Why Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) for Librarians

Authors: Mary Axford, Elisabeth Shields, and Crystal Renfro

Libraries have been thought of as buildings that hold collections, conduits to the access of intellectual information, spaces for doing scholarship and places to find individuals with expertise in accessing those intellectual collections. Librarians have organized the knowledge itself, but haven’t been known for helping scholars organize their thinking, or as facilitators for those involved in handling the academic knowledge incubation process.

But if we are looking for new roles for ourselves, why not? We take on pieces of it, such as introducing reference manager tools; some of us are adding centers for digital scholarship, including visualization of information; we have always been in the knowledge organization business, through cataloguing. Librarians are well placed to become even more valuable advisors to faculty, busy administrators, and graduate students by helping with them manage personal knowledge, aka the academic workflow. We’re already involved with helping people create search strategies and track and learn from searches. Other parts of academic PKM include not just citation management but taking notes, keeping track of ideas for projects and articles, refining ideas, filtering material for current projects and spinning off future projects, integrating one’s own ideas with those from others, identifying patterns, and giving tangible form to ideas.

There are tools for these tasks, tools that can help librarians in our own work and tools that we can share with others in the academic world. Are you an expert at using Evernote or OneNote? Do you manage a Zotero group or use it in place of note cards? Can you teach students (or faculty) to use an iPad to take notes on pdfs? Can you help them make concept maps or argument maps to build articles? Can you show them how to relate these tools to each other? We have seen students and faculty members look at us in a new way as a result of showing them these tools.

Our work with faculty and students has clearly indicated that skill in finding information alone is insufficient. Instead, an understanding of the entire academic workflow process is crucial for success in academia. Students are not born with these skills and academic curricula is already so packed with content that coverage on this topic is often not covered in depth in the classroom either. Who better to fill this need than librarians who have made their career in organizing information?

About the authors:
Elisabeth Shields, Crystal Renfro, and Mary Axford have now turned their similar but complementary interest in personal knowledge management for academics into a blog, Academic PKM (http://academicpkm.org). It is designed to be a place to discuss the best strategies for academic workflow, the useful tools for achieving the most efficient setup, and the role of librarians in helping their users (and themselves!) be most productive. The blog is intended to be a conversation, so please take a look and dive in with your comments.

Loretta Wallace

Business, Economics, Hotel & Restaurant Management Librarian University of Houston

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1 Response

  1. Mary Axford says:

    Correction: This post was co-written by me with my two co-bloggers at the site Academic PKM. My co-authors are Elisabeth Shields and Crystal Renfro, and in fact the core of the post was written by Elisabeth. For their bios take a look at the Academic PKM website (http://academicpkm.org), where the three of us blog on the topic and where Crystal and I are running a year long free course on Increasing Productivity for Librarians and Academic Researchers.