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The librarian as knowledge manager

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A return to the oral tradition

The idea behind the wiki was to provide library workers with a convenient and informal way of sharing knowledge. But the ultimate beneficiary of knowledge sharing has to be the customer. And the ultimate purpose of the wiki is to facilitate dealing with reference enquiries. Another piece of software, "Question Manager", has been developed for this purpose.

Question Manager is based on the principle of replacing the practice of answering queries from customers on an individual basis – which, as Karolien points out, leaves the questioner wholly dependent on the skill of one librarian – with one based on teamwork:

"We want people to collaborate on an answer of the customer, drawing on the people who have the expertise or knowledge on that subject."

At the moment, the tool is an internal one, designed to make the customer enquiry process visible by enabling librarians to see the answers being given. Once there are a sufficient number of questions – a critical mass – then the database will be accessible to the general public. As a second phase to the project, members of the general public will also be allowed to contribute their own answers.

Karolien is delighted that the Dutch Association of Public Libraries is interested in implementing the tool nationally, which will enable a whole pool of knowledge experts in Holland to collaborate on an answer in a particular library.

This has the capability potentially to revolutionize the role of libraries. Suppose, for example, someone who has a cat wants to get a dog, but is worried about how the cat will react. They can go to this knowledge resource point, and have access not just to various books and websites, but also to the experience of thousands of knowledge workers, as well as members of the general public.

Karolien comments,

"We don't want to base our reference service on books alone, because not everyone has the necessary skills to get their information out of a book; I see many people who have difficulty in reading a book. So that is why we want to refer to various resources, including oral information."

This seems like a return to the oral tradition, a time when few people could read or write, so stories were passed down by word of mouth. Education now is much more widespread, but the complexity of information is such that it's sometimes simpler for people to understand verbal information.