Going to the Web: Effective Communication Tool for Librarians and Information Managers
As the source of competitive advantage has shifted from “labour” to “capital” and now to “knowledge”, individuals as well as organizations are encountering opportunities as well as threats in order to stay competitive, with or without a desired level of knowledge support. In the context of this information thriving era, effective Knowledge Management (KM) support holds the key to the survival and growth of individuals as well as organizations.
As the source of competitive advantage has shifted from “labour” (in the agricultural era) to “capital” (in the industrial era) and now to “knowledge” (in the information era), individuals as well as organizations are encountering opportunities as well as threats in order to stay competitive, with or without a desired level of knowledge support. Survival and growth in such turbulent times requires an extraordinary degree of organizational agility — ability to respond to changes quickly and on a continuous basis. In the context of this information thriving era, effective Knowledge Management (KM) support holds the key to the survival and growth of individuals as well as organizations. Successful organizations have always made strategic use of information at their disposal. Librarians and Information Managers (LIMs) and Information Service Providers (ISPs), better termed Knowledge Managers (KMs), will be playing a pivotal role in preparing the individuals as well as organizations to meet the challenges posed by the information era, as no individual or organization, on its own, however rich and resourceful it may be, can afford to develop (and utilize) an adequate knowledge resource base to meet its learning requirements, cent–per–cent.
B. Knowledge Management Cycle
Since KM is directed towards finding out how and why information users think, what they know about what they know, the knowledge and attitudes they have and the decisions they make when they interact with others, it (KM) aims at management of information in a more meaningful way. Given this backdrop, KM domain activities can be represented as shown in the diagram below.
|Diagram: Knowledge Management Cycle|
C. Organizational Communication Holds the Key
Organizational Communication (OC) aimed at maintaining a constant and open flow of information inside and outside the organization is essential if it wants to realize its mission and achieve its goals and objectives. Hence, effective OC can play a critical role in all three domains, directly so in the knowledge processing domain, and directly as well as indirectly in the knowledge creation and knowledge application domains.
With information technology taking over each and every aspect of human endeavour, it is becoming increasingly necessary for organizations to know how to process and communicate the information they generate and make available in print as well as non–print media. Advances in computer and telecommunication technologies are now propelling KM and Knowledge Managers as an essential business strategy. Knowledge and information are held as valid corporate assets, embodied usually in the experience of an organization’s employees, often in ways that have never been documented. The situation becomes difficult, however, when employees retire or change jobs, and it is here that KM practices come to the rescue, as such efforts prevent organizations and people working in them from reinventing the wheel.
Technology, particularly the Internet, e–mail, intranets, etc. is effecting direct change in OC. The one–to–one communication model is being replaced by many–to–many. Hence, an effective communicator will have to develop more familiarity with new technologies, as well as a better grip of what business he is in. Participation in KM initiatives will facilitate communicators in developing and extending these competencies.
Communicators provide structure and content in the message for the audience and that is a fundamental act in knowledge making. Hence, a sound and updated knowledge of the organizational mission, its objectives and functions, helps a communicator in not only initiating better KM initiatives, but also in identifying and filling knowledge gaps.
State–of–the–art information technologies are being put in place to acquire, organize, store, retrieve, and disseminate this information. Print, electronic, audio–visual, and network–based media are some illustrative ways to communicate information. The other fact that, when in today’s context, access to “information” is easy and convenient, the focus has moved to the “knowledge” derived from this information. With this shift in the focus, the task of effective OC would include the tasks of scanning, filtering, selecting, organising, and packaging/repackaging the “flood of organizational information.” In keeping with this requirement, organizations will have to change their role from “gatekeepers” to “gateways” of information, Organizations should be performing such tasks as information mapping, information audits, training in information literacy, information sharing of best practices/competencies, and helping their users to navigate through the world of information, more meaningfully.
D. Communicating Through the WEB is the Order of the Day
In today’s context, a modern Library & Information Centre (LIC) without a web site in its action plan does not have a realistic plan. With few exceptions – whether the business you are in is professional services, manufacturing, retailing, consulting, or selling – the Internet is becoming the preeminent medium for buying, selling, communication, and research. With so much focus on corporate web sites, it is no surprise that Communications departmental budgets have increased for over half of companies surveyed, up by 10% since 1997. Most of this money is going into Web site development. Companies’ usage of corporate Web sites as a communication tool has increased by 85% in the last two years, a survey has reported. 
