Librarians as Knowledge Brokers

This article was taken from Working Knowledge: how organizations manage what they know by Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak. (2000:p. 29, 30).

Knowledge brokers make connections between buyers and sellers: those who need knowledge and those who have it. Librarians frequently act as covert knowledge brokers, suited by temperament and their role as information guides to the task of making people-to-people as well as people-to-text connections. For instance, when someone in a high-tech firm asks the corporate librarian to do research on the next generation of reduced instruction set chips, the librarian is likely to say, “Did you know that John Smith has been asking about the same subject? You might want to talk to him.”

Because corporate libraries often serve the whole organization, librarians are among the few employees who have contact with people from many departments. In the course of their work, they come to understand a great deal about the various knowledge needs and resources of the company. Traditionally, librarians value customer service and have highly developed techniques for finding out what they don’t already know. All of these factors make them natural knowledge brokers.

Firms often do not realize the importance of librarians’ roles as knowledge workers and managers, and their status and compensation seldom reflect their real value to a firm. Because of their broad, boundary-spanning interests, rational-minded analysts may view them as unfocused or undisciplined, or even “nosy” or “gossipy.” Making knowledge connections mainly by talking to people, they are sometimes criticized for spending their time “chatting” rather than doing “real work.”

Since they are facilitators of other people’s success, their contribution may not be visible to managers who think in terms of traditional productivity. The merits of their activities are never measured or captured by human resource systems based on how many people they direct. It is much harder to measure the profit they help generate than the cost to the company of their salaries and benefits.


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