Networking for Librarians

August 29, 2017 by

It seems like every time there’s a discussion of competencies for librarians, somebody brings up networking. That’s understandable, but sometimes the conversation gets superficial, as if the metric for networking was PPM (People Per Minute) — how many people can you speak to / shake hands with / exchange business cards with — in a given time.

Sunday’s New York Times provided a welcome counterpoint in the form of an article by Adam Grant, of the Wharton School. Grant asserts that contacts without content are meaningless. The way to develop productive networking relationships is to bring something to the table: show that you have something interesting and worthwhile to contribute. As Grant says, “Networking alone leads to empty transactions, not rich relationships” and “Do something interesting, and instead of having to push your way in, you’ll be pulled in. The network comes to you.”

These are important career development insights for any librarian, but they’re especially critical for embedded librarians. When we talk about successful embedded librarianship, many of us (including me) put a strong emphasis on building relationships, and rightly so. But the key insight is that those relationships don’t take hold on the basis of superficial glad-handing. They take hold as everybody contributes to the attainment of common goals. Perhaps the starting point of successful networking and relationship-building is the belief that you have something to offer.

(Grant, Adam. (2017, Aug. 27) “Networking is Overrated.” The New York Times.)


Upcoming Webinar on Embedded Librarianship

July 28, 2017 by

Join the Special Libraries Association’s Embedded Librarians Caucus for a webinar, “Getting in on the Conversation: Implementing and Leveraging Embedded Librarianship”, August 29, noon – 1 p.m. US Eastern time.

This panel session will be a discussion between session participants and three embedded librarians, who will present three distinct models of embedded librarianship, representing a broad spectrum of disciplines, audiences, and goals. Participants will learn strategies for implementing embedded librarianship to engage different campus communities and leveraging it to demonstrate their value by contributing to the overall goals at their institution.

Panelists will share their strategies for leveraging embedded librarianship, including:

“don’t wait for the invitation: crash the party””
“forget the elevator speech: focus on troubleshooting”
“proactively engage your audience: flaunt your expertise”

Each panelist will briefly discuss their experience with leveraging embedded librarianship to contribute to the overall goals of their institution:

In a Behavioral Sciences program, proactively working with faculty on issues with undergraduate research and critical thinking skills (or lack thereof) and becoming part of the solution by partnering with faculty on educational projects and a credit course integrated into their courses and curriculum
In a Business program, collaborating directly with graduate students as a member of their action based learning teams, contributing as research experts to solve real-world challenges
In a Health Sciences/Medical program, proactively interacting with faculty in order to partner in research analysis including successfully receiving grant funding to support existing grant funded projects or providing analysis on research projects such as bibliometric investigation.

You must register in advance to attend. To sign up, go to:

After registering, you’ll receive a confirmation email with details on how to join the webinar.

Another Issue Librarians Can Get Behind: Net Neutrality

June 30, 2017 by

As we head into summer here in Washington DC, it seems like there’s a protest of some sort weekly or even daily. One issue that’s coming up soon and of particular relevance to librarians — embedded and otherwise — is Net Neutrality. There’s a virtual protest scheduled for July 12 — see for more. According to the site, both the American Library Association and the American Association of Law Libraries have signed on as supporters.

Check it out.


(Embedded) Librarians Marching (and Working) for Science

April 28, 2017 by

Last Saturday, here in Washington DC and in other cities around the world, we had the March for Science. As one who marched, I was glad to see that the American Library Association supported it, along with many other organizations dedicated to the pursuit of truth and wisdom.

You’d think if there’s one issue all librarians could get behind, this would be it. For embedded librarians, many of whom are embedded in scholarly and scientific communities, this is especially appropriate. We are at a moment when the very existence of scholarly and scientific inquiry, as well as the application of the resulting knowledge for the benefit of society, is under attack by the advocates of a “post-truth”, “alternative facts” mindset. There are attempts to de-fund and cast aside the scientific work of our colleagues, and our own work in promoting the effective dissemination and use of their knowledge.

