Embedded Librarians Seize the Initiative


While re-reading W. David Penniman’s wonderful article “Strategic Positioning of information Services in a Competitive Environment” (Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, April/May 1997, p. 11), I came across a description of the ideal Information Analysis Center, quoted by Penniman, that was originally published in 1959: “The ideal information analysis center would allow users to: /–Get the information they desire …”

While this is a noble and well intentioned sentiment, it (and others like it that I’ve read) set my teeth on edge. Why? Because it implies passivity and the fulfillment of wants, rather than needs. So often we librarians fall into these twin traps. We wait to be asked, and then we deal with the expressed desire, not the underlying need.

Being proactive, and dealing with needs, require a lot more work and a lot more skill. They require, perhaps, working side by side with our customers (or should I say, colleagues) and understanding the goals and objectives they are trying to achieve. Yet that’s what I think we need to do today, and what we’ll need to do to be successful tomorrow.

I think the embedded librarian is well positioned for this role. I think of the embedded librarian as one who can identify the need, the source, and the value of information — often before the customer/colleague thinks of it — and deliver what’s needed. To do this, the librarian has to be familiar with the work and understand the domain and the goals. Doing this, the librarian becomes an invaluable member of the team.

So, let’s not fall into the trap of providing “the information they desire”. Let’s show them what they need, and deliver it.


One Response to “Embedded Librarians Seize the Initiative”

  1. Another E.L. Says:

    Indeed! Also remarkable as a missed opportunity is the use of “get” in the phrase “get the information they desire.” While “getting” it may be primary in that it happens first, it seems to me quite secondary to what one does with the information one gets. This usage cements the passivity you noted.

    Let’s not just help people “get” information. Let’s help them use it!

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