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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
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
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
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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