New Year’s Resolutions and Reflections

January 3, 2014 by

Generally, I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog recently, though, and I’m inclined to make an exception and articulate a couple resolutions for The Embedded Librarian for 2014.

First, I resolve to publish more frequently. This is the standard kind of “I resolve to be a better person” resolution. I am always trying and wishing to publish more frequently. Nothing new in this. And by the way, don’t worry about being inundated. I doubt I’ll ratchet up as high as once a week. I’ll aim for 2-3 times a month instead of 1-2. Achieving this, however, may depend on resolution 2:

Second, I resolve to broaden the scope of the blog. While not losing sight of embedded librarianship, and its importance for the profession, I’d like to comment on wider issues of librarianship that may not always relate directly to the embedded model.

There are several reasons for Resolution 2, growing out of my reflection on the blog’s history, the progress of embedded librarianship, and what’s going on in the field these days:

1. Embedded librarianship is maturing. I won’t say it’s mature, but maturing. There’s still work to do in spreading the word among librarians. Not everyone “gets it” who needs to “get it” – but we’ve made lots of progress. We’ve begun to see a proliferation of books and webinars about the embedded model. I’ve been heartened to have more companions in the work of writing about, talking about, and doing embedded librarianship. Without attempting a review of the past year, I’ll just note that there’ve been several books either published, or announced and about to be released. I used to try to read everything that was published on the topic, and that’s getting harder and harder to do. And as the embedded model becomes more widely known, it’s time to work more on putting it in context.

2. The tag line of the blog says, “exploring new, embedded roles for librarians in organizations of all types”. I think the time has come to place more emphasis on “new roles”. I’ve come to realize more clearly that not only the “where” and “how” of librarianship have to change – the “what we do” has to change as well. It’s not enough to think we can perform the same tasks as we embed ourselves. Our skill sets and our contributions will change as well. Others are writing about some of these changes. I’d like to comment on new skills and new roles as they relate to the embedded model.

3. Related to the previous comment, I’m a bit frustrated by what I see as the over-emphasis on libraries as institutions and the absence of discussing librarians as professionals in our literature. We need a better balance, more attention to us as professionals, and not only the institutions in which many of us happen to work. Maybe my contributions can help provide that balance.

So, those are my resolutions and reflections as we enter 2014. The blog and the concept of embedded librarianship have come a long way since I started the blog six and a half years ago. With this refresh, I hope to keep things going for at least another 6 and a half!

A Commercial Message

December 24, 2013 by

In case anyone’s thought about buying a copy of The Embedded Librarian but price has been an obstacle, I thought I’d mention that Information Today is running a 40% off sale through Jan. 27.

See for details.


First-year College Students, Project Information Literacy, and Embedded Librarianship

December 18, 2013 by

I’ve just been reading the most recent report from Project Information Literacy. Released just a couple weeks ago, it’s entitled “Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once They Enter College.” It’s of particular interest to me, because together with my faculty colleague Dr. Sung Un Kim, I’m working on a study of the role of librarians in the First Year Experience (FYE) program here at Catholic University of America.

There were many observations in the report that were consistent with my impressions; I found myself nodding in agreement continously. There weren’t any big surprises; just many clear and compelling insights that I sort-of knew, but needed to focus on more clearly. There were echoes of time-tested models and principles of information behavior at work: concepts like the Principle of Least Effort, Mooers’ Law, the human tendency to ask other people we know for help with information needs, and elements of Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process. These are fundamentals that every librarian ought to learn by heart and apply every day anyway.

What I found most arresting was the study’s insight into just how jarring the transition from high school to college is. When it comes to information literacy, the students in the study enter college very poorly prepared for the research environment that awaits them: the resources are much more complex, the expectations are much different, and the skills needed are nothing like what they have learned in their secondary education.

Enter the embedded librarian. As I read, I found passages that just cried out for embedded librarians — observations like “freshmen had little idea about who to ask for help” and didn’t know whom to ask on the library staff — or even that there was anyone on the library staff that would help them (p. 14); or “most students don’t need to ask for help,” “Reference librarians are available only to students who have gotten stuck on their research,” and “A scholarly database(s) recommended by a librarian is the only source worth checking.” (Myths 1, 3, and 4 of 5, p. 19)

Imagine, then, how glad I was to see that in the concluding section, recommendation 2 is “An integrated approach to teaching information competencies”, and the embedded model is cited as a way to achieving that integration. I agree, of course.

So if you’re an academic librarian — especially if you’re involved in reference, instruction, and outreach, I highly recommend that you read this report. It contains great insights, and may help you in developing your own embedded role.

