Knowledge Management Culture among Library Cataloguers: the University of Zambia Library Experience.

Author:Chitumbo, Eness M. Miyanda


Knowledge Management (KM) has been recognised as an essential component of a proactively managed organisation as it puts an organisation at a competitive advantage and may lead to enhanced decision-making processes. In the process, it may also lead to improved service delivery. According to Kumar (2010: 024), KM is a "form of expertise-centered management which draws out tacit knowledge making it accessible for specific purposes to improve the performance of organizations". Similarly, Martin (200:13) defines KM as the "identification and management of processes for leveraging the intellectual capital of organisations over time and place. As such, it applies to every job function and process; and seeks to capture institutional learning and share best practices for the benefit of the entire firm and its clients".

In an organisational setting such as a library, Knowledge Management entails a systematic approach to getting an organisation to make the best possible use of its knowledge resources; both tacit and explicit. For it is through the best use of its knowledge resources that the library will be able to meet its mission and not only gain a competitive advantage over others in a similar field; but also, can offer an effective service. On a personal level, applying one's knowledge in the day to day work operations means that personal objectives and organisational objectives converge so that both of them benefit from the activities of the individual whilst the organisation will provide institutional support. Knowledge Management tools therefore can assist in that process for they make it easier for the organisation's knowledge resources to be managed in a manner that is efficient and accessible to everyone. It is for this reason that libraries have embraced KM in an enthusiastic manner. Libraries have adopted knowledge management practices and processes to improve their service delivery to their users. It is in this context of dwindling financial resources and low staffing levels, that this paper assesses the knowledge management processes and practices of the cataloguing department of the University of Zambia Library. It further investigates factors that lead to poor working systems among Cataloguers; causes of inconsistencies and data redundancy in the library's database. Finally, effective measures are identified and recommended.

The University of Zambia (UNZA) Library

The UNZA Library objectives are to serve the learning, teaching and research needs of the institution and its research affiliates through the provision or relevant information. The library also serves the general public because of its designated national reference status. For the library to meet its set goals and objectives, it has departments that carry out key functions, among which is the Cataloguing and Classification department. The library system consists of three libraries, namely; the Main library, the Medical Library and the Veterinary Library. In 2010, it served a student population estimated at 14,901: divided into 6,252 (43%) females and 8,349 (57%) males (University of Zambia, 2010). In December 2009, the library had a total staff complement of 61 in 2009 (University of Zambia Library, 2010). In 2016, the total undergraduate students at the University of Zambia rose to 22,423 (University of Zambia, 2017; 19)

The UNZA Cataloguing Department

The UNZA Cataloguing department deals with the cataloguing and classification of library books and ensures that there is appropriate access to these resources. This is made possible by giving right bibliographic data for easy retrieval whenever required by library users. The cataloguing department is quintessentially an important component of the library; the effectiveness of the library in terms of its service delivery depends on its input: i.e. easy retrieval and access to library information depends on how well they were processed in the cataloguing department. If the cataloguing department fails to meet its obligations, then the whole library would automatically fail to carry out its intended goals. Therefore, the idea that the cataloguing department directly contributes towards the achievement of UNZA Library goals and objectives cannot be over emphasized.

The University library like many other libraries in Africa has been faced with several challenges: shortage of staff, decline in funding, deteriorating infrastructure, and an increasing student population (Kanyengo, 2009). In addition, the high staff turnover has affected all departments and sections of the University including the UNZA Library Cataloguing department. Therefore, the challenge of shortage of staff and high turnover has consequences on library operations: constant change of personnel in the cataloguing department may result into inconsistencies and records duplication in the database. Employees on contract keep leaving the library as the University cannot remunerate them adequately. The Library has therefore found itself in a dilemma of having different Cataloguers all the time; usually with different levels of experiences and expertise in cataloguing. Sometimes the library rotates its members among its different departments, which acts as a contributing factor to the experienced inconsistencies in the cataloguing department's output. Staff rotation can both be an advantage and disadvantage. It is an advantage in the sense that people can acquire skills that are needed in various departments of the library and a disadvantage when it emerges that the library ends up having people who are not subject experts in any of the departments of the library.

The high turnover of staff in the University of Zambia Cataloguing department has in certain instances led to different ways of cataloguing library materials; in terms of class mark allocation and subject indexing. In cataloguing, where the expertise required is highly technical, it can lead to several challenges such as; creation of more than one entry record for single titles, allocation of different call numbers to different copies of the same title and a compromised standard of cataloguing amongst cataloguers.

Therefore, these challenges call for an effective knowledge management system that ensures that knowledge generated through experiences and practices (tacit knowledge); by individuals working in the cataloguing department at any time is stored, accessed, shared and used by everyone for the benefit of the institution. However, if this tacit knowledge is not properly tapped, managed and shared in conformity with international standards, its consequences maybe damaging to the library. In addition, these inconsistencies may be noticed by some of the users of UNZA Library catalogue and therefore lead to users not trusting the information services delivered as users may find different books in different subject categories. In a sense, Cataloguers need not tell society that they are professionals but that society should be able to see their professionalism from their quality output; i.e. professional cataloguing of library materials; maintaining consistency and conforming to specific standards and conduct. In this vein, Muller (2007) points out that Librarians and Information Specialists have the potential to distinguish themselves as experts in the organisation of information mediated by technology. Therefore, their training, skills, knowledge and experience of cataloguing, classification and indexing make them the most skilled people for managing information, especially in a digital environment.

Literature Review

KM can have many meanings depending on the perspective one takes. KM is the "process of creating (generating, capturing), storing (preserving, organizing, integrating), sharing (communicating), applying (implementing), and reusing (transforming) organisational knowledge to enable an organisation to achieve its goals and objectives" (IFLA, n.d). Aswath and Gupta (2004: 188) have argued that "knowledge and management of knowledge are regarded as increasingly important features of an organizational survival. Application of knowledge resources successfully helps the organization to deliver creative products and services. It involves "creating, securing, coordinating, combining, retrieving and distributing knowledge" (Lin, et al. 2006). Talet (2012; 62) citing McAdam and McCreedy (2000); Thompson and Walsham (2004) further argues that "efforts typically focus on organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, integration and continuous improvement of the organization. KM efforts overlap with organizational learning, and may be distinguished from that by a greater focus on the management of knowledge as a strategic asset and a focus on encouraging the sharing of knowledge. Additionally, Talet (2012; 62) says KM "efforts can help individuals and groups to share valuable organizational insights, to reduce redundant work, to avoid reinventing the wheel per se, to reduce training time for new employees, to retain intellectual capital as employees' turnover in an organization, and to adapt to changing environments and market".

Importance of KM practices in library Cataloguing Departments (general)

Muller (2005) argues that traditional information management principles, which include information organisation, retrieving, repackaging and utilisation, are important to achieve effective knowledge management applications. Librarians/Information specialists should therefore, play an important role in knowledge management based on their training and experience developed and used over years. He further reveals that librarians need to extend and renew information management principles and skills and link them with the processes and core operations of the Library in order to be successful in knowledge management activities. This implies that for librarians to keep advancing in...

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