embedded librarianship

Earlier this week I attended the South Central Regional Library Council‘s webinar Embedded Librarians: What, Why, How hosted by Laura Saunders. I’m really interested in the idea of librarians working outside the library. As print gets stored away for computers and databases, the library as physical place for access to information is becoming passe. Slowly, I admit (and hope) but nonetheless it seems to be the current perspective of our customer.

It’s important to note here that customer is Saunders’ term. She uses it, as well as client, instead of patron. While this is in part to make the webinar feel targeted to a variety of librarians regardless of their setting, it also redefines the user for the librarian. Patron gives a sense of relationship to an entity, the library, as opposed to a person and also suggests membership (which itself suggests exclusion, though Anthony Molaro would disagree). Customer or client, though I find them sterile, brings to mind customer service and a pledge to assistance. Embedded librarianship is an opportunity for us to proactively prioritize user experience over library resource development.

Saunders defined embedded librarianship by what it does and where it does it: co-location, course integrated, just in time, and doing rounds are all terms that embedded librarianship embraces. The characteristics also help define what has become an umbrella term for “out from behind the desk” librarianship. These characteristics include:

becoming integrated into the community of clients, namely by location ourselves in their space (physically and virtually)

a strong subject specialization accompanied by strong customer service skills

continually engaging with members of the community through meeting, teaching, and evaluation

embedded librarians are more engaging...Roxbury Crossing story time from Boston Public Library's Flickr
embedded librarians are more engaging…Roxbury Crossing story time from Boston Public Library’s Flickr

Typical services of an embedded librarian do include our usual reference and instruction, but provides a value-added service. Saunders suggests the importance of collaboration with community members ¬†and synthesizing information for those members (there’s that word again…). Our users value our ability to selectively disseminate information.

Furthermore, removing ourselves from the library may help users with intimidation and anxiety issues to feel more comfortable approaching us. In turn users who work with us in a less daunting environ (say their own space or a coffee shop) will increase their confidence which will likely lead to increased library use. In my view, this might be the greatest value-added service embedded librarianship could provide.