Libraries have a real value in mainataining a reference knowledge base as librarians are asked questions all the time, there is no need to re-invent the wheel everytime, leveraging on already present information certainly maximises effectiveness…this also applies to internal knowledge (staff needs).
Reference librarians empower people to help themselves by creating subject guides, but they can further capitalise on their collective knowledge by capturing more specific topic based resources in an internal reference base.
Previously librarians used card-based files, which moved to electronic versions, which are now moving to web-based services.
Common needs for a reference file
- most commonly asked questions
- student/worker needs eg. term papers or leave form
- hot topics of the week or month
- reference eg. always use this dictionary over the other one for law definitions…eg. I really found this database is the best for economic statistics, works for me everytime…eg. you wouldn’t expect it, but this book has a brief Italian cinema filmography
- direct questions eg. Where’s the closest book shop?
- staff needs eg. Certain PC’s may have individual problems, in this case do this…
Beyond this are subject guides and the library website, but having ready stored answers to unique and common requests is going to help reference staff procure answers without having to repeat what others may have already done, and also giving prompt answers to easy requests makes sense.
Attached to this is the recording of reference transactions to generate statistics on what types of questions are being asked and what answers we were able to give…this also gives insight into filling in the gaps in expertise and materials
Besides a process and technology for directly codifying and accessing information, there also needs to be a information sharing culture.
I see 2 aspects of this:
- codifying and indexing your experiences in a knowledge base, eg. reference transactions
(the culture will decide if people want to do this, if not education and learning is required)
- web 2.0 tools for general information sharing
Sure, the fundamental part is a repository for reference experiences…but what about just general information sharing. Like Luis Suarez mentions in respect to expert locators, if we have a knowledge sharing culture, we are bound to know who the experts are because we read their stuff, or our colleague reads their stuff, or we could search or browse by tag in the web 2.0 base and find who is responsible for the relevant content you find.
That is, sometimes we may not need to refer to the locator system as we already are aware of certain experts because of the open social information sharing system.
In our example, if key library staff (perhaps reference staff) had blogs and social bookmarks, then we could be exposed to their writings daily, this is informal learning.
Maybe sometimes we don’t need to search the reference experience knowledge base as a colleague may have blogged about the experience before and submited it to the knowledge base…or the blog and the knowledge could be the same thing.
Anyway back to the fundamentals…
The key aspect is that of a direct or explicit knowledge base, that is, after a reference transaction you add that information to the knowledge base….this applies to email, f2f, IM, etc…types of reference experiences.
NOTE: it would also make it easier if you could post to the knowledge base from email or IM or publish your blog post to the knowledge base simultaneously.
The web 2.0 way
A knowledge base can be some kind of simple database…as long as you can query it or browse by topic.
You could use a blog as a knowledge database, or a group of blogs re-syndicated into a Public RSS Reader…even a wiki is an easy solution.
See Wikis in the Workplace: How Wikis Can Help Manage Knowledge in Library Reference Services…this is a basic way to capture resources and reference transactions…coupled with a blog, any library can set this up this type of environment in less than an hour.
For some current examples see Meredith’s coverage of Wikis: Enabling Library Knowledgebases.
These web 2.0 tools are great as each entry can be discussed (comments), re-edited, re-syndicated, etc…
You could even make Squidoo type guides for the most FAQ.
Speaking of FAQ, what about FAQQLY (scroll down)…for example if a company has librarians scattered all over the globe, you could set up a system like FAQQLY, where staff (clients) could ask questions, these questions are tagged when you answer them.
If I was asked a question I’d first check the FAAQLY tag cloud or do a search to see if any of the other librarians have answered a similar question.
The great thing about this is that the same page that you ask questions and receive answers contains the content of all past questions and answers…so you can ask a question or read past questions in the same service.
NOTE: those questions not asked through FAAQLY (eg. a staff member asks you a question in person or via email), then perhaps the librarian can enter the “question and answer” themselves in order to add it to the knowledge base.
The added benefit is that staff (clients) could browse and search FAQQLY in hope of finding an answer, before having to ask a question.
NOTE: FAQQLY has released groups , maybe the open web could have a librarian reference topic expert group.
Similar to FAQQLY is CommonGate where librarians could set up 10 or so topic reference blogs (this would be good if you could set up your own version of CommonGate)…I guess you could use a multi blog platform as an alternative.
