Organizational Culture and Knowledge

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What is Organizational Culture?

Edgar Schein defines culture as the "shared assumptions" of a group of any people. Essentially, as people live with each other, they build general assumptions about what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior. These behaviors develop over time either through systems of punishment and reward or through group knowledge exchange.

A good way to understand cultural behaviors is to describe them in "ought to" statements. For instance, "one ought not wear white sports socks with black dress shoes." In Western Society, failing to abide by this norm will result in the likely punishment of public ridicule or, if you are a celebrity, a spot in the "fashion disasters" section of a gossip magazine.

Organizational Culture, then, is the shared assumptions found inside an organization. These assumptions can include anything from appropriate language ("we ought to call the people we serve 'patrons' rather than 'customers'"), distribution of rewards ("higher paid positions ought to go to individuals carrying a professional degree"), to the broader purpose ("libraries ought to protect freedom of information").

Culture should be distinguished, however, from the espoused values of an organization. For instance, an organization may have a mission statement that refers to "customer focus," but have behaviors that suggest otherwise. It is important to recognize culture through behaviors rather than words. Thus, "how," "when," "where" and "by whom" something is said may be more important to understanding a culture than "what" is said.

Libraries as Cultural Entities

Cultural Entities Within Libraries

Communities of Practice and Knowledge Sharing

Grass roots community efforts are engaging in interesting techniques to mine the knowledge of individuals so to help them solve their particular problems. These methods can be adapted to the workplace. Some examples:

World Cafe assumes that major change begins with the conversations of small groups of people. A very effective cross between talking to friends in a restaurant and musical chairs.

Appreciative Inquiry asks people to identify their idea world and then commit to taking steps toward that ideal world. Very inspiring and action-focused method of creating communities of practice.

ACRL's Effective Practices Clearinghouse

ACRL is frequently looked to and contacted for descriptions of effective practices in the academic library profession. The goal of the Effective Practices Clearinghouse is to recognize effective practices in academic libraries in areas such as programs, services, facilities, technology, and initiatives and share them so they are accessible to academic librarians and the entire education community.

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