So if you also marched last week, great! And if you didn’t, it’s not too late to get involved. Activities to defend and promote scholarly and scientific inquiry are ongoing. Visit the March for Science website ( for more. As embedded librarians, it makes sense for us to get embedded in this.

Competencies at the Library 2.017 Conference

March 27, 2017 by

I’ll be presenting a short description of the Special Libraries Association’s statement on professional competencies for librarians and information professionals at the Library 2.017 web conference this Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. (US Eastern time) It’s a free conference and all are welcome. See for details and to register.

Library 2.017 Banner

A Conference Devoted to Embedded Librarianship

January 15, 2017 by

I learned last week that IATUL — The International Association of University Libraries has chosen the theme “Embedding Libraries – Service and Development in Context” for its 38th annual conference this June. I don’t recall seeing a major professional association devoting its conference to the theme of embedded librarianship before, so this may be a first!

Details are at . It looks like a great program and a great location.


August 5, 2016 by

I’d argue there’s a significant element of management in the work of any strongly embedded librarian. Thus, I think it’s appropriate to call your attention to a column by Patricia Katopol in the latest issue of Library Leadership & Management, the online journal of the Library Leadership & Management Association (LLAMA). I think it contains a lot of wisdom, and I wonder if the same barriers that Katopol says inhibit librarians from pursuing management roles also inhibit some from pursuing strong embedded relationships.


Oh — the article is at .


June 29, 2016 by

A quick search indicates that it’s been several years since I’ve mentioned Trust in this blog, and that the past mentions have been rather oblique. That’s an omission I shall now proceed to rectify!

Building trusted relationships is central to embedded librarianship. The word trust is an excellent way to characterize the way that embedded librarians interact with other team members. So what is trust, and how do you go about establishing it?

A paper from the recent Special Libraries Association conference does a great job of introducing the concept and providing some guidelines. The paper is “Trusted Librarian: Service Model Offers Best Practices for New Subject Librarians”, by Tina P. Franks, of The Ohio State University. It’s available currently from OSU’s “Knowledge Bank” institutional repository, url = . Apparently it’s slated for future publication in Practical Academic Librarianship, the journal of the SLA Academic Division.

While it’s not specifically about embedded librarianship, practically everything in the article is directly relevant. In fact, I’d venture to say that any librarian who follows Franks’ principles will end up embedded. She highlights the interplay of librarians’ professional expertise and relationship-building skills, pointing out that “you need to earn trust before users will value your subject expertise”, and emphasizes the difference between the transactional nature of traditional library reference service and the relationship orientation required to build trust (and be an embedded librarian).

If you’re looking for some ideas to kick your relationship-building skills to the next level, or just a refresher on the nature of trust, this may be just the resource for you.

A Book I Like

June 17, 2016 by

I’ve been teaching a course on human information behavior once a year for 6 or 7 years now. (The actual title of the course is “Use and Users of Libraries and Information”, but it’s really about human information behavior.)

In all that time, I’ve used a couple different texts with the course, and recently I haven’t used any text book at all.

That’s about to change. I’ve found a book that does a really good job of surveying what information science has learned about information behavior. It’s Introduction to Information Behaviour, by Nigel Ford (Facet Publishing, 2015). It’s a well organized synthesis of a great deal of theory and research.

I recognize this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s academic and can get rather dry in spots. But I think it’s relevant to embedded librarians because we have to be astute observers of information behavior and the role of information in the functioning of organizations and groups. A knowledge of the theory and research can inform our reflections and understanding of what goes on in our workplaces, and help us become more effective.

So, if you’re willing to invest a few hours in a fairly detailed introduction to the study of information behavior, you may want to check this out.

A Response to “Embedded Librarianship: A Critical Perspective,” by Robert Farrell

May 27, 2016 by

(Warning: Long)

The New York Chapter of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRLNY) recently hosted a program on embedded librarianship. I didn’t attend, but I’ve read the four presentations from the program that have been made available at . One of them is an essay entitled “Embedded Librarianship: A Critical Perspective,” by Robert Farrell. As the title suggests, it expresses a very negative point of view. What follows is my response. You may want to read Farrell’s essay first.

