Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Diverse Universe: Knowledge Management at the US Institute of Peace

By Gretchen Sauvey

When I started library school, I don’t think that I could have defined the phrase “knowledge management” without guessing wildly. Even now, having worked in knowledge management for several years, I still find it difficult to succinctly explain my job to people. At work I’m part database administrator, part tech support, part taxonomist, part researcher, and part teacher. It’s not quite what I envisioned when I started on this path, and certainly not the academic library reference desk job I fantasized about when applying to grad school.

Luckily for me, despite its non-traditional nature, my job still lets me do all of the things that made me excited to become a librarian in the first place:
  • Education – I teach technology training classes to Institute staff and create learning materials such as video tutorials and instructional guides.
  • Web design – I’ve spent many hours recently on creating mock-ups for a redesign of our intranet wiki’s main page and experimenting with new widgets and extensions to make our content more dynamic.
  • Information organization – A large part of my time is spent managing custom databases, a document management system, and internal taxonomies, all with the goal of helping staff find what they need when they need it.
I even get to do research, combing our own extensive projects database and commercial citation databases to track the Institute’s activities and impact. Best of all, I get to do all these things at the same time, which perfectly suits my jack-of-all-trades nature.

I can’t say that my job is perfect, because there are some demanding challenges. Unlike a more traditional library, where the world of information to be organized has some recognizable boundaries, in knowledge management the scope and focus of our work is constantly shifting. In addition, my department is often the public face of major technological changes for staff at the Institute, which can make us the least-liked people in the office some days. And we operate on a shoestring budget, with our own time frequently the only resource at our disposal.

Details aside, ultimately my role is to help my colleagues capture and share what they know so that the work of the Institute can be done more effectively. It’s the rare job that lets you literally advance world peace, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to do exactly that.

Gretchen Sauvey is a Knowledge Management Specialist at the United States Institute of Peace, an independent national institution established and funded by Congress. She also blogs at

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, Gretchen! You are a class act, and you do SLIS proud! I identify with a lot of the things you mention in this post, specifically that, "in knowledge management the scope and focus of our work is constantly shifting." This reminds me of my main take-away from Cognitive Surplus: "Competence is a moving target." Luckily you are very good at learning, so you will continue to succeed.