Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Retaining Institutional Knowledge

I attended my first-ever PLA conference last week, and WOW! It was everything I had heard it would be. I attended a particularly good session on retaining institutional knowledge. This is particularly relevent to me because today our library said good-bye to a thirty-year employee who retired. Hopefully we gleaned what we could from her vast experience and successful career!

Here are my notes from this conference session:

Where Do You Think YOU'RE going?! Retaining Institutional Knowledge of Soon-to-be-Retirees
Presented by Meg Delaney and Amy Hartman

The main take-away from this program was that there are three things you need to retain from long-time employees: skills, knowledge, and connections. The speakers broke down the three categories into very useful examples.

-Skills could include special expertise in areas like reference interviews, storytime, technology instruction, displays, public speaking, book groups, and programming. Before someone leaves, we should encourage them to do a workshop for staff in their high-skill area.

-Knowledge is a tricky one. There are things that long-time employees just know. They know procedures that they can leave behind in manuals and "handy folders." They know the collections they have managed for years. They could leave behind "scope statements" or "collection snapshots" for the collections they manage to help those taking over understand how the collection came to look the way it does now. They could also create reading lists by topic, series lists, or best authors by topic.

-Connections are people that long-time employees know and understand, and have a relationship with. It could be reading groups, program sponsors, performers, email lists of program attendees, other librarians interested in the same things they are, teachers in the community who are especially responsive, media resources, donors, legislators, and community organizations. Years of networking is extremely beneficial to the library, and would help a new employee know who to go to for help, information, and resources.

The other idea I liked from this workshop was that you should not wait until someone is ready to retire to gather this information. Duh, right? Gathering happens throughout a career, so we should never be surprised by the skills and strengths of our employees when they retire. We should encourage our employees to share their skills, knowledge, and connections with each other throughout their career. How do we do this?

-In annual evaluations, ask staff on which resource they are an expert. Ask them what information they most want to share with their co-workers. Ask them to share that information with others in the department.

-Monthly, quarterly, and annual awards for those who share information - and who are willing to learn from their peers. The speakers suggested "Spotlight Awards" and "Legendary Service Awards."

My next steps? I'm working on what I had originally thought of as a training manual for my department. Now I'm thinking of it more like a Skills/Knowledge/Connections manual (ok, I need a snappier title...). Whenever I learn something new or someone shares something relevant, I'll add it to the manual. Keeping it up to date will be the hard part! A manual full of random information is useless. It needs to be classified and put into context, as well as kept current.

Wow, I've got some work to do!

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