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Audacious Goals for Embedded Librarians


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"Audacious Goals for Embedded Librarians" by David Shumaker and Matt Foley, presented to the Australian Law Librarians Association Annual Conference, 25 September 2013, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

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Audacious Goals for Embedded Librarians

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  3. 3. Let’s start with the term “disruption”, which has been popularized by the business scholar Clayton Christensen. In his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, and other writings, Christensen describes many examples in which a start-up company introduces either a new technology or a new business model to an industry. At first, the innovation may seem inferior to the established products and services in the marketplace, and so those successful, established players ignore it. But perhaps the innovator finds a niche in the market. Perhaps it churns out cheap, “good enough” products for a segment not being served by the market leaders. Perhaps over time, those cheap, “good enough” products get better and better – ultimately good enough to compete with the expensive, entrenched market leaders. Overnight, those market leaders can see their market share and their prosperity vanish. Image: Christensen, C. (2013) Disruptive Innovation: Key Concepts. 3
  4. 4. I’ll just cite one example to illustrate the disruption of traditional library services. The Association of Research Libraries is a group comprising about a hundred of the largest, most prestigious research libraries in North America. This graph shows the total reference transactions reported by members of the Association from 1999 through 2009. Clearly the trend is down. In fact it’s down 45%! In other words, the traditional role of librarians in providing quick, factual and document-based responses to individual inquiries – so-called “ready reference” services – has been significantly disrupted. One can of course suggest a variety of causes of this disruption – and a lot of them will have to do with the rise of the Internet and general search engines, such as Google. In contrast with the decline in research library reference questions, according to Comscore the number of Google searches per day grew from 7 million at the end of 1999 to over 230 million in 2008! (Google 2000, ComScore 2009) 4
  5. 5. We librarians are not the only ones affected by the massive disruption of the Internet, though. Actually, we’ve withstood it better than many. The venerable Encyclopedia Britannica went from selling over 100,000 print sets in 1990 to exactly 3,002 in 1996. (Cauz 2013) According to the Washington Post, the number of full time travel agents in the United States peaked at over 112,000 in the year 2000, and stands at under 51,000, or less than half the peak, in 2012. (DePillis 2013) I won’t go into details on fields like journalism, which has also experienced dramatic declines – certainly in traditional media. Of more direct concern to law librarians, both Australia and the United States are experiencing a significant decline in legal employment. In the U.S., a recent study by The American Lawyer, a trade journal, found an eleven percent drop in law firm hours billed in the second quarter of 2013, compared to 2012. Interestingly, the study noted the biggest drop of all was in the lucrative high end of the market. It found that in the first half of 2013, the number of billable hours worked by the top 100 firms for their top 70 clients in the New York area. That number was down by almost half. (Press 5
  6. 6. 2013) From what I’ve seen of the Australian media, the overall feeling here is similar. An article published in Lawyers Weekly a year ago noted the difficulties of recent graduates in finding employment, and commented that “*law+ is not a guaranteed career path any more.” (Whealing 2012) You probably saw the item in Lawyers Weekly late last month, quoting law recruiter Elvira Naiman as saying that “it is the worst time in living history to be a law graduate.” (Mezrani 2013) Earlier this month, Australasian Legal Business noted that the outlook for corporate legal business is flat to decreasing for the coming 12 months. (Prasad 2013) 5
  7. 7. Moreover, it’s widely thought that this isn’t some temporary downturn that will soon right itself. A report issued in early 2013 by the Law School at Georgetown University in Washington, DC says, “the market for legal service in the United States and throughout the world has changed in fundamental ways and … the practice of law going forward is likely to be starkly different than in the pre-2008 period.” (Center for the Study of the Legal Profession 2013) 6
  8. 8. If you happen to be employed in a school of law, you have little reason to feel immune from the disruption that is taking place. In the U.S., law school enrollments have dropped sharply, as potential applicants have begun to realize that guaranteed jobs aren’t going to be waiting for them upon graduation. As of July of this year, law- school applications for the entering class of 2013 were down 36% compared with the same point in 2010, according to the Law School Admission Council. (Jones & Smith 2013) 7