Briefly, the essay mis-represents the nature of embedded librarianship, makes four unsupported assertions criticizing it, and closes with what the author promotes as a superior alternative model of library service. Let’s address each point in turn.

Defining Embedded Librarianship

The essay mis-represents the nature of embedded librarianship. The author begins with the following: “… let me define embedded librarianship since people often mean different things when they use the phrase. Embedded librarianship, in my view, is characterized by an extended, typically semester-long relationship between one or more librarians and a specific course in which the librarian(s) teach multiple class sessions, attend class sessions, and/or are on call to a great degree either virtually or in person in order to provide instructional or reference services over multiple class sessions throughout a semester.”

That definition isn’t sufficient. It’s much too narrow. It’s just one type of engagement that an embedded librarian might be involved in. The literature shows that embedded librarians in higher education may be engaged in curriculum development, participation in research, and other types of work not covered by the author’s definition.

Moreover, the author omits the defining principles of embedded librarianship, which have been discussed repeatedly in the literature. To cite one example, on page 6 of my book, The Embedded Librarian (Information Today, 2012), I express them as:

  • Building strong working relationships with others in the community (in this case, the academic community)
  • Aligning with the work and goals of the community; adopting shared goals with the members of the community
  • Making customized, highly valued contributions to the community.

To the extent that a librarian shares these characteristics, that librarian is embedded. It’s much broader than any particular instructional engagement.

Following this erroneous definition, the author poses four questions, to which he provides answers.

Question 1

The first question is, “Can we afford it? No, we can’t afford it.”

His answer assumes that embedded librarianship is to be performed in addition to all other duties, and that all those other duties will be performed as they have been in the past, by the same staff in the same ways. The author doesn’t consider the opportunities to re-design and re-allocate work. Granted, many libraries have flat or declining resources and therefore can’t fund embedded librarianship with new money. Whether they have new resources or not, effective managers strategically review services and priorities, and shift resources to the most important work. That may mean shifting work from traditional to embedded services. I do not pretend that this is easy, but examples do exist. One is documented in my 2011 Addendum to the 2009 “Models of Embedded Librarianship” research report, available at and on this blog.

Moreover, this challenge is not unique to embedded librarianship; it is true of any innovation that might be undertaken. By implication, the author thus positions his argument as being against any innovations in librarians’ duties.

Question 2

The second question is, “Is it sustainable? No, it’s not sustainable.”

The author presents two reasons for this view. The first is that success depends on the unique capabilities of certain individuals, so that when those individuals change jobs, get promoted, or retire, the program will fall apart without them. The second is that embedded librarianship isn’t sustainable because it’s not affordable.

I’ve dealt with sustainability on a number of occasions, including in chapter 9 of my book. Here are a few more observations.

The first point is what I have called the “librarian walks on water” syndrome. It’s real, but smart managers can deal with it. I’ve addressed it in a number of presentations. See my 2014 SLA presentation, “Disruption, Alignment, and Embedded Librarianship” for some suggestions on addressing it. It’s available on Slideshare, and this is Pitfall #7 in the presentation.

In repeating the view that embedded librarianship isn’t affordable, and therefore isn’t sustainable, the author acknowledges some suggestions I’ve made for dealing with sustainable funding. However, he casually dismisses them with the following: “Easily said. Not so easily done.” Well, nobody said that everything worth doing is easy, and I know people who have done it. Once again, he seems to be taking a stand in favor of the path of least resistance, and against undertaking hard challenges to improve library services.

Question 3

The third question is, “is it exploitative? Yes, it’s exploitative.”

The author’s argument here is that embedded librarianship exploits librarians because they have to work harder. Like the first assertion, this one is founded on the faulty premise that embedded librarianship is additive – assigned over and above other duties which continue unchanged. As I’ve stated above, this is a challenge for any initiative, not limited to embedded librarianship. Furthermore, he once again disregards the existing literature that addresses his objections. See for example Pitfall #4, Burnout, in the Slideshare presentation mentioned above.

