Archive for October, 2007

Embedded Librarians in Academe

October 7, 2007

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting article on the future of academic libraries. (Lewis, D.W. (2007, Sept.) “A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century.” College & Research Libraries, p. 418-434.) Dr. Lewis, who is Dean of the Library at IUPUI, proposes a five-part strategy for academic libraries. Here’s item 4 on his list: “Reposition library and information tools, resources, and expertise so that they are embedded into the teaching, learning, and research enterprises.” To me this represents yet another indication that the notion of “embedded librarians” is strong across the sectors of our profession.

The next questions are, what, specifically, does this mean, and how do you do it successfully? I recently saw an announcement from an academic library (which I won’t name) that wandering reference staff would be making occasional, unscheduled visits to various venues around campus: labs, offices, the student center. I don’t predict success for this venture. It’s a laudable attempt to get the librarian out of the library, but without a concerted, top-down effort to embed the librarians into the programs of research and teaching of the academic organization, I don’t think the potential users will know what to make of it.

Travel Agents and Embedded Librarians

October 5, 2007

The Sept/Oct issue of the AARP magazine (yeah, I’m a card carrying member) had an article about travel agents (“A Tour of One’s Own, p. 100). It got me thinking about what travel agents and librarians have in common. It’s this: the Web was supposed to put both of us out of business. Travel agents would be replaced by travel websites (a la Expedia, Travelocity, et al.) and everybody would be able to retrieve all the information they needed for themselves. It would be the age of disintermediation.

But that hasn’t happened. Instead, both travel agents and librarians have adapted to the changed environment. For the travel agents in the AARP article, it means they have become experts in specific destinations, able to put together the exact itinerary you want, using their knowledge and connections to get you special experiences and deals that most people don’t know about. One way that librarians have adapted is to become embedded: highly knowledgeable about the needs of the special groups they work with, and able to deliver customized information solutions — often without even being asked.

I won’t carry this parallel too far: clearly there are lots of differences between specialized travel agents and embedded librarians. But, I think, important similarities too.


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