This presentation was given at the Texas Library Association annual conference, San
Antonio, April 10, 2014.
1
The story of the six blind men and the elephant originated in the Jain religion of India
and it has spread across the glob...
To illustrate, imagine a focus group of six embedded librarians:
• A medical librarian
• An academic librarian at a 2-year...
The Medical Librarian
“We medical librarians invented embedded librarianship, you know, though we don’t
call it that, gene...
The Academic Librarian – Community College
“In two-year higher education programs, we know exactly what embedded
librarian...
The Academic Librarian – Research University
“Sure, we academic librarians know all about embedded librarianship. It start...
The School Librarian
“We school library media specialists are also known sometimes as ‘teacher librarians’,
and that reall...
The Corporate Librarian
“It’s been interesting to hear my colleagues talk so much about instruction. For most
of us in the...
The Public Librarian
“I guess I’m the last to speak, and our public librarians have also been the last to
adopt embedded l...
I imagine our six librarians leaving the focus group with a new appreciation of the
diverse applications of embedded libra...
Here’s my favorite definition. It comes from the book “Embedded Librarians: Moving
Beyond One-Shot Instruction.” The empha...
There are 5 factors:
• Relationship
• Mutual understanding
• Shared goals
• Customized, high-value contributions
• Team me...
The photo is of Clayton Christensen, who has popularized the idea of disruption of
companies and industries, starting with...
In different settings, embedded librarians are providing a wide variety of
contributions: teaching, research, knowledge ma...
Let’s turn now to common challenges – problems that may come up as you build your
embedded model of librarianship in your ...
The first one is getting traction for starting the new model. I’ve heard librarians say
things like this, “managers in my ...
activities that aren’t related to your library work. Use these activities as a way to get
to know people and their work, a...
Now we come to the pitfalls when you’re trying to build momentum from initial
success.
Number two is the problem of alloca...
Nobody’s advocating that every librarian become embedded, or that every course has
to have an embedded librarian. Choose y...
Number 3. Believe it or not, there is perhaps such a thing as becoming “too
embedded.”
When this happens, librarians feel ...
The next issue is closely related. It’s the problem of workload balancing and burnout.
I’ll illustrate with a story from m...
Now we get to the challenges of sustaining success over the long haul.
Number 5 involves loss of enterprise perspective an...
The sixth issue is settling for something short of a strong embedded relationship.
Operational models are being called “em...
Number seven relates to the lack of succession planning. I call this the “librarian who
walks on water” syndrome. The memb...
The antidote, of course, is succession planning. This follows nicely from the interest
group idea already mentioned. Inclu...
The 8th and final challenge has to do with evaluating the embedded librarian’s work.
The library manager isn’t in a good p...
So, these are the eight challenges to watch out for:
First, the challenge of starting out without proper preparation.
Then...
Going back to our opening story, others are developing embedded librarianship
initiatives too. Keep in mind that librarian...
So, embedded librarianship is not easy. But it is worth it! So I hope this presentation
has given you some insights that y...
To conclude -- we need to embed ourselves in our communities, whatever they may
be, and take responsibility for inventing ...
As you invent your future, please stay in touch. Email me – I’d love to hear from you.
Check out the Embedded librarian bl...
This presentation may be reused under Creative Commons License Attribution-
ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). See als...
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Embedded Librarians: Diverse Initiatives, Common Challenges.

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Presented to the Texas Library Association Annual Conference, San Antonio, April 10, 2014.

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Embedded Librarians: Diverse Initiatives, Common Challenges.

