Disruption, Alignment, and Embedded Librarianship at the SLA Conference

June 15, 2014 by

I thought the session on embedded librarianship at the SLA Conference last week went very well. It was a 90-minute session, so I used the first 30 minutes to explain the knowledge cafe format and introduce the topic; and the remaining 60 minutes were devoted to small group discussions (three 15-minute segments) and closing.

My presentation is on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/davidshumaker/sla-spotlight2014-embeddedlibrarianship  by the way.

There were about 60 people in the room when we began the group discussions, and over 50 remained at the end. That was too many participants, and too little time, for the classic knowledge cafe conclusion of having every participant make a closing statement. Instead, I set up a couple flip charts and put out some sticky notes, and asked everyone to write down their closing comments. Several people spoke up to request copies of all the comments, and there was unanimous agreement that I should post them. So, here they are: DisruptionAlignmentParticipantComments  .

I think they will mostly make sense even if you weren’t at the session. I’m thinking about analyzing them; maybe coding and grouping them. But I don’t know when I’ll get around to it, so I hope you’ll post your own comments and responses.

Quotation of the Week

June 13, 2014 by

I just read this yesterday. It’s from the Harvard Business Review, Nov. 2013; specifically Charan, R. (2013) “You Can’t Be a Wimp: Make the Tough Calls.” Harvard Business Review, 91 (11), p. 74.

“In the boardroom of a company whose most profitable division was directly affected by Napster, the online music service, the CEO and directors debated for roughly an hour about how to kill Napster. After all the brouhaha, one quiet director made a simple but incisive comment: ‘No law is going to prevent social change.’ He recognized that the consumer was being liberated and the industry was about to go through a radical shift.”

I wish that the vendors of academic and professional content would absorb that insight. In particular, the managers of the Harvard Business Review don’t seem to be reading their own stuff. They continue to cling to their traditional business model and to impose extraordinary restrictions on the use of their material.

Embedded Librarians at the SLA Conference

June 1, 2014 by

Next up, the SLA Conference in Vancouver. I’ll be leading a session on embedded librarianship, “Disruption, Alignment, and Embedded Librarianship: Connecting the Dots, and Avoiding the Traps” on Sunday, June 8 at 1:30 p.m. The session is 90 minutes long, and you can count on it that I’m not going to talk the whole time. Instead, we’ll use most of the session for interactive small-group discussion modeled on David Gurteen’s “knowledge cafe” format. So, if you’re going to Vancouver, please come and participate!

Public Libraries, Little Free Libraries, and Embedded Librarians

April 28, 2014 by

It’s time I got around to posting something about my experience at the Texas Library Association conference earlier this month. I had a great time! It’s a huge event — I heard that the total attendance was over 7,000. That makes it probably the second biggest conference of librarians in North America, next to ALA.  One thing I particularly value is that it it takes a holistic view of librarianship, and tries to appeal to all sectors and contexts. Naturally, it’s dominated by public and school librarians, but there’s plenty for academics, librarians in the corporate sector, and other specialized settings too. Thanks to that breadth, I was pleased to note the presence of some public and school librarians, as well as academics and specialized librarians, at the sessions on embedded librarianship. Similarly, I benefitted from the opportunity to hear speakers whom I might not otherwise encounter, like Ross Todd speaking about evaluation in school library media programs, among others.

But my most surprising experience was my conversation with Todd Bol, co-founder of the Little Free Libraries program. (littlefreelibrary.org) Coincidentally, I’d had my own first close encounter with a Little Free Library just a couple days before. I noticed a newly-installed one outside the Janney School, a public elementary school in the Tenleytown neighborhood of Washington DC, and took a picture of it, which I used in my presentation. 236

So I mentioned this to Todd, and we fell into a lengthy conversation. I learned what an extensive network of Little Free Libraries exists, how well organized is the effort to sustain it, and something of its history. I won’t repeat all the details here; you can go to the website to check it out. (And I encourage you to do so.)

The point is, the Little Free Library movement facilitates and leverages local initiative. Where Little Free Libraries thrive, it’s because someone in the community believed in the idea enough to take initiative, and the community supported it.

So, what’s the relationship between Little Free Libraries and the local public library? Are they competitors? Should they have nothing to do with one another? Or is there a role for public libraries to engage and partner with the Little Free Libraries? I think the latter. But not to take over Little Free Libraries, or sponsor them, or manage them. That would undermine their fundamental strength, which is community, volunteer-led initiative. Rather, I can imagine ways that public libraries could support and encourage the Little Free Libraries in their communities — everything from publicizing them (and maybe planting the idea for others to start them) to hosting meetups of local Little Free Library stewards. The idea would be to facilitate, not to control. That kind of relationship is true to David Lankes’ mission statement for librarians: to facilitate the creation of knowledge in their communities. It seems to me it’s also consistent with John Pateman and Ken Williment’s principles of community-led public libraries, as well. (See their book, Developing Community-Led Public Libraries.)

This could be one element of a public library’s community engagement strategy. Obviously it shouldn’t be the whole strategy. There are other needs that the Little Free Library doesn’t meet, and that the public library needs to be involved in. But it’s one way of magnifying the energy that already exists in the community — and it’s one more opportunity to embed librarians in the community as well.

