competition between the proponents for the various types of classification and the systems that have been built up from them. In my mind, however, both enumerative and faceted classifications are necessary to keep track of immense body of information that we, as information professionals, are charged with. Maybe there will also come a time when we find a way to effectively merge the two devices into a tool that will work in new and more useful ways. Einstein believed that there was an equation somewhere that explained the universe – a theory of everything. Maybe there’s a classification system that will classify everything. We’ve only found pieces of the puzzle so far, just like Einstein only found pieces of the universal forces puzzle. I’m not really of the mind that either enumerative or faceted classification systems are better than one another. I think there’s room for them both under the same umbrella.

Reflection on Chris Kleiss’ Visit

Chris Kleiss’ visit was invaluable for several reasons. Perhaps the most important, at least in my mind, was getting some firsthand news from the front. As a (soon-to-be MLS) librarian, I know what the field looks like from the public library standpoint. It was very enlightening to see how information professionals are involved in so many other aspects of life. It gives me hope that this degree that has cost thousands of dollars may someday actually pay for itself. He talked about different uses for the skills that we’re learning, such as portal development, information architecture, metadata development, taxonomies (the new word usage more than the old), and even consulting.

He also talked about agnotology. Wikipedia says that agnotology is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt particularly based on the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. Chris talked about how it is our responsibility to combat this ignorance through good research on our own parts and the teaching of good source finding to our constituents, no matter the setting in which we find them (library, school, business, etc.).

I thought I’d use Wikipedia as my source here because it’s so taboo, and yet, as we also covered during this class period, full of good information. The discussion of Wikipedia has also overlapped into another of my classes in the past few weeks (S553 – Public Library Management) and seemed particularly timely when it came up in Chris’ lecture. He said that we tend to Wikipedia because we don’t understand the knowledge and information cycle. I couldn’t have agreed more. As someone that actually teaches kids how to find reliable sources, I’ve always shied away from Wikipedia because it’s basically information by committee. We all know that committees often just plain mess it up. At the same time, there is a lot of perfectly accurate and useful information on Wikipedia. Chris pointed out that we need to know how to use tools like Wikipedia and we need to teach others that. Don’t just ignore it…instead teach about citation analysis. He pointed out that Einstein thought our questions were more important than the answers. In other words, question whether or not the authors of Wikipedia articles got their facts straight. Check out where they got their information. Take it all with a grain of salt. Use a little bit of critical thinking.

There were several other points that Chris made, but, besides the conversation about Wikipedia and being professionals about handling knowledge and information, he also talked about the evolution of library and information sciences. He made some very good points about how to change a profession so that it more accurately reflects the needs of the world in which we live. First, he said to remember that change comes slow. Too true. I tend to be a very goal oriented person. Even if I don’t accomplish something, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a plan in place to accomplish. In the past, I’ve pretty accurately been characterized as a bulldozer. It frustrates me to see something that needs to be fixed or could be more efficient if it were changed and not have the cooperation to see those fixes or changes come about immediately. I need to remember that good and lasting change is not an instant thing. Changing an entire profession, making it into a thing worthy of public respect, is going to be slow. He also said that education and curricula must change. That’s pretty self explanatory. In my mind, it’s very exciting to have someone acknowledge that education CAN change, let alone that it must. It’s fascinating for me to find that switch that suddenly makes a topic connect with a student and wonderful to find that it has impacted their life. I see Library Science shifting from a text oriented field to something more expansive and inclusive and it will be very interesting to see how Library Science education changes to coincide with the field. Finally, he said that workforce requirements are changing and we must develop new skills to adapt. Catalogers will have to learn to catalog “items” without a tangible format and will find new ways to organize and retrieve information. Reference librarians will be relied upon for much richer research as the need for ready reference help becomes a thing of the past. We are on the cusp of a shift away from the traditional image of the librarian as a profession.

Finally, the most important thing that Chris said was also his last. After giving us tons of information about the fields of library and information science, he said this. “Do something new, something bold, something that just might fail.” It seems pretty obvious that the status quo will be the death of libraries as we know them. If we want to preserve the good and useful and also see innovation take root and grow, we have to be willing to take risks. In fact, we need to have the mind set of risk takers. We need to take those mission statements and make sure they’re still what we’re about. Then we need to turn them upside down and inside out looking for new ways to make the connections between our patrons and the information that they need or want.

Agnotology. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnotology. Accessed 10/24/2010