  1. 1. This presentation was given at the Texas Library Association annual conference, San Antonio, April 10, 2014. 1
  2. 2. The story of the six blind men and the elephant originated in the Jain religion of India and it has spread across the globe. In the story, six blind men encounter an elephant. Each touches a different part of the animal. The one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a snake. The one who touches the ear says that it is like a fan. And so on: the tusk is like a spear, the leg feels like a tree, the side like a wall, and the tail like a rope. Each comes up with a very different impression of the elephant. They are all right, of course. And yet they are all wrong. They have only perceived the elephant in a single part, and cannot account for its totality. So it is with embedded librarianship. In our highly diversified and stovepiped profession, we are all heading in the same direction, and yet the specific steps we are taking are different. Our embedded librarianship initiatives can seem unrelated, just like the different parts of the elephant. Yet we’re really experiencing the same imperatives and challenges, just as the blind men were all perceiving the same animal. 2
  3. 3. To illustrate, imagine a focus group of six embedded librarians: • A medical librarian • An academic librarian at a 2-year community college • An academic librarian at a research-oriented university • A school librarian • A corporate librarian • And a public librarian The question put to the group is, “what is embedded librarianship?” Here’s what each one would say: 3
  4. 4. The Medical Librarian “We medical librarians invented embedded librarianship, you know, though we don’t call it that, generally. Instead we use terms like “clinical medical librarian” and “informationist”. In particular, we credit Dr. Gertrude Lamb, of the University of Missouri – Kansas City, who originated the practice of having librarians accompany physicians as they went about their “rounds”. As the team would discuss the diagnosis and treatment of each case, the librarian would find the relevant medical literature to help inform the discussion. To do this, the librarian had to understand the conversation, and understand the literature, so a degree of medical subject knowledge is important. Since the early days, we’ve moved into other areas as well, such as preparing patient information packets. In research institutions, we play an important role in research data management. In teaching hospitals, we instruct medical students in the use of health science databases and in medical informatics.” 4
  5. 5. The Academic Librarian – Community College “In two-year higher education programs, we know exactly what embedded librarianship is. It means teaching information literacy embedded in courses, pure and simple. We focus on early intervention – getting into the courses students take with us. Many of them have trouble with the transition from high school, where they may never have done a research paper. We work with the instructors and strengthen the instructional process. We make sure that course assignments are well designed to build information literacy skills. We provide online tutorials and instructional modules that instructors can plug into their courses as needed. We deliver presentations in class and counsel students outside class. In online courses, we post research tips and recommendations and we lead discussions in the course management system. But I wouldn’t say that deep subject knowledge was that important for us. Just building a good working relationship is key.” 5
  6. 6. The Academic Librarian – Research University “Sure, we academic librarians know all about embedded librarianship. It started with our liaison librarian programs way back in the early 20th century. Those early liaisons emphasized collection development. They got to know faculty primarily for the purpose of getting input on acquisitions, so that the collection could effectively support the research interests of the faculty. Nowadays, it’s much more about working collaboratively with instructors to infuse information literacy into the curriculum. We also do some work collaborating on faculty research projects, and some research data management, but really it’s about the university’s instructional mission. Regardless, we have to know the subject domains and the course material. Also, we’re engaged at all levels. It’s a myth that first-year interventions alone are sufficient. We go all the way up to the Ph.D. level. Also, it’s increasingly common for us to get involved in defining institutional learning goals and shaping the curriculum, as information skills are recognized as a 21st century essential.” 6
  7. 7. The School Librarian “We school library media specialists are also known sometimes as ‘teacher librarians’, and that really sums up what embedded librarianship means to us. We are teachers. In many states, we are certified as teachers, just like English teachers, math teachers and so on. But instead of teaching a subject, we teach information literacy. I wish we could specialize in different subjects like our colleagues in universities! But hardly any of us have the staffing for that. So, since there’s no course on information literacy, we teach it in collaboration with teachers in different disciplines: English, social studies, and sciences. Together, we develop a curriculum that connects student learning activities, so that humanities, social sciences and natural sciences experiences come together as a holistic approach to knowledge, with information literacy as a foundational competency that enables students to learn independently and equips them for higher education and life. Study after study has shown that when we do this, student performance improves. The tragedy is that because of cuts in public school funding, fewer students are being exposed to our contributions.” 7
