Monday, December 1, 2008

Professional Profile: Laura Knapp, Manager of Knowledge Services - Ontario Securities Commission

When executed properly, knowledge management is an activity which affects all parts of an organization. Laura Knapp, a graduate of U of T’s Faculty of Information, offers an excellent example of knowledge management done right. She is currently the manager of Knowledge Services at the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), the agency which administers and enforces securities legislation in the Province of Ontario.

Knowledge Services at the OSC has an organization-wide impact. This is partly the nature of knowledge management and partly a result of Laura’s advocacy. Laura is responsible for creating and implementing a knowledge management strategy for the entire OSC as well as overseeing the ongoing activities of the library. As a result, she works with every department within the OSC. Laura has learned just how important it is to make one’s self known to key people within branches of the OSC whose work is closely related to knowledge management. She uses these people as champions for her cause within their group of peers in order to ensure the success of her knowledge management strategies.

Laura has been a one woman team when it comes to creating the knowledge management strategy for the OSC. This year, however, she was able to hire a student to help her.

Laura sees the library as an ideal tool for delivering knowledge management - the two are complimentary as far as she is concerned. Librarians receive questions from all over the organization, a position which allows them to gain a unique perspective on the organization as a whole. They see how the activities of various departments and people within the OSC are related to one another and as a result, librarians are well positioned to easily facilitate connections between departments and people within the OSC who may not have known they had common interests.

Question: Describe your career path.

When Laura graduated from the Faculty of Information she began working at the Rotman School of Management. From there she went to work as a researcher for Egon Zehnder and was promptly laid off. The experience of being laid off was one that forced Laura to regroup and really rethink about what it was that she wanted to do. From personal contacts with in the SLA Toronto Chapter, Laura found herself working in sales for LexisNexis. This experience was invaluable to her as it allowed her to see the inner workings of a wide variety of libraries and she was consequently able to gain a greater insight into the workflows and organization of library settings. This experience also provided her with the skills needed to work as an information consultant at de Stricker Associates as an information consultant.

Working as a consultant, Laura gained further insight into the world of knowledge management and again the workflows of a variety of library settings. The OSC was a client of de Stricker Associates and Laura worked as a consultant for the OSC. In the end, the OSC suggested that she apply for the job of Manager of Knowledge Services.

Question: What are some helpful lessons you learned early on in your career?

Laura stresses that it is important to be realistic about what it is that you can achieve as a new professional. Do not over promise on what you cannot deliver. It is ok to say that you do not know the answer and that you will promptly reply to people with an appropriate answer once you determine what that is. Similarly, do not be afraid to ask for what it is that you need from a position. Ensure that you are able to negotiate what it is that you want out of a job during a performance review, such as an increase in pay or the time off to attend a professional conference. In Laura’s case, she would not work for an employer that did not support professional development in some way. While you cannot expect your employer to pay for every conceivable professional development activity, getting time off to attend some activities and asking for contributions towards attending are reasonable expectations from today’s employers. It is a give and take situation from both sides.

These lessons are as important to Laura now as they were when she first began work. Professional development never stops, especially in a profession that is changing all the time.

Laura’s thoughts on essential skills for students who are graduating from the iSchool now.

Laura feels that all graduates should have a basic understanding of IT concepts, to allow effective and easy conversations with their organization’s IT staff. There is often friction between the IT department and library staff because of differences in workflow and expectations. If you understand IT concepts, however, you are more likely to understand how they get their work done and are able to ensure that you can use their help effectively.
Library advocacy is another important skill that Laura suggests all graduates be familiar with. Marketing and advocating for yourself and your resource centre is essential when you are trying to sell your services and prove the value that you add to an organization. As the financial market is constraining, it is important to be able to quantify your efforts in a way that others can understand.

Lastly, information literacy is extremely important. It is the librarian’s job to help people understand how it is that they can search for information in a more effective way and how they can decipher the credibility of the information that they do find. Librarians will need to understand how to properly filter information for the use of their clients.

Question: What are your thoughts on the future of librarians?

Web 2.0 has opened up a world of opportunity for librarians as it is creating ways for people to interact with each other and facilitate the use of resources people would never have used otherwise. The average worker in an organization does not have time to play around with wikis and blogs to figure out how to use them well. Librarians can step in and do this work for them. Librarians will be there to help facilitate collaboration and connection among workers in an organization.

Further, much of the future of librarians will be focused on the concept of “the search”. With the obvious popularity of Google it will be librarians’ jobs to ensure that people can carry out their searches more efficiently. Ultimately, Laura sees most databases moving towards a federated search environment which means that creating complex search strings will only become more important as each search will be searching so many databases at one time.

Question: What is your advice for students who are graduating into the current financial market?

Laura has an optimistic outlook on the possibilities for new graduates as she sees that people are currently overloaded with information. This information overload is a best friend for librarians as our skill set is perfect for appropriately filtering information and being able to target it to the right people. Librarians will always be in demand, however, our titles may vary to include Knowledge Manager, Business Analyst, or Information Resource Specialist.

It is important for new graduates to be looking in non-traditional areas such as consulting firms and even the vendors. Librarians are there to help people understand the organization of their information and this means that librarians can work in almost any organization imaginable.
As for the idea that people are starting to retire, Laura acknowledges that this wave of retirement was predicted before and has yet to be realized. However, she sincerely believes that it is starting to happen now. That being said, it will be important for new graduates to be more aggressive and creative when it comes to finding jobs as they will not be found in the traditional locations. A good way to start with this is to set up informational interviews with professionals who work in your field of interest. From here you can ask them questions about their job and how they got there.

-Interview Conducted by Julia Brewster