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Designing libraries that can thrive in changing, chaotic environments is a continuous challenge for today's managers. To succeed, libraries must now be agile, flexible, and able to adjust to a world that resembles an amusement park roller-coaster ride or white-water rafting.
One system that can help managers in today's environment is that of the learning organization. A learning organization is an organization that has an enhanced capacity to learn, adapt, and change, and is "skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge and insights." In these organizations, staff are encouraged to continuously learn new skills. For learning to be effective, however, the learning must result in improvements in the organization's operations.
While much of the literature on learning organizations emphasizes the importance of individual learning, there is little evidence that individual learning will necessarily result in a learning organization. Rather, individual learning needs to lead to behavioral changes that clearly improve overall organizational performance. Furthermore, the results of learning must become a part of the organizational culture and processes. Although an individual may become an expert in a particular area, if that information and expertise is not shared with the organization, the organization will lose that expertise when the individual leaves.Conversely, if an individual's expertise is incorporated into organizational docu mentation and is shared through cross-training efforts, the expertise remains in the organization after the individual leaves. This transfer of knowledge and expertise is a key component of a true learning organization.2
Promoting this type of sharing of ideas and skills throughout the organization then becomes crucial. But what skills need to be present throughout the organization? One way organizations can identify those key skills needed for growth and adaptation to change is by identifying core competencies that are essential to the organization.