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  • December 30, 2015
  • By Art Murray, D.Sc. CEO of Applied Knowledge Sciences and co-founder of the Enterprise of the Future initiative, Ken Wheaton Management consultant and knowledge librarian at Applied Knowledge Sciences,
    and Director of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Special Libraries Association
  • The Future of the Future

Welcome to Curation 2.0

Sometimes you can make significant progress building an enterprise of the future by looking to the past. Dusting off old, discarded concepts and repurposing them to fit today’s business climate might give you a much needed boost. One such concept worth looking at is the age-old practice of curation.

No, we’re not talking about managing warehouses full of ancient artifacts or conjuring up images from the movie “Night at the Museum.” By curation we mean the kind that you used to see in libraries. Only it’s no longer a process of meticulously organizing and maintaining long, shadowy stacks of musty books and periodicals. We’re talking about knowledge curation, the care and feeding of an organization’s critical knowledge.

No matter how good the automation, knowledge doesn’t take care of itself. Keeping organizational knowledge relevant and up-to-date requires adult supervision. Unfortunately, in many organizations, such behavior is rare. A knowledge curator may be just what the doctor ordered.

A brief history of how we’ve recorded history

Let’s take a look at how curation has evolved over time. We can divide the evolution into four distinct stages. Each exhibits a different ebb and flow between those old familiar notions of explicit versus tacit.

The explicit dimension deals with technology: how you record information and in what form. The tacit dimension has many of the hallmarks of curation, such as knowing about what you’ve recorded, its context, how it was derived and whom it may benefit.

Stage I: low tech, low curation. Characterized by artifacts such as ancient cave drawings, word-of-mouth stories, legends and music. Many of those forms of expression eventually evolved into written language recorded on parchment and bark. Stage I knowledge was closely held and focused mostly on survival.

Stage II: low tech, high curation. Began with the emergence of scrolls, followed by bound books, all hand-copied, and ended with the introduction of the printing press. Notable centers where the practice of curation was refined ran the gamut from the Library of Alexandria (300 to 30 B.C.E.) to the many monasteries dotting the Northern European countryside during the Middle Ages, to the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) of 9th to 13th century Baghdad. Stage II ultimately ushered in a renaissance of discovery, invention and the onset of the industrial age.

Stage III: High tech, low curation. From the introduction of the printing press to today, we’ve seen a gradual trend toward accelerating technology, while the noble art of curation has been quietly fading into the shadows. With the mass production and distribution of information now occurring at near zero cost, Stage III is entering its final throes. Many librarians and their related institutions, corporate libraries in particular, are being supplanted by server farms and search engines.

Stage IV: High tech, high curation. Characterized by totally decentralized, peer-networked storage augmented by rapidly evolving machine intelligence. But even the most advanced technologies such as machine-readable ontologies

haven’t come close to being able to extract deep meaning or accurately organize content into proper contextual categories.

As we enter Stage IV, we have an unprecedented opportunity to reintroduce human curation into the mix by letting computational systems work their magic in synchrony with human cognition, intuition and judgment. The challenge becomes how to make that new form of curation happen.

What Curation 2.0 looks like

Here are a few fundamental changes in mindset you’ll need to adopt in order to make Curation 2.0 a reality in your organization.

Mindset change #1: We are all librarians now. Leaders must understand that the people working in the trenches know better than anyone else what to call something, what it means and its associations. They are the accountants, engineers and salespeople. Production and logistics workers. Customer service representatives. In other words, everyone.

That means handing over the keys to the repository vault to one or more individuals in each subject matter area on which your organization depends. Along with the keys comes the responsibility for capturing, organizing, making accessible and keeping the critical knowledge in each subject area relevant and up-to-date.

You might ask, if everyone’s a librarian, where does that leave the dwindling population of traditional librarians? They become knowledge librarians, of course. Which leads to our second mindset change.

Mindset change #2: All librarians are knowledge flow facilitators. Your organization’s librarians are no longer permitted to hide among the bookcases, which have probably disappeared anyway. If your librarian has long since been jettisoned, seriously consider re-establishing and/or upgrading that position. Be sure to require high levels of proficiency in soft skills such as facilitation, communication and negotiation. That is in addition to taxonomy/folksonomy development, content management and information governance.

And don’t forget leadership and team building. We’re talking serious silo-busting here, to be performed only by highly skilled professionals.

Mindset change #3: Bring curation out of the shadows and into the light. Somebody has to keep eyeballs on the growing volumes of content, and that means appointing lots of curators. The lead curator, a.k.a. knowledge librarian, leads, guides and promotes the community. Most important, that individual must have direct access to the executive-level backing that’s needed, especially when conflicting priorities start whittling away at curation-oriented activities and resources.

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