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veritas Harvard University Library Notes, For Harvard Library Staff, Number 1325 May 2005


Mary Lee Kennedy


Harvard University Library Notes / March 2006 / No. 1330

Interview: Mary Lee Kennedy

Prior to her appointment as executive director of Baker Library at the Harvard Business School, Mary Lee Kennedy served as director of Microsoft's Knowledge Network Group, where she oversaw an organization of 100 people focused on managing Microsoft's intranet, corporate and research portals, and other tools for employees to access, exchange, and use information. Kennedy earned her bachelor of arts cum laude in social psychology at the University of Alberta, Canada, and her master's in library science (with honors) at Louisiana State University. She was interviewed for Library Notes on February 28.

Many of our colleagues speak of you as a knowledge manager. Is that accurate, and, if so, what does it really mean?

It is accurate. A knowledge manager has the responsibility to ensure that an organization can exchange ideas, information, and expertise. Sometimes that's through documentation, but sometimes that's through relationships, or through technology, using collaborative platforms. Knowledge management is about the dynamics of how information and knowledge are shared within an organization.

Are those dynamics as important as the information itself?

Absolutely. In fact, in order to make effective use of the information one must understand the dynamics. They are interdependent.

What are the skills you're using to do that?

You have to align what you do with the core processes of the organization that you serve. So at Harvard Business School, we ask how we can enable this exchange of information, using methods that help us to understand how courses are developed, how research is conducted, and how classes are taught. By looking at the core functions of the Business School, we can try to understand how faculty collaborate in their research, what kinds of networks they need, and how they actually identify the kind of information necessary to their research. Do we have that information available to them? If not, how do we make that information available? How do we make sure that it's there in a timely way? You have to work with an organization to establish what its priorities are. A knowledge manager really works to connect people to people, and information to people.

I found an interesting job description for a knowledge manager. "Person should have: combined capabilities of a business strategist, technology analyst, and human resource professional. Industry experience in business and technology issues, advanced MBA or equivalent education, degree, an exhibited capability or potential for understanding the difference between data, information, and knowledge is pertinent to organizational, strategic concerns. Consulting background, particularly a background involving those of liaison and consultation, would be desirable."

It seems like a good summary of the patchwork of skills I've had to develop over my career.

How did you arrive on this path?

I took MBA courses when I was working on my master's degree. I was very interested in organizational design, but I don't think I really understood what it was. And I really, really care about how people make decisions—that's sort of been a big passion of mine for a long, long time. I think I got on this road because a guy I worked with, who was senior VP of technology, said, "Your title is ‘Miss Information,'" and then he would make jokes about misinformation. But he also said, "Your job is to make sure we all work effectively." This included people in production plants, marketing, and sales offices, intellectual property. It was a very broad-based job. And because it was very early on in my career, I saw the potential for what we could do.By looking at the core functions of the Business School, we can try to understand how faculty collaborate in their research, what kinds of networks they need, and how they actually identify the kind of information necessary to their research.

How does your work differ from traditional librarianship or information science?

An information scientist studies the nature of information. A knowledge manager studies the ways in which we use information and knowledge to do the things that we do. These are very different things. When I talk to a curator here, the love of the book really comes through, and that is very, very important. It's a big part of who we are. I focus on the ways that we use the book to create new ideas and new knowledge. It's that transaction between book and person that I'm particularly versed in. But truly, you couldn't do it without the knowledge of the information itself. What I do is not really new: reference librarians have always asked these questions.

You've just completed a fairly extensive reorganization of the Baker staff. What are the essentials of the reorganization?

We're moving from traditional methods of information access, such as the OPAC, to broaden our perspective on metadata and its role in all types of information sources. We will be focusing on accessing the information through metadata alignment. We've taken on responsibility for establishing an information architecture for all of the Business School's information resources. The user impact will be a standard experience with respect to search and navigation functions for all of the Business School's web sites and in functional applications.We are responsible for web production throughout the Harvard Business School. We've recently hired someone to do more studies around usability and design from a functional perspective. So that's sort of the information products group side. On the Baker Library services side, we've hired a person who has a PhD in education and has done a fair amount of work in collaboration and communities. Her name is Deb Wallace, and her title is managing director of Baker Library services. Her job is to work with me to figure out how we're going to best align our work with the faculty. With the principal method of instruction being the case method, we need to be involved early, early on in course development and research.


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