On Monday 23 September 2013, I attended David Shumaker’s pre-conference workshop, The Embedded Librarian, as part of ALLA 2013. I also got to hear David’s presentation at the conference so this update is an amalgamation of both.
What is an embedded librarian?
What embedded means is highly dependent upon your personal situation. There are however 3 key attributes to embedded librarianship. These are:
(1) Strong working relationships with individual information users as well as the community of information users
(2) Shared goals between the library and the library users. The library is accutely aware of the goals of the users and seeks to fulfil them
(3) Customised high-valued and unique contributions to clients.
Why should we be embedded? We are operating in a disrupted environment.
The internet is THE disruptive technology of our generation, it is our printing press. The internet has remade every element of information dissemination in society. It has disrupted the way we provide our services, the way we work, our skill sets and expertise. We are not the only ones affected however, it has disrupted our employers.
But fear not because it’s not all bad news, the disruption presents an opportunity for those who are willing to evolve and transform to meet this environment. Not responding to any of the changes of the environment is the equivalent to a professional death sentence. As Clay Shirky notes:
“You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone! Has never been much of a business model”. As a profession we need to embrace the opportunity this disruption affords to fill new roles and break open the librarian profession box.
The professionals who succeed within this environment are those who are smart marketers of their skills, understand the organisation and possess information fluency, possess the skills and ability to train individuals for effective knowledge management.
How do we become embedded?
Shumaker identified a four step process to become embedded.
1) build relationships with users
2) focus on understanding your users work
3) share your users goals and contribute to achieving them
4) be an integral member of the community
All four elements need to be considered and implemented strategically as you need to balance the aims and skills of the library/information professionals with the interests and aims of your users. You need to become an integral member of the user community without them losing sight of the fact that you have a unique set of skills and expertise. The goal of being embedded is not to become a ‘yes woman’ or ‘yes man’ but to be able to be on-the-ground filling the information needs of your users. Being proactive about their information needs and being able to predict/pre-empt your clients information needs as a consequence of an in-depth understanding of their information needs and current activities is the key to embedded behaviour.
What does this mean for your current activities?
You progress from being the following states:
– Transaction based to relationship focused: One interaction leads to the next. Continual and interrelated interactions benefit both the user and the librarian resulting in increased understanding between the two.
– Generic service to specialised service
– Commodity based service to an value added service
– Apart from the practice to engaged with the practice. There is no ‘us and them’ between the librarian and the user, the division doesn’t exist.
– Service provider to a team partner utilising their skills in whatever way that helps the user.
So what does all this mean? The key message from all of this is:
‘Don’t stop where the user requested you to stop! Consider how you can pre-empt their next step? How can you help?’
Are you ready to change?
Movement to an embedded model is a significant change. The readiness of the organisation should be assessed with respect of the organisational readiness and the library readiness.
Key factors of organisational readiness are:
– executive champions
– respected clients
-existing relationships with middle management
– organisational autonomy
– a supportive organisational culture
Key factors of librarian readiness are:
– experience levels in your librarians – this is important because you’re putting librarians in the ‘field’ they need to be experts at research and analysis, teaching and content management.
– the context and politics of the organisation must also be assessed
– domain knowledge of the librarians needs to be ‘better than best’. The librarians must know the ins and outs of the field in which they will be embedded
– the librarians must also have fantastic interpersonal and social skills
How do you plan for the change?
When implementing an embedded librarian you should employ the integral elements of organisational change. Kotter identifies the eight steps for leading organisational change:
In addition to these 8 elements of change, Shumaker identified 3 key elements for embedded librarian projects:
1) Managers must lead – managers must be proactive, they must commit and lead the support for the project. With manager support the library and the user groups will follow
2) Prioritise actions – commencing an embedded project is a significant change and should be undertaken strategically. Assess where you should be embedded first, prioritise your actions with perspective of looking for the easy wins as well as the longer-term opportunities.
3) Run pilot projects – run pilots to work out what works. Find a model of success and replicate it.
How do you sustain and evaluate the success of your embeddedness?
There are four key elements to evaluating and sustaining your embedded librarian these are; marketing, evaluation, best practices for management and best practices for library.
1) Marketing – never stop marketing your project! Promote the project in multiple ways to ensure that all users are aware of the project.
2) Evaluate – evaluate the project in multiple ways. Assess the project with respect to the financial measure, librarian anecdotes, metrics and transaction counters.
3) ensure that library best practices are set and performance is assessed against these measures
4) ensure that best practices in staff and customer management are also maintained.
What are the potential pitfalls of embedded? and how can you manage them?
The road to becoming embedded isn’t going to be all roses. Here are some of the pitfalls and how to combat them.
– You may meet with resistance to the project: If this is the case, start small. Build support for the project with targeted pilots to generate support and word of mouth promotion
– You may need to scale up but don’t have the resources to do so: Strategically position your staff as they don’t necessarily need to be everywhere. You should also consider alternative funding models
– Settling for not really embedded: Don’t settle for close-enough. Constantly assess how ‘embedded’ the team is and whether it can be improved
– Don’t let embedded mean isolated: Make sure that your embedded librarians still communicate. Create opportunities for embedded librarians to collaborate.
– Make sure that your embedded librarians don’t get burnout: Set up mechanisms for embedded librarians to share/reallocate work so as to manage the ups and downs of their workload effectively.
Whilst these are not the slides that David presented at the workshop or his keynote presentation on Wednesday morning, they provide an overview of the key elements and considerations of embedded librarianship: