The Embedded Librarian

Embedded Librarianship in the SLA Conference Program

It was pretty hard to find embedded librarianship on the formal Special Libraries Association conference program this year. There weren’t any programs at all with “embedded” in the title. Apart from my contributed paper (co-authored with my research assistant Alison Makins) I don’t know of any individual presentations about embedded librarianship at all.

Ruminating on this odd gap in the program, I went to visit two poster sessions this evening, and I found that embedded librarianship is alive and well among SLA members after all!

First I went to the All Sciences poster session. The first three posters I studied were related to embedded librarianship, even though none used the term. Two presented initiatives to embed information literacy instruction – one in a First Year Experience program, the other in a science laboratory course. The latter was especially exciting because the initiative included assessments of student work before and after the librarian got involved in the course – with a dramatic jump in student performance. The third was about an innovative effort – still in progress – by a liaison librarian to understand how research lab teams seek and use information, and to become more “embedded” (my term, not hers) in the research process. This is much like what I advocated to the OCLC Research Forum last month, so I was excited to talk with an academic librarian who had already begun.

Next I went across the hall to the room where the joint poster session of social sciences and humanities groups was in progress. There, I encountered yet another initiative in which librarians are collaborating on different development initiatives of a social science professor and his graduate assistants.

Besides the fact that these posters were great examples of innovative embedded initiatives, a couple points struck me. First, all these posters, and most of the others in these sessions, came from academic librarians. I understand the reasons for this, but I wish we could get more contributions from the corporate, government, and nonprofit sectors. We need to hear stories from all sectors! Second, all these librarians knew the term “embedded librarianship”, but none identified what they were doing as fitting it. I think of embedded librarianship as a continuum, not an “either-or” condition, and I think all these initiatives relate well to the embedded model. I think we need to continue developing our consciousness about the process of embedding: developing relationships; sharing responsibility for team goals (not library goals); and delivering highly customized, high-value, sophisticated contributions. If you’re doing that, you’re somewhere on that continuum of embeddedness.

About Dave Shumaker

David Shumaker has served as clinical associate professor at the School of Library and Information Science, Catholic University of America, since August 2006. Dave’s teaching interests include the present and future roles of librarians in society, the management of libraries and information services, marketing, information systems, and library public services. His research and writing explore the changing roles of librarians in organizations of all types. He and his co-investigator, Mary Talley, were awarded the 2007 Special Libraries Association (SLA) Research Grant for their project, Models of Embedded Librarianship. Project documentation is available on the SLA website, and related articles have been published in Library Journal, Reference & User Services Quarterly, and Information Outlook. Dave is a frequent speaker and panelist on embedded librarianship.