  8. 8. The Corporate Librarian “It’s been interesting to hear my colleagues talk so much about instruction. For most of us in the corporate sector, instruction has little or nothing to do with embedded librarianship. And when I say “corporate sector”, I’m including nonprofits as well as for-profits, law firms, associations, government agencies, and the like. I do wish my colleagues in primary, secondary, and higher education were able to have more of an impact, because I have to deal with the lack of information skills among so many of our employees. But that’s another conversation. For me and my colleagues, it’s all about getting and using information and knowledge. We provide access by working with teams and groups to organize their knowledge, so that they can connect and find the people and documentation they need when they need it. We provide analysis and answers for competitive intelligence and research and development teams. In all of these activities, we have to specialize and we have to know the people and their work. We’re just the team members with the special expertise in knowledge and information.” 8
  9. 9. The Public Librarian “I guess I’m the last to speak, and our public librarians have also been the last to adopt embedded librarianship. For a long time, nobody thought it had much to do with us. But things are changing, and I think we have as much potential for applying the embedded model as anyone. After all, we’ve understood for a long time that the communities we serve are really aggregations of different demographic groups and interest groups – what the marketers call segments. And we’ve partnered with other community groups and agencies to strengthen our community service. Now, we’re just focusing more intentionally on getting out into the community and finding the places where we can embed ourselves to make a difference. The most important thing is what John Pateman and Ken Williment point out in their book, Developing Community-Led Public Libraries, that our library “service provider goals and objectives should not be confused with direct consultation and collaboration with community members themselves.” (p. 20) 9
  10. 10. I imagine our six librarians leaving the focus group with a new appreciation of the diverse applications of embedded librarianship. They might be thinking hard about what embedded librarianship really means, what its unifying elements are. They might also wonder if the other participants have experienced the same challenges as they have experienced, in building their programs. Let’s address these questions. 10
  11. 11. Here’s my favorite definition. It comes from the book “Embedded Librarians: Moving Beyond One-Shot Instruction.” The emphasis is on the word “integral”. Embedded librarians, no matter what services they provide, must be truly integral to their community. Dene, J. (2011) “Embedded librarianship at the Claremont Colleges.” in Calkins, K. and Kvenild, C., eds. Embedded librarians: Moving beyond one-shot instruction. Chicago: ACRL, p. 225. 11
  12. 12. There are 5 factors: • Relationship • Mutual understanding • Shared goals • Customized, high-value contributions • Team membership 12
  13. 13. The photo is of Clayton Christensen, who has popularized the idea of disruption of companies and industries, starting with his book The Innovator’s Dilemma. Librarianship is one of a number of professions and industries that have been disrupted over the past two decades. Photo: DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 23JAN13 - Clayton Christensen, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, USA concentrates during the televised session 'Leading through Adversity- Improving Decision-Making' at the Annual Meeting 2013 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2013.. . Copyright by World Economic Forum. . swiss- image.ch/Photo Remy Steinegger. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Clayton_Christensen_World_Economic_Forum_201 3.jpg (Accessed Sept. 14, 2013) CC License Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY- SA 2.0) 13
  14. 14. In different settings, embedded librarians are providing a wide variety of contributions: teaching, research, knowledge management, data management, competitive intelligence, community development, and more. Here we explore examples that illustrate this diversity of initiatives. 14
  15. 15. Let’s turn now to common challenges – problems that may come up as you build your embedded model of librarianship in your community, no matter what type of organization or context you are operating in. I’ve identified eight in all, but we can group them into three categories: • Challenges of Getting Started • Issues that can prevent you from building momentum as you scale up • Pitfalls that can interfere with sustaining success over the long haul 15
  16. 16. The first one is getting traction for starting the new model. I’ve heard librarians say things like this, “managers in my organization don’t know what I’m talking about, or don’t see the value, when I propose that they need an embedded librarian.” This is a common problem in the startup phase. It indicates that there’s a need to pay more attention to marketing the embedded idea. I have four suggestions for addressing it. 1. Assess the readiness of your staff and the organization. Don’t begin before you are ready. 2. Focus on the people in the organization who do get it. Actually, all you need is one partner to start. I’m a big fan of beginning with pilot programs, showing the value, and then scaling up. 3. Seek first to understand their needs, not to promote your idea. Explore how their team’s performance is being dragged down by problems with knowledge discovery, information analysis, or knowledge and information management, and how a team librarian could help with that. 4. Step back. Maybe you need to defer your plans; maybe the time and conditions aren’t ripe yet. Focus instead on building relationships, not taking action. Learn about the organization by getting to know the people in it. This might mean volunteering for 16
