Practical Information Policies, 2nd ed.

Bob Norton (Institute of Management)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 1 July 2000




Norton, B. (2000), "Practical Information Policies, 2nd ed.", Library Management, Vol. 21 No. 5, pp. 271-278.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Liz Orna’s 1989 Practical Information Policies was full of sound practical advice and written in clear and simple language. It also helped to cut a swathe through the IT‐dominated literature. Orna’s second edition reinforces this approach and moves the information thesis forward to encompass the leaps in technology and developments in management thinking since the late 1980s.

As I started to read, I asked myself, what was she going to make of knowledge management. It was missing from the title, after all. I wanted to read an uncomplicated case that information had the crucial role in the knowledge age. I wanted an explanation in words of one syllable how information and knowledge fitted together and reciprocated each other. I wanted to read that computers were not really going to take over as the knowledge answer and that information and knowledge were not going to be boiled down to the latest “intelligent agent software”.

Orna did not disappoint. At the outset there are sensible and integrated definitions of such difficult‐to pin‐down horrors as Information management, Knowledge management and Information strategy. These were not shrouded in complex mystery; they made sense and answered questions, not merely create them. All of Orna’s contents and chapters have moved on to embrace developments of the last decade, to demystify and comment on them, and to show with clarity and commonsense how they can fit together in the organisational jigsaw.

It is the chapters focussing on people where Orna is most persuasive. She is a firm believer in the HR‐based approach to organisation development and supports Eason’s thesis of socio‐technical systems (people interacting with information). Organisations that downsized and de‐layered to give a short‐term boost to the bottom line during the 1980s and 1990s, risked corporate anorexia because they lost their natural information flows, their knowledge producers and were ultimately reduced to purely technical systems. Orna’s book is a practical treatise on how to avoid that with case studies to show where and how effective socio‐technical approaches have produced results. In addition to the clarity with which she sets out her approach, she does not let many pages go by without a touch of humour: “I am waiting for the day when the IT industry discovers commonsense and tries to take that from human beings”.

If, however, you have a clear understanding of the relationship between knowledge and information, a practical grasp of the balance between people, systems and technology, and know how to develop sound processes to ensure they make the best contribution possible to your organisation, then do not bother with this book.

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