Embedded Librarians in Second Life

April 24, 2014 by

I’m looking forward to joining Dr. Valerie Hill (Valibrarian Gregg) and the ACRL Virtual Worlds Interest Group in Second Life for a presentation / discussion about embedded librarianship, this Sunday, April 27, at Noon SL Time (US Pacific time) / 3 p.m. US Eastern. It’s free, so if you haven’t been in SL in awhile, this is a great time to dust off your avatar and join us! Here’s Valerie’s tweet about it, which gives the Second Life map location:

Diverse Initiatives, Common Challenges

April 21, 2014 by

I’ve posted my presentation for the Texas Library Association Conference on Slideshare, at http://www.slideshare.net/davidshumaker/shumaker-diverseinitiativescommonchallengesapril2014 . It’s entitled “Embedded Librarians: Diverse Initiatives, Common Challenges.”

I especially enjoyed preparing this presentation, because it gave me a chance to some ideas that had been percolating for quite a while: that different sectors of librarianship are experiencing similar pressures and undergoing similar trends, but we are too stovepiped as a profession to notice, most of the time. I took an audience poll at the beginning of the session and was delighted to find that there were public librarians and school library media specialists in the room, as well as academic, corporate, and other specialized librarians.

If They Close the Library …

April 2, 2014 by

“If they close the library, how will they know they even have a librarian?” I’ve heard this statement before, and I heard a variation on it again yesterday, in a conversation about information services at a nonprofit organization. I wonder if it’s still a widespread concern among librarians. If it is, that’s sad, and troubling.

It implies that the visibility and value of the librarian come from the size of our domain, the number of volumes, the square footage, the listing in the office directory. In the age of information ubiquity, that attitude is the gateway to irrelevance.

Now, I do believe there are plenty of contexts in which the physical library is important and will remain so for the foreseeable future. But even in those contexts, we have to start with the question, what does the community need from us? If the answer includes a physical library, fine. If the physical library needs a book  collection, fine. But in other contexts, the answer will be that the community no longer relies on a physical library space, or collection. And regardless of the answer, librarians must demonstrate that they add value by applying their unique professional expertise, not only as custodians of buildings and collections. In those cases, the space and collections are the platform, not the pinnacle.

So, here’s my answer to the opening question: “Because the librarian is going to get out there and connect with the community and contribute to its members by applying the skills of librarianship!”

What’s yours?

Embedded Librarians in the Lone Star State

March 30, 2014 by

I’m looking forward to meeting embedded librarians in Texas at the Texas Library Association conference April 10 and 11.

On April 10 I’ll be doing a presentation entitled “Embedded Librarians: Diverse Initiatives but Common Challenges,” developing one of the themes that is most important to me: that we librarians need to hang together, to paraphrase Ben Franklin. Though we embed ourselves in very different communities, and make our presence felt in very different ways, yet we have a great deal in common and can learn a lot from one another.

The next day, I’ll be moderating a panel of leading embedded librarians from around Texas and the USA, including Sally Gore (UMass / Worcester Medical School), Sarah Jones (Spencer Stuart), Cass Kvenild (U. of Wyoming), and Laura Young, Austin Ventures. We’re going to have a wide-open discussion in knowledge cafe format of the top issues for embedded librarians.

We’re developing our list of topics now, so if you’ve got one (or more) that you think should be on our list, reply to this post, or tweet with #txla2014 and #embeddedlibrarians.

p.s. See http://www.txla.org/ for details about the conference.

The Stars Align for Academic Librarians

March 16, 2014 by

Four stars, to be precise: Kaijsa Calkins, University of Wyoming; Cass Kvenild, University of Wyoming; Elizabeth Leonard, Seton Hall University; and Erin McCaffrey, Regis University.  They’re all collaborating on a webcast, “Embedded Librarianship: The State of the Art” for the Association of College and Research Libraries, on Wednesday, March 26. Kaijsa and Cass are the editors of the groundbreaking collection “Embedded Librarians: Moving Beyond One-Shot Instruction”, and Elizabeth and Erin collaborated on “Virtually Embedded: The Librarian in an Online Environment”, which I mentioned in my last post.

Details at http://www.ala.org/acrl/embeddedlibrarianship .

What I’m Reading Now

March 3, 2014 by

What I’m reading now is a welcome addition to the literature of embedded librarianship: a new book from the Association of College and Research Libraries, entitled “Virtually Embedded: The Librarian in an Online Environment”, edited by Elizabeth Leonard and Erin McCaffrey.

(Full disclosure: I wrote the Foreword.)

Here’s my favorite passage from the chapters I read today. It comes from the chapter “Embedded Librarians in a Military Distance Education Program”, which describes the embedded librarianship program for distance learning at the U.S. Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC), in Norfolk, Virginia. Authors Catrina Whited, Bridget Powell, and Gail Nicula write:

“…a colleague in another public higher-education institution made this comment: ‘We treat all of our students equally. They all get the same services.’ This philosophy was antithetical to the JFSC [Joint Forces Staff College] library goal …”

Here, the authors have pointed out a common misunderstanding among well-meaning librarians. In seeking to fulfill the American Library Association ethical mandate to provide the “highest level of service to all”, they wind up providing “the same services.” They fail to recognize that needs are different, so that “the highest level” means customizing.

But to customize our services and meet the ethical mandate most effectively, we have to understand our communities. And to understand them, we have to build relationships with them, as we work beside them. And that’s the essence of embedded librarianship.


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