I like the idea of of a kit (similar to CommonGate) where you create multiple blog spaces in an instant, and each librarian has a space of their aggregated posts…they don’t, per se, have their own blog, when they post an entry is has to be assigned to a topic blog, and it is just aggregated into their user space.
This is not an alternative to their own personal blog, but it is a great way to share reference information, maybe the use of tags for each entry could hone in on specific topics/keywords. The cream of this content could then maybe make it to a wiki, the stock and flow idea.
At the moment my library doesn’t have a system to document reference questions, which I guess we could do in any of the services mentioned above or even in a simple social notes system like TagFacts (but I’d like each entry to have a permalink), maybe we could create our own with Ning.
I’d like to see a dedicated web 2.0 service as a reference librarian knowledge base…I’m thinking of it having a blogging module, that way when you publish your blog post you can also choose to add it to the knowledge base (tags included). This could be an internal system just for your library collective or on the open web (maybe you could form a group on the open web version).
NOTE: Maybe librarians on the open web could share a reference knowledge base, not a directory of resources by subject type, but reference experiences by subject type. Whenever you blog your post you could trackback a central site (similar to LazyWeb)…but then the tags wouldn’t carry through.
We could re-syndicate the posts to a Public RSS Reader, but then not all posts will be relevant, maybe we can just re-syndicate certain posts via a tag feed…see Edgeio.
For those non-bloggers you could allow people to register and manually publish their experience and tag it…heck why not just use a wiki…I just think it’s handy to be able to publish to multiple place at the same time.
Non web 2.0 reference knowledge bases
The only information I share is for extensive literature searches…if I do some research for a client I finish up with a report of my findings, this same report is codified into a folder in the EDMS (Electronic Document Managament System). Even though we don’t have a subject field, we could use any field to type in subject terms, this is OK for searching, but what about browsing subject terms.
In my own work I’d like to extend this codifying to unique and common reference questions (sorted by title and topic).
Anyway at least this way, before you undertake a research project you can consult our global EDMS to see if anyone has already touched on this area.
Check out some of the literature about traditional (non web 2.0) approaches in forming not only a reference base, but a total knowledge base.
See KM in a metro library, where it has a brief on a searchable knowledge base, as well as an expert locator.
Also see the Reference Desk tab section in Creating an Internal Content Management System…here’s a screen shot.
Here is an article about the same reference database. This article is more on the reference workflow, whereas this blog post is more focused on the reference knowledge base that would be an aspect of a bigger system.
Then there is, Making tacit knowledge explicit: the Ready Reference Database as codified knowledge, this is a great article on knowledge transfer and codifying more than just reference experiences in an RRD…this doubles up as a knowledge map and knowledge respository for all types of information.
This article goes beyond workflow and a reference repository into a whole knowledge base for all types of information.
The article Knowledge management in academic libraries: special tools and processes to support information professionals demonstates how a library can create a simple knowledge base…in this example the repository is being used to capture reference resources. Check it out here.
This is exactly what I’m getting at, after a reference transaction you may discover great resources for a particular topic, these can be documented by title and by subject for staff and public use.
Subject guides or pathfinders are broad in nature, the reference base is there to capture more specific questions and resources, and to identify commonly used, unique, and hard to find resources.
Organizing Ready Reference and Administrative Information with the Reference Desk Manager also succinctly defines the problem and solution, again this heads towards an Intranet type solution…I guess my blog post is more specific to an aspect of this system.
Knowledge management and reference services is an indepth paper about km in general and cites some great examples of km in libraries.
The different ways of finding experts
Internal communication blogs and km2.0
Research librarian and web 2.0
OPAC in a blog and library 2.0
km 2.0 adoption and organic km
Enterprise social sharing structure
Microsoft Knowledge Network Expertise Locator
See my del.icio.us tag for km in libraries - LIS_km
Also check out this blog used a bibliography for km in libraries.
See the kmwikis coverage of km in the library.
Please use the comments to provide some discussion on how your library shares information, and more specifically on how you share/codify reference transactions.
I’m looking for homemade DIY examples.
What are peoples experiences?
Maybe I’ll submit this to the Carnival of Infosciences.
ADDED: I just realised I haven’t mentioned IM, see Tame the Web for IM in libraries.