Friday, May 30, 2008

Article Note: On practical knowledge and hostile environments

Citation for the article:

Guzman, Gustavo. "Sharing Practical Knowledge in Hostile Environments: A Case Study." Journal of Workplace Learning 20.3 (2008): 195-212.

Read via Emerald.

This was one of those articles I read outside of LIS once in a while. However, it seemed relevant because I am sure there are more than a few librarians working in what can be defined as hostile environments. In brief, the article deals with how knowledge is shared and how the dynamics work or fail in a hostile work situation. The article has a pretty extensive literature review and set of notes.
  • A definition, just so we know what kind of place we are dealing with: "Pluralistic goals, hierarchic control, worker's resistance, and contest for material or symbolic resources resulting in low trust and conflict, that permeate decision-making and negotiation processes during task performance, are some of the features of hostile industrial environments. . . " (196). This can sound familiar. If you do not believe me, have a look at the librarian sector of the blogosphere, especially a good number of the pseudonymous or anonymous blogs. While some of the A-listers may complain that those bloggers are not brave enough or too mean, they are still a reflection of the fact that there are some hostile library workplaces out there.
  • Social significance: "From the social perspective, hostile enviroments means low inter-personal trust and unwillingness of experts to mentor novices" (196). Now this might even be an interesting angle to consider: for the new folks out there, how many of you have found yourselves needing to learn some new skill or how something operates in your workplace only to be confronted by some older vet who simply does not want to share the knowledge? The "unwillingness of experts" seems to be a common complaint when the "leadership meme" comes rolling around the librarian sector of the blogosphere every so often.
  • A bit more, this time looking at inexperienced workers: "This situation converges with Lave and Wenger's (1991) community of practice idea in terms that inexperienced workers only gained access to insider tacit knowledge after they were accepted by the experienced workers" (206).

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