  9. 9. And yet, the full effect of disruption may be still to come. Shown here is Clayton Christensen, whom I mentioned earlier. In an interview published in Wired magazine last March, he expressed the view that higher education is under imminent threat – “on the edge of the crevasse” as he put it. (Howe 2013) 8
  10. 10. Indeed, signs of the disruption are everywhere, in the form of growing and multiplying initiatives to create Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. In U.S. legal education, we already have online law degree programs, though none are accredited as yet by the American Bar Association. And the venerable Harvard Law School announced early this year that it would offer a sort-of-a MOOC through the EdX venture of which its parent Harvard University is a member. (Harvard Law 2013) Now, it’s possible that legal education will resist falling into the crevasse, at least for awhile, thanks to the strong influence of the accreditors, who can withhold their approval. 9
  11. 11. Still, it may not be wise for law librarians to hope the storm will somehow pass us by. It would be easy to become anxious or even discouraged in the face of this disruption to our own profession and to our employers. Sometimes I hear librarians lapsing into talk of “survival” and of “coping”, which suggest defensive strategies that seem, to me at least, anchored in a faint hope that if we can just hunker down and passively wait out the storm, maybe things will improve someday, by and by. Such language, and the attitudes that underlie it, reveal a lack of vision and creativity about the role that librarians can play. At its worst, this kind of thinking can culminate in the mindset noted by Clay Shirky. “They’ll miss us when we’re gone” is not a strategy, not for our employers, and not for us. In fact, the disruptions that our employers are undergoing mean that they need us more than ever. But they need us to operate in new ways, to fulfill new roles, and to adopt audacious goals for ourselves. 10
  12. 12. So, this may be the time to adopt the audacious goal of becoming integral to your employer’s strategy for addressing the disruptive forces we’ve just been speaking about. Do not confine yourself to thinking that your job is to run the library. Extend yourself and claim a role in your organization’s most important strategic initiatives. Of course, Matt and I cannot possibly say what the new roles and goals are that you should adopt in your organization. Only you can do that. However, the embedded librarianship research I’ve done, and other reports in the literature, suggest some possibilities that you should probably consider. One is to become integral to the marketing activity. Both law firms and law schools are in a constricting market that favors those who can innovate, add new value, and promote their offerings effectively. In other words, smart marketers will be rewarded. Librarians are well placed to play integral roles in this function. In higher education, another option is to embed information literacy instruction strategically into the curriculum. It’s widely recognized that the skills to obtain the right information, evaluate it critically, and use it effectively are vital for work and living in the 21st century. Many academic librarians have succeeded in embedding 11
  13. 13. various elements of information literacy instruction into individual courses on a one- by-one basis. What’s emerging, though, is a strategic approach: embedding librarians into the curriculum development activity in their institutions; identifying the best courses in which to incorporate information literacy instruction; thinking through the scaffolding of skills throughout the curriculum. There are other possibilities of course. You may work in an organization that is emphasizing knowledge sharing to enable staff to collaborate more effectively. If you work In a firm, your employer may be concerned about the information literacy skills of recent graduates – the result of the fact that law schools haven’t all come to grips with the need to emphasize information literacy in their curricula. In the U.S., it’s well documented that junior associates can be notorious wasters of legal research resources, and their own time. They can spend hours, rack up huge bills, and not find the information they need. So maybe your strategic opening is to address that gap. 11
  14. 14. The next part of our thesis is that in order for librarians to be successful in claiming strategic roles in their organizations, they need to change certain aspects of traditional library services and operations. They need to change how they think and what they do. 12
