Core competencies, however, are characteristics of the organization as a whole. Libraries can utilize core competencies as a tool to develop and provide superior services. A description and review of the concepts of core competencies are included and a framework for their development and use is given.
The concept of core competencies was developed in the management field. Prahalad and Hamel (1990) introduced the concept in a Harvard Business Review article. They wrote that a core competency is "an area of specialized expertise that is the result of harmonizing complex streams of technology and work activity." As an example they gave Honda's expertise in engines. Honda was able to exploit ...view middle of the document...
The Characteristics of Core Competencies
The characteristics of core competencies are as follows:
They rpovide a set of unifying principles for the organization and they are pervasive in all strategies.
They provide access to a variety of markets.
They are critical in producing end products.
They are rare or difficult to imitate.
Let's consider each of these characteristics in turn:
Core competencies provide a set of unifying principles for the organization. Such principles are not necessasrily evident to the consumer but they are to management. Consumers recognize that Honda makes high-quality engines, but from a managerial perspective, the skills and technologies behind engine manufacturing are woven into the fabric of the company. Unless competencies are pervasive they are at best potential core competencies. However, in an organization that has not defined itself, identifying potential core competencies is an important step.
Core competencies also are pervasive in all strategies. For Honda, when management decisions are made, the technology behind engine production is ever present. With such a unifying principle, strategic planning is facilitated. It is much harder to plot strategy when goals are diffuse, fragmented, or contradictory. In the case of libraries, providing information and insuring that patrons have the ability to access information are pervasive principles.
Core competencies must provide access to a variety of markets. With change a constant factor in today's marketplace, successful organizations must be able to provide value in a number of markets. Should markets change, companies not dependent on a single market can adapt more easily. For example, while public libraries face competition from mega book stores, their information services and programs for children have continued to be relatively stable areas of service. Also, the business community, students, home gardeners, and many other groups can be served in a variety of ways. Patrons are served with reference and information services as well as popular and practical circulating materials. Preschool children attend reading programs while their parents use materials in the parent-teacher collection, and so on.
Another feature of core competencies is that they can be exploited to produce a variety of products. Knowledge of library materials and other information sources supports the information and youth services function of public libraries. The ability to negotiate informational questions helps librarians assist readers of popular fiction, as well as business people and students, in locating needed reading materials.
Core competencies are critical in producing end products. Without a strong knowledge of library materials, librarians could not provide patrons with readers advisory services. Without a classification system and other retrieval tools, patrons would not be able to find appropriate materials. Preschool programs also continue to...