E. Objectives of an LIC Web Site
However, going to the Web is not that easy. In designing a web site for an LIC, the first step would be to answer the basic questions as to what does the Web site want to accomplish ?
Usually, the objectives for a LIC Web site could include:
- Creating and promoting awareness about its resources, facilities, and services;
- Attracting a client base;
- Marketing and supporting its products and services;
- Procurement of resource materials;
- Enhancing its brand image;
- Extending special support and services;
- Finding external client bases;
- Making stakeholders feel confident that you are doing a good job; etc.
F. Target Web Site Users and their Characteristics
The next step would be to identify the target audience and keep that audience vividly in mind as one proceeds with the planning for web page designing. The reader on the web is different from the person who reads printed resources. Key characteristics of online readers must be kept in mind while designing the web pages. Since it is a common belief that reading online is not a pleasure, online readers come to the web only to find out something new and would like to move quickly through the text, looking for salient features. The website of the Institute for Plasma Research (IPR) in Gujarat (http://www.plasma.ernet.in/~saroj/LIBRARY.html), for example, indicates on its main page services of interest to its target audience (plasma scientists) and clearly signals new features (a flashing NEW icon).
Website users go to the web source to update their information by using a search process and/or through a navigation system. Using a search process is helpful, if the searchers know what exactly they are searching for. Website users would never ever like to be overloaded with unwanted information. In their aim to get useful tips and guidance on relevant information on their search topic, they might be prepared to do as exhaustive search as possible provided the search results are value adding. Too much dependence on search engines doing the job for them may not be worthy. The visitor will go to a web site if there is anything in it for him. There is plenty available at the website of the Library of the Indian Institute of Science (http://www.library.iisc.ernet.in/), for example, arranged in a menu of different choices.
The Internet is a highly dynamic medium, in that the information on it has the capacity to be updated continuously. The online reader has therefore developed an expectation that a website will deliver to him the most up–to–date information available. The best websites are judged to be those that deliver new information quickly. The worst websites are those that frustrate the reader by not having the information he needs or by presenting information that is out of date. In an information–driven economy, it is equally (if not more) important to market the information rather than just produce it.
G. Implementation Issues
Run prototypes of your site design past your prospective audience and get their reactions . Be responsive to the reactions. Take the feedback as honest criticism and don’t look for praise through such efforts.
Beware of ending up with conflicting corporate images, one for your web site and another for the rest of your organization. The look and feel of your site should correspond with the design of your organizational logo, printed brochures, letterheads, visiting cards, etc. Recognizing your image is what is important . The Digital Library of the University of Technology in Malaysia prominently displays the logo of its parent institution, for example, see http://www.psz.utm.my/.
Make the site easy to read and navigate. Avoid using hard–to–read typefaces and distracting colour combinations. Make use of a nice combination of text and graphs. In the same way, limit the data per page. Don’t include so much information (text and graphics) on a page that it loads slowly. ‘Less is more’ is the motto the LIC should follow with regard to publishing the content. A good illustration of this may be found at the Central Library of the Indonesian Institut Teknologi Bandung at http://www.lib.itb.ac.id/.
Write the content and use icons for navigational purposes that the reader can understand. Quality content on a Web site helps build brand equity. But saying that content is king is like saying that the product, rather than the customer, is king; there is a danger of losing sight of the customer. The reader is the customer on the Web; and content serves the reader. Unfortunately, with its millions of Web sites and billions of pieces of content, many of them of poor quality, the Web can feel a lot like an information dump. The winning organizations are those who can clean up their content act . Maintain a relatively consistent look throughout . The Central Library, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras does an excellent job at this (http://www.cenlib.iitm.ac.in/). Select a Webmaster more for his/her content skills than for technical know–how.
