The Embedded Librarian: Captive or Agent?

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Hi, I’m just back from a fun and relaxing week traveling out West, andm ready to get back to the theme of this blog.

Not long ago I exchanged some correspondence with Kim Dority (www.gkdorityassociates.com ; www.rethinkinginformationwork.com), and she raised the question whether embedded librarians could be members of a central organizational library operation, or must they be employees of their customer group.

That’s a great question, and I’d like to label it the “Captive or Agent?” question.

You’re a “Captive” as an embedded librarian if you are funded and report to a manager/supervisor in your customer group. You’re an “Agent” if you are a member of a centralized organizational library or information service operation, but assigned to work with a specific customer organization, full or part time.

In the survey I conducted last spring, there seemed to be something of a split between corporate and academic sectors. In the corporate world, there were more “captives”, and among the academics, there were more “agents”.  This result surprised me. I had expected to find more “hybrids” — neither pure “captive” nor pure “agent”.

Here’s an example of what I mean by a hybrid model: suppose that the library / information service organization of a corporation, government agency, or university makes an agreement with a department, bureau, or School. The library will supply and manage a dedicated, “embedded” librarian (with backup, training, etc.) to serve the unit, and the unit will pay the costs of the service. The customer manager will provide specific tasking and direction, and the library manager will handle performance evaluation, service quality evaluation, and other tasks. This is really just a special case of a matrix management arrangement — nothing new in organizational design.  I think there are many reasons why an organization should consider the hybrid model  — and that’s why I was surprised that it didn’t seem to show up in my survey very much.

Next time, I’ll continue with some thoughts about the pros and cons of the “captive”,  “agent”, and hybrid models.

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2 Responses to “The Embedded Librarian: Captive or Agent?”

  1. Daniel Lee Says:

    I like the term “agent” very much. It completely describes the relationship between the info pro and the larger info service.

    Perhaps I misunderstood the use of the term “captive” when I read this post, but to me the term “captive” sounds incredibly negative. After all, synonyms for “captive” include: bound, caged, confined, enslaved, ensnared, imprisoned, etc.

    I would consider my position as an embedded info pro in a customer group as “autonomous” “sovereign” or “independent” because I am not part of a larger information service but never “captive” to my customer group. An argument could be made that the “agent” is “captive” to the info service, could it not?

  2. davidshumaker Says:

    Thanks, Daniel, for being the first to comment on the Embedded Librarian blog, but more importantly for raising a key point. I didn’t mean to stigmatize the status of the embedded librarian who reports exclusively to the customer group, but your concerns are well taken.

    I’d love to see some other comments on how we should name these two roles. In an organization I’m familiar with, the Human Resources department operates in a somewhat similar fashion to the embedded librarian model. The HR staff are assigned to different business units, and have their offices with those units, where they are readily accessible to help with hiring actions and advise on issues that come up with performance evaluations, promotions, etc. Their name for these staff is “HR Business Partner”.

    More comments, anyone?

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