He also doesn’t take into consideration that when embedded librarians become valued members of their communities, their duties become more focused. Their partnerships with stakeholders in their communities allow them to use their expertise strategically in manageable ways that maximize impact on their community’s goals. They end up with a better workload, not an exploitative workload.

Ultimately, it’s every manager’s job to take care of the people who work in the organization, and that means a reasonable workload that is commensurate with their strengths. The library manager who doesn’t address both the quality and quantity of the workload isn’t doing their job. The challenge is that embedded librarianship can be too successful, in the sense that it is so effective and so popular that it could overwhelm the staff. So is that a reason not to do it? A poor manager might reach that conclusion, but a good manager would figure out how to address the challenge.

Question 4

Finally, the fourth question is, “who is embedded librarianship for? I believe it’s typically more for us than it is for students.”

Here, the author inveighs against embedded librarianship. He asserts, with no supporting evidence, that it benefits few students – ignoring both the positive reports in the literature, and the dramatic decline in traditional academic reference services in the past couple decades. He calls embedded librarianship “attention grabbing” and “flashy”. Apparently to him it’s nothing but a political ploy to curry favor with university administrators who rely “on manufactured austerity conditions that pit campus unit against campus unit for allegedly scarce resources.” No evidence is presented for these opinions. I don’t know what they’re based on.

Thus, the reader is left to balance, on the one hand, report after report in the literature of positive experiences with embedded librarianship – along with evidence of the shocking decline in use of traditional reference services in higher education, and on the other hand this unsupported rant.

He ends this section and sets up his conclusion with the observation that, “I’m not saying that the embedded librarian may not in fact be benefiting the students she works within unique ways, but might her time be better invested in developing more sustainable instructional projects?” This comment is founded on the false definition and false assertions of the entire essay to this point. Still, let’s look at his proposal.


The author recommends a model of academic library services which he claims is different from embedded librarianship – based on his mis-representation of what embedded librarianship stands for.  But let’s look at what it consists of. Here’s a passage from the essay:

“The model we’ve developed involves a series of steps that also require an investment of time and resources, but which result in embedded learning activities …. It begins with a series of focus groups and avoids talk of “information literacy” or other LIS constructs in order to focus on allowing disciplinary faculty to paint a picture of the information-related disciplinary practices and behaviors they’d like to see their graduates embody. The activities that result form [sic] this collaborative process [are] not dependent on librarians, but rather are intended to become a part of the disciplinary curriculum … The model we’ve developed seeks to position librarians as disciplinary curricular consultants and collaborative instructional designers.”

Note the use of the words “embedded” and “collaborative” in this passage. Elsewhere the author characterizes his model as a “slow process of relationship building”.

In other words, this is a model that satisfies the criteria for real embedded librarianship:

  • Building strong working relationships
  • Aligning with the work and goals of the community; in this case instructors in various disciplines
  • Making customized, highly valued contributions to the community in the form of innovations that meet curricular goals.

So, it’s embedded librarianship with a particular approach and focus. The author is simply saying that maybe embedded librarians don’t actually have to be the instructors all the time. Maybe they can work with subject faculty to inform the way the latter incorporate information and research skills into their teaching, and he’s leading us to a framework he has used to do this.

I have three responses. First, I agree. I’ve known embedded librarians who have done this. In fact, embedded librarians who are considered part of their communities and valued partners in meeting its goals are probably more likely to be included in instructional design partnerships. Second, this particular approach isn’t immune to the challenges the author uses to attack embedded librarianship. These are challenges that managers have to address – and which the author doesn’t confront in promoting his version of the model.  Third, I do have questions about the challenges that may arise with this model, but I’ll save those for another time.

In conclusion, this essay is a missed opportunity to contribute to the development of embedded librarianship in higher education. Instead of mis-representing embedded librarianship and deliberately setting out to do a “hatchet job” (his words) on its role in academic library services, he could have positioned his work on collaborative curriculum development as a variation of it.  Still, we can learn something from the essay by focusing on the author’s approach to curriculum development and leaving the rest aside.