H. Other Considerations
Remember attracting visitors to your Web site requires commitment. A web site is never finished; it will forever remain a work in progress. No LIC should undertake a web site unless it is willing to commit adequate resources . While the overall quality of a Web site may depend on factors such as interface design, links to other related applications, and rich content, it does not hurt to add a nifty feature here and there. The IPR library’s website has already been mentioned for its NEW icon, attracting the reader's attention. Similarly, the Digital Library of the University of Technology makes good use of graphics on its website. In fact, simple and relatively inexpensive site enhancements can substantially increase visits, retention, and user responsiveness  & . The issue is not about ‘having’ a Web site, but about pulling visitors and that requires Web design sophistication. According to a recent survey, the top reasons why visitors leave Web sites are: 1. slow or failed links, 2. the inability to find the information they are looking for, and 3. problems with search functions, including results that are too broad to be useful . Web managers are finding that it makes sense to differentiate their sites with special capabilities and features . Unfortunately, most Web sites commit a costly mistake, making initial navigation next to impossible. The majority of these sites suffer from the inverted triangle disease – heavy on the top and light on the bottom. Eventually, these sites will topple and either rebuild or fail . One way to judge your site is to look closely at other sites. Look not only at your competitors’ sites but other sites. This is an effective technique for determining what your site is missing – and what you need to stay away from . LICs planning to go in for a serious Web site may look for assistance from professional content management vendors.
I. Technology Trends
Accessing the Web by voice is the newest wrinkle in voice network technology . Lucent Technologies is testing a phone browser, which lets a caller navigate a Web page and access links. More common is the growing use of existing voice technology to let callers such as customers and employees access information in corporate databases. BellSouth and AudioPoint separately offer free, consumer–oriented voice portals based on software from Speech Works International. A Web site that lets users configure their voice portal account has recently been created . Navigating by voice rather than by keypad offers more options and quicker navigation . Sophisticated voice–recognition systems understand your commands without having to learn the quirks of your voice  & .
In a resource constrained regime, when Library & Information Centres (LICs) on the one hand are investing very heavily in developing their resources, facilities & services, they are, on the other hand, not being seen as optimally utilized facilities. Problems get compounded when the use of their rich learning resource base remains confined (and that too not to its optimal level) to their internal clientele only. It is on account of these key factors, coupled with other equally important inhibiting factors like shrinking library budgets, downpour of scholarly materials, ever increasing cost of the same and increase in the complexity of the client demands that going to the web seems to be a timely alternative to bridge the gap to a great extent.
Designing, developing & implementing a web page for LICs, on the lines as advocated in this paper, will go a long way in addressing some of these concerns. Some of the library and information centre websites that have impressed the author in the context of points made in this paper are shown in Annexure 1.
Help extended by Ms. Richa Khare in data entry support and by Mr. Tarun Chaturvedi in locating relevant web sites is gratefully acknowledged.
1. Anonymous. “Technology Draws in Corporate PR.” Investor Relations Business (May 29, 2000): 1.
2. Zarowin, Stanley. “How to Make Your Debut on the Internet.” Journal of Accountancy 189–6 (2000): 22–24.
5. McGovern, Gerry. “Managing Information in the Digital Age: How the Reader is the King.” Irish Marketing Review 13–2 (2000): 55.
6. Zarowin, Stanley. op. cit.
7. Graham, John R. “How do We Get More Visitors to Our Web Site?” Agency Sales Magazine 31–3 (2001): 38.
8. Liebmann, Lenny. “WEB Applications.” Internet Week (Dec. 4, 2000): 67.
9. Liebmann, Lenny. “Help for Building Sticky Web Sites.” Information Week (Dec. 4, 2000): 158.
11. Liebmann, Lenny, op. cit.
12. Wonnacott, Laura. “How to Make Your Site More User-friendly and Avoid the Mistakes That Cost Your Visitors.” Info World 22–25 (2000): 58.
13. Wonnacott, Laura. “Look at Other Sites and Learn What to Emulate and What to Ignore.” Info World 22–13 (2000): 65.
14. Cox, John. “Allowing the Web to be Heard.” Network World 17–17 (2000): 35.
15. Manes, Stephen. “The Web Speaks, Sort of” Forbes (July 24, 2000): 212.
Geisler, Eliezer. “Harnessing the Value of Experience in Knowledge–Driven Firm.” Business Horizons. 42–3 (1999): 18–26.
Gore, Chris and Emma Gore. “Knowledge Management: The Way Forward.” Total Quality Management. 10–4/5 (1999): S554–S560.
Malone, Thomas W. et al. “Tools for Inventing Organizations: Toward a Handbook of Organizational Processes.” Management Science. 45–3 (1999): 425–43.
Mudge, Alden. “Knowledge Management: Do We Know That We Know?” Communication World. April/May (1999): 26–28.
Zack, Michael H. “Developing a Knowledge Strategy.” California Management Review. 41–3 (1999): 125–45.
Examples of Select Impressive Library & Information Centre Websites
About the author
Roshan Lal Raina is Professor, Communications, Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org