Not gone yet

My wife (a librarian) clipped an article from American Libraries Magazine on knowledge retention in libraries, Wait! You Can't Retire Without Sharing That with Us by Amy Hartman and Meg Delaney.  It's a familiar article that addresses one of the common topics in knowledge management circles: if we only knew what we know. 

On reading the article, I thought you could almost replace what they say with just about any business.  Libraries may be especially prone to this problem as the workforce tends to be older already, but it's not unique to their situation.  Look at the introduction and remove the library-specific terms, and it could be any business:

As ___ face the departure of staff with well-honed ___ skills, years of experience in the community, and deep knowledge of the ___, how can we identify and retain their departing expertise—the gold in the ___’s intellectual vault?

And the authors, librarians in Toledo-Lucas County public library, give a lot of good suggestions for how to go about mining that gold:

  • Plan ahead!  The day before people retire is too late.  They suggest doing more in-depth evaluations months in advance of retirement.  And that regular knowledge transfer should be happening throughout people's careers.  Or more specifically: keep track of people expertise and skills and connections.
  • Activities.  What activities / programs / presentations have they organized?  What worked well?  What should be organized?
  • Skills.  What skills do they have that they believe shouldn't be lost.  Especially in arcane areas - in libraries this might be uncommon databases or sources.  In other areas in might be an old programming language or technique with equipment.
  • Knowledge.  Beyond the specific skills and activities, what do people know regarding their role within the organization?  Often this kind of thing can only be determined over the long haul and by making a concerted effort to look into how people interact.  This is one of the more difficult areas, as what we know informs a lot of what we do without it being on the surface as we do it.
  • Connections.  Without people, many of us get stuck.  Why not find out who and how we work with other people to get things done?  This is a great opportunity in the area of transition planning and mentoring.
  • Legacy: One of the favorite things I learned from a KM colleague in Chicago was the idea of "leaving a legacy."  Find out what special skills or capabilities that they want to be sure that other people have - that shouldn't be lost.

And as a reminder: knowledge cannot be harvested!  People know much more than they can say.  They can say much more than they can write.  And they generally offer this knowledge based on specific need, rather than a general request.  [Thanks to Snowden for this!]

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