  15. 15. In my work on embedded librarianship, I’ve identified five factors that summarize the changes. These are the differences between traditional librarianship and embedded librarianship. Here are five important differences. 1. First, the embedded model focuses on relationships, not transactions. Traditional reference is a transactional operation. The reference desk is a place where transactions happen. Somebody asks a question, the librarian gives them an answer. The interaction has a beginning, a middle, an end. Similarly, traditional “one-shot” library instruction is transactional. Students come to the library, they get a lecture about doing library research, and it’s over. End of transaction. Embedded librarianship is relational. One interaction leads to the next, and it just keeps going and going, with increased mutual understanding and collaboration as the interactions accumulate. This might mean a librarian embedded in a market research team, or it might mean a librarian embedded with a first-year English class. The principle is the same. 2. Second, the embedded model requires librarians to specialize, not to try to be all things to all people. We librarians like to think of ourselves as generalists. We’ve evolved sophisticated reference interviewing techniques to get us from a state of zero knowledge of what somebody is looking for to at least a basic grasp so we can 13
  16. 16. provide them with basic help. But isn’t it better if we start from a position of understanding? It’s sure going to be a lot better for the people we are trying to help if they don’t have to explain everything to us, and better for us as well. Just to cite an academic library example: how many times across the decades have academic librarians had students come up to the reference desk and ask for help with an assignment – and the librarian had no background information about that assignment beforehand? It’s standard practice! How much better would it be if the librarian was embedded in the class, so the librarian knew all about that assignment – maybe even helped to design it? 3. Third, the traditional librarian stood apart from the organization, ruling over the domain of the library. People came to the library – the librarians didn’t go to them. In the embedded model, the embedded librarian is out of the library and fully engaged with the other employees and groups of the enterprise. This engagement, by the way, can be virtual as well as physical. Moving your office outside the library so you can hang out with the information user group you’re working with is a great idea and it can be very helpful. But if you’re embedded in a distance education course or a virtual work group – as some librarians are – you can still be successful even if you never get to meet the people you’re embedded with face to face. 4. Fourth, the traditional librarian focused on being a service provider. Service is in our professional DNA. And that’s not all bad. But service providers aren’t fully aligned. Their goals are to provide the service, and their responsibilities are just to do that – and no more. Embedded librarians aren’t just service providers. They’re team partners. That means they define their role more broadly. They do whatever their skills and competencies enable them to do that helps the organization to succeed. 5. Last, traditional library services have become a commodity. They’re taken for granted. Embedded librarianship finds new value in new roles. There are two important points that we shouldn’t lose sight of, though. The first is that the commodity services are still needed – they’re just not enough by themselves. The second is that this means we need to continue to evolving and finding still newer sources of value in new roles. 13
  17. 17. So, just to recap, the embedded librarian: • Builds strong working relationships with others in the organization in order to achieve shared organizational goals • Has, or acquires, the specialized domain knowledge necessary to the tasks at hand • Engages with partner individuals and groups wherever and in whatever modes are appropriate to ensure effective collaboration • Adopt the goals and objectives of the communities and teams with whom they’re working as their own – they define their responsibility as achieving team and organizational goals – not just providing library, or information, or knowledge services • Is able to add value to the team or community by applying sophisticated professional skills related to knowledge and information – skills that are unique to the librarian among all the members of the team. And there’s one more thing: as a result of doing all these things, the librarian is a very visible and highly valued member of the organization. Too many times, as I’ve talked with librarians over the years, have I heard them lament how unrecognized and undervalued they are. Too often I’ve heard the refrain, “if only they (meaning their 14
  18. 18. bosses and others in the organization) understood what we do … ”. Well, embedded librarians don’t have that problem. Their work is visible and immediate. They’re helping build the future and achieve the goals of their organizations. 14
  19. 19. In the course of my research, I’ve studied a leading global law firm, spending time with them in two stages of the project, two years apart. During my second review of their operations, the firmwide director of marketing said that the embedded librarian “makes everybody do such a better job.” In other words, the librarian was considered essential to the firm’s marketing success – by the director of marketing. 15
