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The power of librarianship

November 20, 2010

The Nonprofit Management Resources project (NPMR) has been very lucky to work with Jennifer Koerber, a web services librarian.  I haven’t met her in person, but I’ve pored over her analysis of  the content developed for this project by Third Sector New England, the Boston Foundation, and the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.

There’s nothing like getting some solid recommendations from a the point of view of a profession that has a long history with taxonomies and classification systems.  There’s a body of knowledge out there, the cumulative result of years of research and praxis, and we have been fortunate enough to benefit from Jennifer’s immersion in it.  Just as every nonprofit manager should not have to start from scratch in looking for up to date and authoritative answers to frequently asked questions, our team is well-advised not try to start from scratch in inventing the basics of knowledge management.

Here are my gleanings from Jennifer’s categorical recommendations for NPMR:

  • Quick Answers: Short, web-only snippets of text, less than 3 paragraphs long. They provide a brief, ‘sufficient’ answer to a specific question, either through a text description, short table of information, single graphic, or similar technique. QAs usually also contain a link to a source of a more in-depth answer to the same question, or to a more general resource.
  • Articles:  Longer web-only documents, containing solid text as well as links and graphic illustrations.  They provide site visitors with a  more in-depth analysis or treatment of the subject.
  • Printable reports: Includes any PDF or Word documents directly returned by the aggregator search.
  • Case studies:  Web-only article-length studies of nonprofit organizations, usually offered to explore a question or illustrate a solution.
  • Recommended resources: Lists of links to suggested external sources, with a short description of what visitors may find there. There is little overt information for a seeker on the page, but the links themselves may answer some kinds of questions.
  • Topic guides / FAQs:
    • A formal topic guide with a small amount of explanatory material and numerous links to external resources.
    • An organizational page that links to answers within a single site. E.g.,  the Boston Foundation has structured its site with a Q&A format, and topic guide pages serve as architectural guideposts as well as a tool in and of themselves.
  • Videos: Live action or animation.
  • Audio and podcasts: Any sound-only presentation.
  • Charts or illustrations: Includes tables, graphs, or other visual displays of information.
  • Events or opportunities:  The primary content of these web pages are notices of relevant events, job or volunteer opportunities, and similar announcements of useful face to face connections.

But my admiration is not just for Jennifer’s classification of the kinds of information assets that we can offer through Nonprofit Management Resources.  In a more general way, I see that  librarians are the natural friends and allies of nonprofit technology professionals.  Both groups are interested in knowledge in the public interest, and our project team is especially interested in democratizing access to crucial information in the nonprofit sector.

I would certainly welcome comments and suggestions from professional librarians, not just about the immediate project before us, but about the larger task of developing online tools that assist nonprofits and philanthropies with capacity mapping and resource matching.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Christine Friese permalink
    November 20, 2010 6:06 pm

    Thank you Deborah for reminding those outside the profession that librarians are not all about books, we’re all about knowledge – finding, organizing, sharing knowledge of all sorts and protecting everyone’s rights to it.
    Online tools have only made what we were already doing easier – sharing, collaborating, helping people find other people as well as written information.
    Let me know if I can help Deb, but in any case, thanks for the shout out.

  2. November 22, 2010 11:23 am

    Morning, Deborah! My thanks for the kudos – it was a pleasure working with the analytical structure you provided.

    I agree with you and Christine above that “librarian” extends far beyond just books to information as a whole. Regardless of the format it’s packaged in, librarians excel at managing information and its organization and categorization. I’m not sure we need to go about cataloging the internet, but within a site or repository, we can work wonders to help make things easy to find.

    Thanks for the shout-out, and thanks for pointing me at your blog. I’ve gone back and read a bit, and I love the post on receptionists as information managers. Reminding us about the knowledge base held by our admin staff is vitally important. I’d add building custodians and mailroom staff to the list of key partners in organizational knowledge management, because they literally have the keys to the kingdom and know where everything is buried.

    Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy!

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