Knowledge: the Key to Competitive Advantage for Learning Organisations

Changes in technology, especially information technology, has accelerated the spread of knowledge at tremendous speed, as well as exposing its quick obsolence. The increasing complexity, turbulency and uncertainty of the library environment predictably requires different and greater knowledge on the part of library service providers to satisfy the increasingly complex customer demands. There is a clear need for new solutions.

Knowledge is viewed as the key input for the development of a competitive advantage for organisations where employees’ knowledge and skills are critical factors. Without this there is no organisational success. It follows then that managerial methods, policy and styles should be constantly revamped and in tune with current development. Employees’ education and training on the other hand require due consideration to improve library and information services. In the local context, training programmes and career-building for employees seem to be very low on the agenda of top management.  Without employee training and a proper staff development plan, appropriate conditions for constant knowledge improvement, innovation and creativity in work,  organisations will not survive in a more and more competitive and turbulent environment. It is only through knowledge, knowledge-sharing and mutual experience exchange that will lead learning organisations to attain a competitive advantage.

Besides, lifelong learning of employees in the library field will contribute to the establishment of a permanently learning organisation. A learning organisation is formed when it actively promotes learning of all its members and transforms it permanently. Today successful organisations are not those that have a well-educated workforce but most often those that have coherently and systematically implemented a continuous (life-long) learning programme. The only way for the library community to survive as a learning organisation is to innovate or accept to perish. Obtaining knowledge, learning, education, all have a real effect on the quality of service when they are harmonised with the needs and objectives of a particular library. In addition, employee training and development does not imply only obtaining new knowledge, abilities and skills, but also the possibility to introduce employees to changes, encourage the change of their attitude and involve them actively in the process of decision making.

The learning organisation is also the organisation that learns and encourages people to learn in the organisation. It motivates information exchange between employees and creates staff with different knowledge. The initial concept of knowledge management indicates that power does not come from knowledge, but from the exchange and use of that knowledge. More qualitative knowledge is obtained by exchanging knowledge; and obtaining and sharing knowledge becomes the core of a learning organisation. Application of this system in the library community of Mauritius remains a managerial challenge. Library management requires positive reinventing to constantly monitor and encourage the development of new skills and knowledge and create a new type of leadership where the leaders are not all-knowing supervisors, but rather moderators and inspirators. The leaders need to recognize, attract and release knowledge which also implies a high degree of employee competence and orientation towards the participative style of management.

The prosperity of the library community is definitely dependent on the intellectual capacity of the employees and their ability to change and adjust to the dynamic environment. Renewing knowledge is crucial in the library field and not an option. Without it, it is difficult to implement the changes and adjust them to the ever changing environment, to create innovations and guarantee the success of the learning organisation.

Lalita Chumun

Reference

Vemic, J. 2007. Employee training and development and the learning organisation. Economics and Organisation, 209 (4/2).

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Continuous Professional Development for Librarians

As professional workers delivering a public service to the  community, librarians are fully aware that change is the only constant factor in their work environment. Libraries are not and have never been the exclusive provider of information in society. Nowadays there are other players, and big ones,  in the information industry. Information consumers have a multitude of online and offline sources at their disposal. Those seeking information have developed a different culture which often contrasts with the traditional techniques of libraries in providing information.  There is urgent need for librarians to adapt to the new realities and adopt new technologies in the delivery of library and information services. Failure to do so will force their exit from the industry.  On the other hand, commercial enterprises and businesses are much more vulnerable  in the turbulent and competitive markets. Their survival depends on their capacity to adapt to the new situations. However, to address this challenge, investment in the human resources is important. There is a need for continuous learning to fit in the constantly changing environment. This concept of continuous learning is not new, though it has become prominent in recent years. In our field, we often refer to the continuous professional development of library staff. What does this mean?

Continuous learning is not continually attending one course after another to  gather more and more knowledge. Knowing something (theories) is only one side of the coin; putting knowledge in practice, implementing what one has learned and developing skills is what makes learning useful. Formal learning programmes are good but if learning ceases with the formal training / education, then the process is devoid of meaning. Learning is a continual process throughout life as one never stops learning at any stage; one learns from every experience in life, whether at work, at home, in private or in the process of social interactions.

This process of continuous learning always starts with a personal vision; a recognition of values and how one wants to live and work in the future. This implies a self-assessment of one’s weaknesses and a desire to change by seeking paths that will lead to that future. A scanning of external environmental factors influencing the internal work environment help  in a proper assessment of the situation. A personal commitment to continuous professional development is highly critical for achieving the desired results. Learning should always be charecterised by personal and professional change.

Organisations having a learning culture generally encourage their employees on this learning process. Some have also set up formal structures to develop their human resources and have consequently created a climate conducive to learning. However, for organisations where funds are inadequate or where top management is reluctant to invest in their human resources, employees need to initiate actions on their own. It becomes their responsibility to continually develop their skills  and join the pool of multi-skilled personnel to fit any future scenario.

How many years ago (or decades), did you receive your degree or formal qualifications in librarianship? It  may be years now. If that’s true, ask yourself the following question: has the exercise of the profession of librarianship changed in our country? To what extent? What are the drivers of this change? What new skills do you require to perform efficiently and effectively? When was the last time you underwent a training programme in your work?

In the library and information service sector in Mauritius, there is very little formal training for library staff. Refresher courses, local seminars / workshops, personal coaching or mentoring of new entrants, discussion groups and other platforms would have helped in this learning process. Library associations and national cultural institutions have the duty to play an active role in the continuous professional development of library staffs.

P. Hauroo