Knowledge retention and transfer: how libraries manage employees leaving and joining

Date11 May 2015
Publication Date11 May 2015
AuthorNaresh Kumar Agarwal,Md Anwarul Islam
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Knowledge management,Knowledge management systems
Knowledge retention and
transfer: how libraries manage
employees leaving and joining
Naresh Kumar Agarwal
Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College,
Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and
Md Anwarul Islam
School of Knowledge Science,
Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST),
Ishikawa, Japan
Purpose – This paper aims to investigate how libraries prevent the loss of knowledge with people
leaving or resigning, and the strategies they adopt to retain this knowledge and to transfer
organizational knowledge to new employees.
Design/methodology/approach Data were gathered from 101 academic librarians from 35
countries in 6 continents who provided qualitative answers to two open-ended questions in a survey
Findings – Documentation, training and digital repositories were found to be the primary strategies
used. A number of respondents admitted to retention and transfer being done poorly. Very few libraries
had a formal knowledge management (KM) process. The study proposes a theoretical framework for
knowledge retention and transfer in libraries.
Practical implications – Libraries will be able to learn of retention and transfer strategies, and
identify gaps in their KM process based on the mapping of a specic strategy to knowledge dimension
or phase of the KM cycle.
Originality/value – This is the rst empirical study in the area of knowledge retention in libraries.
The study brings together the perspectives of libraries across the world. The primary research
contribution is the theoretical framework which can be used to further research on knowledge retention
and transfer in the context of libraries.
Keywords Knowledge transfer, Knowledge management, Libraries,
Framework for knowledge retention and transfer in libraries, Knowledge retention
Paper type Research paper
Background and introduction
Knowledge has always been embedded in the activities of organizations. This includes
the knowledge generated within libraries. The value of knowledge has grown with “the
emergence of the information age and the knowledge economy, which have transformed
knowledge into an asset and made it the basic economic resource” (Beazley et al., 2002).
When library employees resign or retire, they often leave with valuable organizational,
customer and project knowledge. In many instances, this knowledge can be critical to
the success of the library. Sutherland and Jordaan (2004) argue that the ability to retain
organizational knowledge is a key characteristic for a successful organization in the
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 14 June 2014
Revised 7 August 2014
Accepted 14 October 2014
Vol.45 No. 2, 2015
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/VINE-06-2014-0042
knowledge economy. Similarly, new employees joining the libraries face critical
challenges in gathering knowledge relevant to their jobs. There are barriers to the
successful transfer of organizational knowledge, with knowledge either held in senior
employees who do not share enough to keep themselves indispensable or thinking what
they know is not important enough for others. The documents and les may be difcult
for a new employee to process, and electronic copies lost in the deluge of online
information and repositories, limiting their accessibility and usefulness.
Thus, with librarians and student workers leaving and joining, libraries struggle to
prevent loss of organizational knowledge due to staff turnover, and transferring this
knowledge to new employees. Knowledge retention should be integrated into how the
library operates and start well before a key employee is about to depart. Although it is
considered crucial for long-term organizational success, few organizations have formal
knowledge retention strategies (Liebowitz, 2009). With depleting budgets and
challenges of viability, retaining and transferring organizational knowledge effectively
is necessary for the survival and growth of libraries. Libraries need to develop and
implement programs for capturing and retaining this knowledge before their employees
walk out the door for the last time, and transferring this knowledge to incoming
The research questions investigated in this study are:
How does the library:
RQ1. Retain the knowledge of people who leave or resign from the library?
RQ2. Provide organizational knowledge to new employees?
Using Nonaka and Takeuchi’s (1995) organizational knowledge-creation framework, as
well as the phases of the knowledge management (KM) cycle (Agarwal and Islam, 2014)
as a theoretical lens to guide the data analysis, we propose a framework for knowledge
retention and transfer in libraries.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. In the next section, we review the
literature and discuss the theoretical lens. This is followed by methodology, ndings,
discussion, conclusions and implications.
Literature review
KM in libraries
While there are hundreds of denitions (Dalkir, 2011), a simple denition of KM is a
systematic effort to enable information and knowledge to grow, ow and create value
(O’Dell and Hubert, 2011). Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995, p. 3) dene KM as the capability
of “a company as a whole to create new knowledge, disseminate it throughout the
organization, and embody it in products, services and systems”. In non-prot
organizations such as libraries, KM can improve communication among staff and
between top management, and can promote a culture of sharing (Teng and Hawamdeh,
2002). The few studies on library and KM have focused on:
KM in academic libraries (Townley, 2001;Maponya, 2004);
the need for KM in libraries (Wen, 2005);
the relationship between KM and libraries (Roknuzzaman and Umemoto, 2009;
Sarrafzadeh et al., 2010);
librarians’ awareness or perceptions of KM (Siddike and Islam, 2011);
retention and

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