This question was asked in the Q&A period after my keynote at the LIANZA Conference. Actually, the full question, as I remember it, was something like:
“What is the Return on Investment of Embedded Librarianship? Have you measured it? It seems very costly, and some of us feel that our resources are better used on digitization and providing access to digital collections.”
That’s a very complex question, and there are at least a couple ways to respond to it. I wasn’t able to give a very thorough answer on the spot, so I’m going to reprise it here, in parts. Part 1 will review some of the evidence that indicates embedded librarianship is effective.
First, what do we mean by Return on Investment? Strictly speaking, it’s a financial ratio that expresses the relationship of money obtained to the cost of obtaining that money. Interestingly, in the SLA-funded “Models of Embedded Librarianship” study, successful embedded librarians reported using financial measures to assess their work – but in our site visits and in the literature I haven’t seen specific ROI analyses in financial terms. Financial impacts from library and information work are hard to calculate, although measures like avoided costs and time saved have been used. Further, many librarians work in educational and nonprofit institutions where organizational results aren’t measured primarily in financial terms. Yes, funding and wise use of resources are important, but the raison d’etre of the organization is to achieve certain outcomes, not to make a profit.
So, I’d like to rephrase the question as, “what assessments are there that embedded librarianship has a positive impact on organizational outcomes?” The answer I gave is that there are some, though we clearly need more work in this area. Here are a few examples:
- In the “Models of Embedded Librarianship” study, we interviewed a senior administrator and a tenured faculty member at an institution of higher learning. The administrator cited a formal study that associated improved student performance with the engagement of an embedded librarian, and the faculty member observed that students who had worked with an embedded librarian in their first year retained information literacy skills later in their academic career.
- The literature contains a number of anecdotes attributing improved student work and increased use of library resources to the impact of embedded librarians. (See for example Hall, R. A. (2008). The “embedded” librarian in a freshman speech class: Information literacy instruction in action. College & Research Libraries News, 69(1), 28-30. and Matos, M. A., Matsuoka-Motley, N., & Mayer, W. (2010). The embedded librarian online or face-to-face; American University`s experiences. Public Services Quarterly, 6, 130.)
- Several authors have done formal assessments of the impacts and response to embedded information literacy instruction initiatives, generally finding positive impacts on student attitudes toward the library, increased library use, and improvements in student performance. Examples include:
Bean, T. M., & Thomas, S. N. (2010). Being like both: Library instruction methods that outshine the one-shot. Public Services Quarterly, 6, 237.
Bennett, E., & Simning, J. (2010). Embedded librarians and reference traffic: A quantitative analysis. Jounal of Library Administration, 50, 443.
Bowler, M., & Street, K. (2008). Investigating the efficacy of embedment: Experiments in information literacy integration. Reference Services Review, 36(4), 438-449.
Edwards, M., Kumar, S., & Ochoa, M. (2010). Assessing the value of embedded librarians in an online graduate educational technology course. Public Services Quarterly, 6, 271.
- Berdish and Seaman provide perhaps the ideal quotation from their assessment of embedded librarianship at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business: “Your guidance and assistance throughout the process enabled us to achieve our goals and to grow and develop academically, professionally and individually. You were an invaluable asset to our team.” (Berdish, L., & Seeman, C. (2008). Spanning the straits of business information: Kresge library’s embedded librarian program for MAP (multidisciplinary action program). Paper presented at the Special Libraries Association Annual Conference,June 2008. http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/58361/2/SLA_2008_Berdish_Seeman.pdf )
- Medical librarians have led the way in evaluating embedded librarianship programs. In the most recent published evaluation I’m aware of, Grefsheim et al. cite a variety of measures that all show increased use of information resources as a result of the work of embedded librarians. (See Grefsheim, S. F., Whitmore, S. C., Rapp, B. A., Rankin, J. A., Robison, R. R., & Canto, C. C. (2010). The informationist: Building evidence for an emerging health profession. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 98(2), 147-156. doi:10.3163/1536-5050.98.2.007) They note that increased use of a variety of resources cannot be attributed to access and training services, since all the relevant resources had been available for some years before initiation of the embedded program. (p.. 153) They add that:
“the vast majority of investigators thought their informationist added needed expertise, found information that they otherwise would not have found, added thoroughness, saved them time, and reduced their workload burden. To the extent that these perceived benefits improved decision making, informationists had an effect.” (p. 154)
This posting is long enough so I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that while we have more work to do in evaluating the impacts of embedded librarianship, there is evidence in the literature that it makes a positive difference in outcomes for information users.
In part 2 of my answer, I’ll address the question from an organizational strategy point of view.