The Embedded Librarian


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Colloquium presentation at the Catholic University of America, School of Library and Information Science, Sept. 24, 2012

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The Embedded Librarian

  1. 1. This presentation was given at a colloquium of the School of Library and InformationScience, Catholic University of America, on September 24, 2012.It discusses the status of embedded librarianship and the forces contributing to itsgrowth as a model for librarians and information professionals. 1
  2. 2. An image of Johannes Gutenberg. Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type printingpress in the 15th century led to an information revolution that (among many othereffects) made modern libraries and librarianship both possible and necessary. 2
  3. 3. Marc Andreessen (left) and Sir Tim Berners-Lee (right). Their creation of html(Berners-Lee) and the graphical web browser (Andreessen) helped ignite the greatestinformation revolution since Gutenberg. Libraries are still working through thedisruption to traditional library operations caused by this new information revolution.A key element of this revolution is that “the means of digital production aresymmetrical”, as the author Clay Shirky has put it. We are all able to be publishers aswell as consumers of information. 3
  4. 4. Michael Stephens, “Stuck in the Past.” LJ Apr 15, 2011, p. 54.Libraries used to be “the only game in town”, but now we have competition – lots andlots of it. 4
  5. 5. There’s lots of evidence of the disruption to traditional libraries. I won’t go into it indepth, but will provide just one example. As shown in the chart, the decline in totalreference transactions reported by member institutions of the Association ofResearch Libraries declined by about 45% in the first decade of the 21st century. 5
  6. 6. Jezmynne Dene, in Embedded Librarians: Moving beyond One-Shot Instruction. ACRL,2011.Dene’s definition is a good start, but we need more detail. 6
  7. 7. This definition comprises three factors: a strong working relationship between thelibrarian and members of a team or community; goals that are shared among thelibrarian and other members of the community, whether the librarian adopts theteam’s goals or shared goals are negotiated; and the librarian’s ability to delivercustomized, highly valued contributions to the achievement of those goals. 7
  8. 8. A restatement of the factors in the form of a process. Note the added presence ofunderstanding the team’s work. As the librarian forges relationships, the librarianmust also develop a good understanding of the work in order to share the team’swork.By following these steps, we arrive back at Jezmynne Dene’s definition: the librarianoperates as an integral member of the whole community or team. 8
  9. 9. These 5 characteristics distinguish embedded librarianship from traditionallibrarianship. 9
  10. 10. Jessamyn West, quoted by David Lankes, The Atlas of New Librarianship, p. 83.Now that we have defined embedded librarianship, we can address the question, whyis embedded librarianship a successful response to the current information revolutionand the disruption of traditional library services?Embedded librarianship reaffirms our core competencies while making us rethink andrealign the way we present our role and mission. It enables us to unlock our valueand deliver it more effectively. 10
  11. 11. Society still has an information problem! It’s been reframed, though: the problem isnot getting enough information; it’s figuring out what to pay attention to. Ourattention is the scarce resource. In embedded librarianship, librarians realign theirrelationships so that they are positioned to help communities and teams focus theirattention on what’s important. 11
  12. 12. Society is not only becoming more diverse, it needs diversity. See the book “TheDifference”, by Scott Page. Page makes the case that teams that incorporate relevantcognitive diversity perform more effectively than individual experts or homogeneousteams.Embedded librarians are a source of cognitive diversity – we see and understand theinformation and knowledge dimensions of a task or problem. We can also help bringother relevant cognitive diversity into the team. 12
  13. 13. Daniel Pink (in “A Whole New Mind”) and others have written about the need forboth rational and creative thinking – left-brain and right-brain respectively – inproblem solving. Librarians combine these skills – an effective reference librarianemploys both of them in carrying out a research project. Embedded librarians haveopportunities to employ their skills to help teams achieve their goals. 13
  14. 14. ALM Daily Report, “Law Librarianship in the New Economic Climate.”, Sept. 17, 2012.Actually, embedded librarianship is growing in all sectors. Here are just a fewexamples, of many. 14
  15. 15. 1. The U.S. National Institutes of Health employs embedded “informationists” who specialize in working with the different research institutes that make up the organization.2. Vanderbilt University not only has sophisticated informationists in its medical school; it also has embedded librarians who collaborate with subject instructors to infuse information literacy instruction into its first-year courses.3. The MITRE Corporation has a long standing embedded librarianship program. Its recent innovation has been to form “clusters” of librarians who share knowledge and back one another up.4. Buffy Hamilton is a school media specialist in the Cherokee County School District, and she blogs as The Unquiet Librarian. She is an advocate for school media specialists forming partnerships with classroom teachers.5. The District of Columbia Public Library has two programs that I’d like to mention. One is its teen services program. Coordinator Rebecca Renard presented a paper at IFLA this past summer about her partnership with Radio Rootz to form The Adaptive Services Division partners extensively with organizations serving hearing-impaired and vision-impaired people to hold programs, educational sessions, and make other services available to these communities.6. The Lubuto Library Project builds and operates libraries to serve street children in Zambia. In the July 15, 2012 Library Journal, Anthony Bernier wrote this about Lubuto’s approach, “The project’s vision does not seek first to provide library service to impoverished African street youth. It seeks first to build community with and among them. Everything else comes second.” This captures the essence 15
  16. 16. of the embedded, relational approach. 15
  17. 17. Barbara Dewey, “The Embedded Librarian: Strategic Campus Collaborations.”Resource Sharing & Information Networks 17:1/2, 2004, p. 17.While we have more work to do in assessing the value of embedded librarianship.However, the following quotations illustrate the value that some have found inworking with embedded librarians. 16
  18. 18. (from the Models of Embedded Librarianship research) 17
  19. 19. (from the Models of Embedded Librarianship research) 18
  20. 20. (from the Models of Embedded Librarianship research) 19
  21. 21. (Citation: Kho, N. Information Today, March 2011, p. 1.) 20
  22. 22. Kim Dority is author of the book, “Rethinking Information Work.” I’d amend herstatement to include librarians in all sectors. 21
  23. 23. A review of the key points of this presentation. 22
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