Defining Personal Knowledge Management

I was recently asked to define Personal Knowledge Management.  This seems like an easy question, especially for an author of a blog about the topic.  The problem is, PKM is a slippery character, meaning different things to different people and used in totally different contexts.  One explanation that is simplistic, but that I particularly like, I first heard on an online video with Harold Jarche in October 2010. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddLDvwHivR8)  He described PKM as a process.  It is the way in which we make sense of the noise around us.  We process all that information in various ways, weeding out helpful from disposable.  We might write about it, talk to other people about it or simply think about it.  From that synthesis process, we begin to create our own ideas about the information we received.

L. Efimova in the 2006 article “Understanding Personal knowledge management: a weblog case”  defines PKM as “an approach that complements organizational KM by focusing on ways to support productivity of an individual knowledge worker.”  This places PKM firmly into the professional world without considering the after-work aspect of a person’s private life and the knowledge management needed there as well.  I feel like this is short changing the true personal complexity of the issue.

Patti Anklam from “the app gap” (http://www.theappgap.com/the-3rd-km-personal-knowledge-management.html ) described PKM in 2009 as “the tools that we use and strategies we employ that make it easier for us to identify, locate, and process knowledge.”

In each of these definitions, the emphasis is on the synthesis and processing of information into knowledge.  This synthesis and evaluation process is the facet of the PKM definition that I think separates it from another term that is often used interchangeably with it: Personal Information Management (PIM).

Priti Jan (“Personal Knowledge management: the foundation of organizational knowledge management” in SA JNL Libs & Info Sci 2011, 77(1) )  identifies several key characteristics common to PKM:

  1. The scope is limited to personal knowledge.
  2. It encompasses working, private and social knowledge of the individual.
  3. The goal is to make the knowledge easy to access and use
  4. The process never ends… it is dynamic.

So PKM is our attempt to make sense of our own corner of the world.  Isn’t this one of the core desires of most librarians who enter the field?  We all seem to have a desire to create some sort of order of all the information that our libraries collect so the user can access and use it.  Perhaps, instead of being something brand new, PKM is simply another library to order, albeit a library many times bigger than any other.  Therefore, who should be better equipped to tackle this 21st century problem than librarians?

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