Managing the Change to Embedded Library Services

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Last Friday, I presented a 15-minute synopsis of the Models of Embedded Librarianship research at the Second Annual Symposium of the CUA School of Library and Information Science. (The presentation is available on the SLIS website at http://slis.cua.edu/res/docs/symposium/2010-symposium/ShumakerTalleyModels-of-Embedded-LibrarianshipFinal.pdf .)

Afterward, a very thoughtful colleague who manages reference and research services in a large organization expressed some frustration with the pace of change in her organization, and we had a conversation about finding and developing librarians who can build relationships and succeed as embedded librarians.

Managing change is hard, and encountering staff resistance is common. Here are some thoughts on dealing with resistance.

One thing we’ve learned is the importance of relationship building in embedded librarianship. Yet the personality type we might associate with this skill is the outgoing, extroverted type – not the usual librarian stereotype. (“Outgoing” and “extroverted” aren’t really synonyms, I know, but I’ll use them as such for now, just because we tend to do so in everyday conversation.)

So, can librarians be good relationship builders? And do you have to be an extrovert to succeed as an embedded librarian? One of the most successful embedded librarians we interviewed for our research provided the answer. “You know, introverts can do this,” she said. “After all, I’m really an introvert.”

I firmly believe she’s right. Instead, I think attributes like motivation to try something new, to get outside your comfort zone; a desire to contribute; eagerness to learn (especially about your customers and their work) are more important. Oh, and good basic librarian skills – you have to deliver on your promises.

So, step one of the Virtuous Cycle for Embedded Librarianship, “Hire staff who can build relationships” (see the final chapter of the research report) doesn’t mean “hire extroverts.” It means, hire people with good library skills, the motivation to stretch and try something new, an eagerness to learn, and a desire to contribute.

Admittedly, that’s hard enough to do when you’re recruiting new staff. But what of my friend, and other managers like her who are trying to introduce embedded librarianship with the staff in place, and encountering resistance? Here are a few suggestions that might help:

1. Start with the best and most motivated staff: those who “get it” and want to work as embedded librarians. Don’t try to motivate and convert everyone all at once.

2. Use peer motivation; form teams if you can. Let the successful pioneers show the way for others.

3. Have realistic expectations. Occasionally, a candid passage in an article will mention that in the process of introducing the embedded services model, some staff found other roles, or left the organization. I’ve heard this in interviews, as well. It’s common in management that when change is introduced, not everyone adapts successfully. You’re very unlikely to achieve 100% success – don’t expect it.

Do you have other insights and suggestions for initiating embedded library services, or an anecdote you can share? If so, I hope you’ll respond to this post!

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One Response to “Managing the Change to Embedded Library Services”

  1. rochelleostonal Says:

    Nice :)

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