  17. 17. activities that aren’t related to your library work. Use these activities as a way to get to know people and their work, and maybe to get them on your side. 16
  18. 18. Now we come to the pitfalls when you’re trying to build momentum from initial success. Number two is the problem of allocating resources. I’ve even encountered library managers who have killed embedded librarianship programs, or let them wither, because they thought the program couldn’t scale. After all, when librarians start operating in the embedded model, it means they have to stop doing something else they used to do. Maybe that’s working on the reference desk, or doing one-shot instruction. So here are three ideas for dealing with the resource allocation as you scale up. 1. Get more resources. It’s not out of the question. But where those resources come from depends very heavily on your own circumstances and your organization’s approach to budgeting. Can you get your user community to pay, such as a department or division in a large corporation? Or can you get your supporters to advocate for an increase in your budget? 2. Think strategically about staff responsibilities, and shift positions away from legacy tasks toward emerging value-added tasks. A highly successful academic library director I interviewed followed this strategy. She reorganized, taking care to counsel staff as they adjusted to their new duties. 3. Think strategically about just how pervasive the embedded model should be. 17
  19. 19. Nobody’s advocating that every librarian become embedded, or that every course has to have an embedded librarian. Choose your spots. Prioritize your opportunities and go for the ones that offer the best chance of making a real impact on your organization’s mission. Let the rest go. 17
  20. 20. Number 3. Believe it or not, there is perhaps such a thing as becoming “too embedded.” When this happens, librarians feel alone and cut off from their friends in the library organization. After all, working with other librarians, in the same space, sharing duties and projects, is pretty congenial. We all speak the same language, we help each other out. Take a librarian out of that environment, put her in a situation where nobody else around her speaks the same jargon or really understands what she does, and a sense of isolation sets in. What’s more, she loses the benefit of comparing notes and collaborating with other librarians to solve common problems. Do this for a group of reference librarians, for example, and what was once a strong community of practice has been broken up. The astute manager can address this by being proactive. Create social occasions, shared tasks, and shared communication tools like a social media group to keep the embedded librarians connected with one another and with central library operations. 18
  21. 21. The next issue is closely related. It’s the problem of workload balancing and burnout. I’ll illustrate with a story from my own experience. I once had a conversation with a very successful embedded librarian who told me that when passing the offices of the team she was working with, she tried to keep her head down and avoid eye contact, because she was already overwhelmed and wanted to avoid getting any more projects. This was a big red flashing DANGER sign to me. Here was an outstanding librarian facing burnout, largely because we hadn’t put in place any kind of backup mechanism for her. In the years since that episode, I’ve encountered a few successful efforts to address this problem. One I like is to form interest groups, which can include both embedded and non-embedded librarians. Group members share their knowledge about resources and projects, and back one another up as the need arises. This actually helps with the isolation problem, as well as leveling out the workload and giving central library staff a stake in the embedded librarianship model. 19
  22. 22. Now we get to the challenges of sustaining success over the long haul. Number 5 involves loss of enterprise perspective and what’s best for the organization. I’ve labeled it “parochialism”. The idea here is that ultimately embedded librarianship needs to serve the mission and goals of the whole organization, not just a single unit or department. Sometimes, when embedded librarians are spun off from a knowledge and information services organization, the big picture gets lost. Furthermore, opportunities for the librarians to act as boundary spanners and bridge builders get lost too. Two actions can address this pitfall. One goes back to the idea of interest groups or other mechanisms to keep the embedded librarians connected to each other and to central library operations keeps them aware of needs and activities outside the groups they are embedded with. Second, central library management needs to be engaged with the information user group managers, and not simply delegate the relationship entirely to the embedded librarian. In two successful operations I’ve studied, library relationship managers make regular visits to information user group managers. They use these meetings to review the nature and level of embedded librarians’ tasking and to gather feedback about how things have been going and what the outlook is. 20
