Embedded Librarianship: What Does it Really Mean?

I’m a bit out of sync on my blogging/class schedule, which of course makes me think back to my reflection on the word practice.  Although I’ve been fairly able to carve a regular time to read, reflect, comment and write, I have to admit that it’s still been tricky. My grad school work and class schedule, plus scheduling demands of my part-time jobs aren’t quite as regular as I’d like, which sometimes means that what I think I’ll be able to do on one day just doesn’t happen.

Such is life — not just school! But I have to admit that I’m sort of looking forward to the day when at least one aspect of my life has a bit more predictable schedule. I think it will really benefit multiple areas of my professional and personal life. I’m used to juggling a lot, but the race towards the end of the semester does always get a little too chaotic for my tastes!

That’s just my short disclaimer as to why I’m only now summarizing some readings that we completed last week. I had these skeletal notes sitting in Evernote, but hadn’t pulled them together. The readings addressed various ideas of what embedded librarianship might be, as well as dipping a little bit into talking about webinars.

Here are the articles that we read:

We also read Chapter 7 of How People Learn, and although it was interesting, I’m not sure that it ties in directly enough to pull into this particular blog post too.

Montgomery seems to see the future of embedded librarianship as converging with the push for more librarians to be accessible online. In this version of embedded librarianship, librarians are meeting patrons “where “they are, which is online. I agree that chat reference/text reference, and access to online resources can be very helpful. However I’m not sure if I see “online” as a “where” or a place.

I also think that as libraries devote more resources to these types of (admittedly very useful!) services, they have to keep additional ideas about usability, findability, follow-up and the desire for personalized services in mind. For example, the article cites a lot of stats about the amount of money spent on online databases.  Anyone who has helped undergrad (or grad) students or even faculty with those sorts of databases realizes that just having the databases might not mean much if the interfaces are confusing and not intuitive. Similarly, research guides are great, but are we making sure that those who need them even know they exist or how to find them?

Montgomery seems very excited about the potential for webinars as a way to provide training and instruction — for example, they might be able to help patrons in learning the interface of a specific database. However, my gut feeling is that short(er) screencasts/videos that could be accessed asynchronously right when patrons need them might be even more valuable. I don’t have data to back this up, just my own experience of how I used (and replayed) short video clips in learning to code.

Matos talks about a different type of “embedding” librarianship. He makes the point that in a more “traditional” take on embedded librarianship, the:
librarian is placed into a department or unit for a set of specific library and/or information related activities that support the students and faculty of the specific unit. (Dewey, 2004)

However, the “second type” of embedded librarian that Matos focused on is a:

hybrid of a reference-instruction librarian and a collection manager. This type of embedded librarian will spend a significant amount of time within the university library, leaving to go to the program(s) they support only for instructional sessions or other invited events. This differs from the liaison model of librarianship in that this individual will be the sole point of contact and service provider for the entire program’s needs: reference, instruction, collections…

I found this model pretty interesting, especially within the context of a music center/program as is featured. However, I don’t know if it makes sense for every academic unit.

I think my overall takeaway from these readings, as well as the short period of time we talked about this in class, is that several different approaches to “embedded librarianship” are helpful to know about, and it’s good to keep these ideas in one’s potential “toolbox” for strengthening connections to a specific academic or public community.

However, the right mix of delivery and strategy will really shift according to context. This, of course, makes things tricky, because our first conception of what types of “embedding” may work best within a given context may not prove to be 100% on target. In order to get to that optimal mix, we need a bit of freedom to experiment, to tweak, and to tailor our services, our roles, and even in some ways our professional identities in order to truly, meaningfully connect with our patron communities.


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