  20. 20. I’ve also had the opportunity to study a leading U.S. university twice. There, a librarian was able to get herself appointed to a task force reviewing the undergraduate experience. Through this position, she succeeded in having information literacy learning goals and instruction added to a seminar program for first-year students, and also in upper-division major-project courses. A biology professor there told me that she has seen the impact of the embedded librarian first-hand, because students who have the opportunity to work with an embedded librarian in their first year gain skills that make them better students beyond the first year. (I should add that the university was in the process of extending the embedded librarianship model to all first year students the last time I visited.) 16
  21. 21. I’d also like to mention that here in Australia you also have examples of successful embedded librarianship programs. Maybe you are already aware of some of them. Here are a few that I’ve read about: Mary Simons, of the Macquarie University Library, has co-authored an article with two physicians who teach at Macquarie’s Australian School of Advanced Medicine. The article describes their collaboration to embed information literacy skills into the curriculum. They conclude that “IL is facilitated through an integrated approach where skills are embedded, practiced, and assessed in clinical settings to support patient care and lifelong learning.” And “The professional relationship between clinicians and librarians has been greatly enhanced by the integration of these librarian services into this unique learning environment.” (Simons et al. 2012) At Charles Darwin University, Research Services Coordinator Jayshree Mamtora has become embedded in the research and scholarly communication processes – collaborating with research project leaders and university staff to further the scholarly research mission. Mamtora concludes that “the research librarian’s role is itself in a state of continual transition, and is changing from a supportive relationship to a collaborative partnership, from one that is on the periphery to one that is being embedded within the research community.” (Mamtora 2013, p. 369) 17
  22. 22. Finally, I’d call your attention to the work of Fiona Salisbury and Linda Sheridan at La Trobe University. They describe their work to develop a systemic, coherent and sustainable approach to the design of undergraduate information literacy programs through participation in a university-wide process of curriculum review and renewal. In their conclusion, they advocate that libraries need to be poised ready to create and seize opportunities for involvement in the curriculum review process and to play an important role in the development and implementation of university strategy. (Salisbury & Sheridan 2011) 17
  23. 23. Now let’s turn to the last point in our thesis. Does this really work, and how can we make it work? In our workshop on Monday, a few of us delved into that question in detail. Here’s a brief summary. It has five elements. First, build relationships. Relationships are key to embedded librarianship. You have to know your community and they have to know you. Second, learn the organization and the subject domain. Many of you already have a lot of knowledge of the law. Do you have specific knowledge of the areas of the law that your firm specializes in, or that your school emphasizes as its strength? And do you understand the dynamics of your organization – how things get done, and by whom? If you have this knowledge, have you put it to use in developing your own professional plan? Third, use your relationships and your knowledge to figure out what you can do that will help your community the most. By the way, don’t ask them what you should do. Understand them and what they do, and need – but you have to be the one to figure out what you can contribute. Fourth, build alliances. I say it this way because it is a matter of creating an alliance or a partnership with your community, not delivering a service to them. I hope you see the difference. It isn’t just words, it’s a whole mindset. Finally, get senior management on board. There is some flexibility here. If you are 18
  24. 24. blessed with effective advocates at the highest levels of your organization, you may even have them encouraging you to take the initiative. But it’s common that you build up from working partnerships first. Either way, ultimately you need to have senior management on board. If you are able to do these things successfully, you will be able to achieve those audacious goals, and you may find yourself making increasingly important contributions to the health of your organization. In the next slides are a couple examples of embedded librarians who have done just that. 18
  25. 25. It’s up to you. You can hunker down and hope the disruption passes you by. Good luck with that. Or you can set audacious goals, embed yourself in the strategic priorities of your organization, and help it to achieve success in the new environment. As the computer pioneer Alan Kay once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” The opportunity is there. I can’t predict your future – but I wish you the very best as you invent it. 19
  26. 26. As you invent your future, please stay in touch. Email me. 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, and hope to hear from you! 20
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