CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Margaret Gair, Senior Knowledge Manager

Category: Meet our Members

This blog is part of our Meet our Members series, focusing on different members and their careers. 

I’m Margaret Gair, and I work as a Senior Knowledge Manager in the government sector. I’m based in Scotland but the team I work for is multi-locational – there are ten of us dotted around the UK. We communicate mostly via Skype, using it for instant messaging, team meetings and, via its “share your desktop” function, for training and collaborating on tasks.

I took a history degree, then did postgraduate library training, then joined the Civil Service as a librarian. I worked in government libraries for a number of years before moving in 2011 into a policy directorate where I was eventually asked to take on the task of improving departmental knowledge management (KM). At the time I knew nothing about KM, but I soon realised how crucial it is for organisations: if you don’t tap into the knowledge and expertise of your staff, encouraging everyone to seek out and share that expertise, you are not making effective use of your intellectual capital, and you will not be fully information literate. Recorded information is only part of the picture. So I’ve become a real evangelist for KM – and a love of knowledge and desire to make it available to others is a huge part of what being a librarian is about, so I’ve found my librarian skills to be very transferable.

There’s not really an “average” day for me. I work on a variety of projects, leading on Knowledge Management policy, strategy and implementation for my Department. I travel regularly to London and other areas for meetings and to promote KM. I could be writing or amending a strategy; updating our KM toolkit; giving a presentation on Knowledge Management; running a KM workshop; helping a team choose and develop the KM techniques that will most help them deliver their business objectives; or facilitating practical KM interventions such as an exit interview. I also have routine  – but important – work like line management and business planning to attend to.

It can be challenging to get people to take KM seriously at first – you have to find effective ways of making it “land” for them. Good KM requires collaboration and – particularly for learning from experience – a “safe” environment where people feel able to open up about mistakes as well as successes. So Knowledge Managers need good communication and interpersonal skills to encourage the right behaviours that allow KM to flourish. I love it when I give a KM workshop and people who are sceptical about KM at the start are, by the end, fired up and enthusiastic. I also sit on a number of cross-government KM groups and have derived great professional satisfaction from the things we’ve delivered: among them a set of Knowledge Principles for Government, a KM Maturity Model, and a KM Skills Framework within the overarching Government Knowledge & Information Management (K&IM) Skills Framework.

I’m a CILIP Fellow and currently mentor three Chartership candidates, two for standard Chartership and one for KM. I’ve always found CILIP Regions, Branches and Groups to be excellent resources for professional development and keeping in touch with the wider profession, and I’m really pleased that the new K&IM Special Interest Group and the KM Chartership programme are broadening CILIP’s appeal to those working in wider K&IM.

K&IM is a recognised Government Profession and there are a wide variety of roles including a sizeable number of librarian posts. For anyone looking to work in government K&IM, I would say it can be a very rewarding career for people with the librarian skillset. I know government librarians working in data analytics, web design and content delivery, information management, procurement and policy delivery, as well as traditional libraries, and, of course, KM. My top tips would be: volunteer; be prepared to move out of your professional comfort zone; – and, 100%, join CILIP.

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