  23. 23. The sixth issue is settling for something short of a strong embedded relationship. Operational models are being called “embedded” that don’t meet the criteria. For example, in higher education, especially among librarians involved in distance education, the notion is out there that you’re embedded if the course management system contains a link to the library homepage, or a librarian virtual reference app. There’s no mention of a collaborative relationship and shared instructional goals with the subject instructor. I even read recently of a so-called embedded librarian – embedded in the sense that she had authoring privileges in the course management system – who posted an introductory video in the sites for several courses she was quote-unquote “embedded” in. Without telling the instructors, that is. She was surprised when some of them reacted negatively. The antidote to this, of course, is to keep in mind the five elements we discussed earlier, and insist on progress in building relationships, shared goals, and real collaboration toward achieving organizational objectives. 21
  24. 24. Number seven relates to the lack of succession planning. I call this the “librarian who walks on water” syndrome. The members of the team that the librarian is embedded with – who don’t understand what the librarian does – come to see the librarian as a magician, or miracle worker, who is able to create essential information and analysis out of thin air. They begin to attribute this outstanding performance to the unique mastery of that individual, rather than the characteristics of the profession. Maybe this is due to the fact that they have never worked closely with a librarian before, and never experienced what librarians are capable of contributing. At any rate, they become convinced that nobody else out there could do the job as well as their librarian. That’s all well and good for the time being. But what happens when that outstanding librarian gets promoted, or leaves the organization, or retires? If there’s no succession planning, if there’s no understudy waiting to take over, the disappointment can be serious. No new librarian can step in and perform at the same level – precisely because the nature of embedded librarianship demands a sustained relationship, and thorough understanding of the work. At this point the entire embedded engagement is in danger of falling apart. The team members may conclude that they’ll never find another librarian who can perform as well. So they disengage, they cope, and everyone is the worse for that. 22
  25. 25. The antidote, of course, is succession planning. This follows nicely from the interest group idea already mentioned. Include junior staff in the groups. Introduce them to the role of the embedded librarian. Introduce them as backups to the members of the information user group. Have them sub at team meetings and work on projects when the embedded librarian is unavailable. These things will prepare them to step in as embedded librarians when they’re needed. What’s more, they’ll be familiar faces to the team members, who will already appreciate their capabilities, and quickly recognize that they can walk on water, too. 22
  26. 26. The 8th and final challenge has to do with evaluating the embedded librarian’s work. The library manager isn’t in a good position to do this – even less so than with staff working in a central library. The manager may not see or even communicate with the librarian most days. The manager has little or no idea what the librarian is working on or what results the librarian achieves. Meanwhile, the community group leader sees the librarian’s results, but doesn’t have the knowledge to assess the librarian’s skills. As a result, the librarian’s value can either be over-inflated or under-appreciated. For that reason, the best evaluation may be achieved when the library manager and the community group leader communicate. However, I do want to append a caveat to these comments about evaluation. Above all, the nature of evaluation needs to reflect the practices and policies of your organization. 23
  27. 27. So, these are the eight challenges to watch out for: First, the challenge of starting out without proper preparation. Then, the issues of resource allocation as you scale up, along with isolation and burnout as librarians engage in their new, embedded roles. And over the long haul, the dangers of parochialism on the one hand, and settling for a lesser role and relationship than you could have, on the other. Add to those the risks of failure to plan for succession, and the challenges of evaluating the embedded librarian’s work. 24
  28. 28. Going back to our opening story, others are developing embedded librarianship initiatives too. Keep in mind that librarians in other fields as well as your own may have insights and solutions that can help you. And be sure to share your experiences to help them. 25
  29. 29. So, embedded librarianship is not easy. But it is worth it! So I hope this presentation has given you some insights that you can use to take the initiatives you need to take, and overcome the challenges you will inevitably encounter. After all, it’s what you do that will make a difference for you and your community. Here are three steps you can begin to work on right now, even before you get back home. 26
  30. 30. To conclude -- we need to embed ourselves in our communities, whatever they may be, and take responsibility for inventing the future. As Alan Kay said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” I hope this presentation has triggered some ideas and energized you to take action and invent your embedded future. I wish you the best! 27
  31. 31. As you invent your future, please stay in touch. Email me – I’d love to hear from you. Check out the Embedded librarian blog for an occasional update on embedded librarianship. Get the full picture and a detailed map for inventing your future from the book. I wish you the very best success! 28
  32. 32. This presentation may be reused under Creative Commons License Attribution- ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). See also photo credits above. 29

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