Tacit knowledge sharing among library colleagues: a pilot study

Margaret Burnette (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Publication date: 14 August 2017



This study aims to explore the nature of tacit knowledge (TK) sharing among library colleagues, with a focus on the characteristics of TK and contextual factors such as organizational culture or the mentor/mentee relationship.


Using a critical incident approach, participants self-selected based on pre-established criteria to report knowledge sharing incidents between colleagues at either an in-person or virtual reference desk. Subsequent semi-structured interviews were transcribed from recordings and coded for thematic elements.


Three thematic areas emerged. First are the influence of organizational culture and the importance of trust on knowledge sharing behavior. Second, the value of teamwork and the significance of mentor/mentee roles surface as significant drivers of TK exchange. Last but not least is a better understanding of the nature of TK, as it relates to types of knowledge and characterizations of experience and expertise.

Research limitations/implications

The relatively small sample size nevertheless revealed some important findings that contribute to the understanding of the role of TK sharing in libraries.


The value of knowledge sharing in libraries is not well understood. This study demonstrates the value on several levels, including the influence of culture and trust, and the power of mentoring to harness TK held by experts. The proposed Tacit Knowledge Alignment Framework contributes to the understanding of the nature of TK in libraries. These findings begin to fill a research gap by furthering our understanding of TK and informing future retention efforts that are lacking in many libraries.



Burnette, M. (2017), "Tacit knowledge sharing among library colleagues: a pilot study", Reference Services Review, Vol. 45 No. 3, pp. 382-397. https://doi.org/10.1108/RSR-11-2016-0082

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