CM, IM, KM, LS, RM – Is there any difference?

I am inspired to blog about this after reading Patrick Lamb’s blog here.
A list of my acronyms.

  • Content Management – CM
  • Information Management – IM
  • Knowledge Management – KM
  • Library Science – LS
  • Records Management – RM

I’ve wanted to blog about the CM/IM/KM/LK/RM divide for months.  For me, a long time records manager, they are all so inter-related that I can’t really recognize them as separate disciplines – different facets on the same subject area seems like a more reasonable perspective.  Academically, Library Science and Information Management are the most common in university programs.  Most of the time, IM straddles somewhere between information technology and business management.  Increasingly, library science programs are described as information management programs.  Library Science programs produce academic librarians and organizational libraries.   Academic libraries are now heavily computerized and give many traditional library services on-line.  Organizational librarians seem to often morph into information managers and knowledge managers because they deal with electronic records and online services and want to distance themselves from the vision of the dusty under-used library.  Content Management should be about managing all sorts of content; hard-copy records, electronic records such as email, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, small and large databases, web-pages, moving and still images.  In practice, in the job market it almost always means internet/portal design and management.  There is nothing wrong with this but it may be more practical to just advertise for intranet or portal managers and avoid the confusion.  Records Management is about keeping organizational records needed to run the organization and comply with regulations.  It has existed in one form or the other for centuries and its processes are embedded in organizational structures.  This does not mean the processes are necessarily good or effective but there are embedded processes that can be very difficult to change.  Knowledge Management takes bits from all the above; explicit knowledge from Records Management, technology from Information Management, classification and taxonomy from Library Science, the wide scope from Content Management and then adds one of its own many flavors of tacit knowledge identification, decision-making, story-telling and complexity, among others.

RM and LS are old school disciplines that existed before computers.  CM, IM and KM are new school disciples in the post-computer age. This is at the core of why they often don’t communicate well with each other.  They speak different languages and have a high level of mis-trust.   Many Librarians and Records Managers learn about information technology but are blocked from applying what they know to real-world problems.  Content Managers, Knowledge Managers and Information Managers spend too much time re-inventing the wheel because they haven’t learned basic library science and records management concepts.  So much of the time when I see approaches devised by CM, IM, KM managers to solve problems I wonder, ‘why don’t they just learn a little bit of library science and records management methods and techniques?’  By the same token, I see KM managers who seem to have no understanding and amazing even less wish to learn about web-pages, electronic repositories, databases and system design.  It is not reasonable to call yourself a Knowledge Manager and have no understanding of the technology of managing information (call it explicit knowledge).  It is not reasonable to call yourself a Content Manager and have no understanding of how classification and taxonomy can be applied.  There are too many examples of extremely naive classification systems being put into place to manage intranet and portals simply because there is a lack of knowledge of what librarians and records managers have been doing for centuries.  It is not reasonable to call yourself a Records Manager and have no understanding on how to assign value to records.

Specifically, here are some examples.

  • When KM talks about building electronic repositories it is doing a kind of RM.  KM repositories all to often have no concept of expiration and retention and then become overly full of expired and untrustworthy knowledge.
  • When RM talks about assigning retention periods based on business value it is doing a kind of KM.  How do you decide what is important?  What is needed to make a better decision?  KM has real value to offer in these areas.
  • When CM talks about keeping content current it is doing a kind of RM.  The concept of retention periods only seems to exist in records management and it needs to become pervasive across all the facets.
  • When IM talks about managing information it disregards anything that isn’t electronic.  There are then huge holes in the scope of information being managed.

If you are going to be involved in CM/IM/KM/LK/RM then you need to accept that you will need to become reasonably competent in each of these facets.   Spending time on demarcating the differences is not worthwhile.



  1. Martin Sanderson said

    Over recent years working on consultancy projects with TFPL (who cover the spectrum of informatio disciplines) a mergence of discip0lines is very evident as Bill suggests. I believe technology is the main factor behind this trend plus a growing emphasis from businesses and organisations who are looking for solutions aligned to their business challenges. Most clients in my experience show little respect for artificial barriers created by the history of the various information professions. At TFPL’s EBIC conference last year such issues surfaced in many ways and there was an interesting discussion around the need for something resembling a Guild, that is, an information guild that could act as a central point representing the many information professions, presenting to clients and the external world the mix of skills required to meet their particular needs whilst promoting the mergence and the differences between the disciplines. Personally I think one area of greatest confusion between the disciplines at present is around the purpose and application of classification in a world of super search engines, e discovery tools and automated classification. It seems to me that classification is something core to all the disciplines, itself resulting in an incoherent picture when asked to apply to an ECM environment.

    • Baoman said

      Martin – It seems to me that classification seems to be co-opted often by the Information Architects and they have weak skills in taxonomy, thesaurus, folksonomy and other classification tools and approaches. The word ‘taxonomy’ scares off a lot of people. However, without some sort of taxonomy it quickly becomes apparent that searching strategies result in poor results. I recommend Patrick Lamb’s book to anyone who needs to understand how to apply classification outside of the library world: see Lambe, Patrick., (2007). Organising knowledge: taxonomies, knowledge and organisational effectiveness, Oxford : Chandos Publishing.

  2. […] are simply different lenses looking at the same thing. In fact, my KM colleague, Baoman, has a well-crafted reflection piece on his blog in which he ponders this very subject, inspired by gentleman and scholar, Patrick […]

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