Embedded Librarians: Building Relationships in a Massively Open Educational System

November 18, 2013 by

I’ve posted the webinar presentation I gave for the Amigos Library Council on Slideshare at . Comments are welcome — let me know what you think!

MOOCs and Embedded Librarians

November 1, 2013 by

Next Thursday, Nov. 7, I’ll be participating in a webinar, “MOOCs, Mobile Technologies – Their Impact on Reference Service”, organized by the Amigos Library Council. My topic will be “Embedded Librarians: Building Relationships in a Massively Open Educational System.” It’s been an interesting topic to prepare for, and I’m looking forward to some good dialogue with the audience. I’m told there are still a few seats available, so if you’re interested, you can still register. Hope to see you there!

“Inside Embedded Librarianship” Recording Available

October 18, 2013 by

(Updated October 30)

The link to the “Inside Embedded Librarianship” webinar has been restored! Both the recording and the slides are available via links on the SLA Education Division website at . Thanks to Lesley Farmer and the SLA Education Division leadership for intervening to get access restored.

“Inside Embedded Librarianship” Webinar Soon!

October 11, 2013 by

Sorry for the late posting on this. Simply an oversight on my part.

In a few hours, I’ll be presenting a webinar, entitled “Inside Embedded Librarianship,” for the SLA Education Division. Time is Friday, Oct. 11, at 1:30 p.m.  US Eastern time. (I’m posting on Friday at about 10:00 a.m. US Eastern.)

We’ll review the essential characteristics of embedded librarianship, explore key trends, share practices of successful embedded librarians, and have time left over for questions. It’s free and open to all and (as of now) there’s still time to register.

Register at:

In case you don’t see this in time or have a schedule conflict, I understand that the Education Division plans to make the recording available. I’ll post the link when I have it.

Audacious Goals for Law [and Other] Librarians

October 7, 2013 by

By the way, I’ve posted my presentation (co-authored with Matt Foley) to the Australian Law Librarians’ Association at .

I hope non-law librarians will enjoy it too!

A “Shout Out” to My Friends in Australia

October 7, 2013 by

I recently returned from Australia, where I participated in the annual conference of the Australian Law Librarians’ Association in Sydney. It was a rich learning experience, and a lot of fun. I look forward to keeping in touch with the new friends I made.

After the conference, I also had the opportunity to visit Macquarie University, where I met with Mary Simons, the embedded librarian in the Australian School of Advanced Medicine.  (See Mary’s paper “Time to rethink the role of the library in educating doctors: Driving information literacy in the clinical environment” (Journal of the Medical Library Association, 100(4), 291-296. doi:10.3163/1536-5050.100.4.011) for insights into her work.)

At lunch with members of the library staff, I learned a subtle but important distinction between Australian and American use of the term “shout” that Americans would do well to keep in mind. Where in the U.S. we’ve come to use “shout out” as slang for “recognize” or “acknowledge” (as in the title of this post, which means, “An Acknowledgment to My Friends in Australia”), it turns out that in Australia, to “shout” for someone is to pay for = to pick up the check. So, Americans, when in Australia beware of “shouting out” to your friends — or you may find yourself stuck with the tab for everybody in the pub!

(p.s. to my friends in Australia: I’ll definitely “shout” for a round next time I visit — and I hope it will be soon!)

The Stealthy Embedded Librarian

September 14, 2013 by

This post is inspired by an article I read recently in the March 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review. (I’m always behind in my reading…)

The article is “The Case for Stealth Innovation” by Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg. The authors discuss the advantages and requirements for introducing innovations quietly, not attracting senior management attention until the innovation is well established, “flying under the radar.” While the stealthy approach has its requirements, like finding allies who will support you, it avoids the possibility that by seeking permission, you’ll receive a premature “no” from an executive who doesn’t “get” your proposal.

The stealthy approach resonates with the challenges of initiating embedded librarianship. In the organizations I’ve studied, there are some that have taken the non-stealthy approach, and others that have employed a more bottom-up strategy. To be sure, there are cases in which senior executives push the librarian into an embedded role. That’s great, if the boss is alert and understands the opportunity for the librarian to contribute. I’ve seen examples of that in my research.

But when you don’t have a senior leader like that, finding an ally in middle management may be the best — or only — way to go. I like to think that in healthy organizations, power will be distributed sufficiently that a library manager and the manager of a group that needs an embedded librarian can make it happen without having to get senior approval. Then, they get the opportunity to prove the concept before publicizing it widely.


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