Archive for January, 2009

The Unasked Question — The Unrecognized Need

January 24, 2009

I seem to be having a run of wonderful, thought provoking conversations lately. Today, it was a conversation with my research project co-investigator, Mary Talley, that led to the theme for this post.

We were talking about the value of the embedded librarian, about our hypothesis that intimate knowledge of the customer group’s work enables the embedded librarian to communicate well, to understand a question without requiring a lot of background explanation, and to deliver highly targeted, highly relevant, and important answers to the questions that customers ask.

All true — but we proceeded to discuss how the response to the unasked question, the unrecognized need, may be even more valuable.

In library and information science, our classic models of information seeking (e.g. Belkin and Oddy) start something like this: “1. Recognize information need”. They go on with things like “articulate need”, “select source”, “develop search strategy” etc. etc. But wait, back up, hold on there. “Recognize need” is a big hurdle to get over. I don’t know about anyone else, but I know there are many times when with 20/20 hindsight I’ve thought, “… if I had only thought to ask; I wish I had realized that information was available…”. So, I hope it’s not just me, and that recognizing when we have an information need is a problem for a lot of us.

When we don’t recognize we need information, or that the librarian could supply it, we don’t go to the library. The question never gets asked. The information isn’t found, isn’t used, doesn’t affect the outcome of what we’re doing — and most likely, the outcome is poorer as a result.

But what if the librarian is right there when the need arises, perceives the need and the possibility of satisfying it, doesn’t have to wait for the question to be asked, the need to be expressed, can interject into the meeting, ‘hey wait, we need information to help us resolve that issue.’ And then can get it, maybe even right there on the spot. The question doesn’t have to be asked, the librarian doesn’t have to wait in the library or by the phone or the computer — the librarian sees the need and formulates the question, then answers it.

Maybe this is the greatest value of the embedded librarianship model.

p.s. I’ve used the example of a specific information need above, but I think the same case could be made for other information services — like organizing the documents in a collaboration webspace, or anticipating the need for a taxonomy, etc.


Librarians without Libraries

January 23, 2009

In a recent email exchange, the question came up whether embedded librarians would be better off losing the “librarian” label. After all, if you’re an embedded librarian you’re almost certainly spending most, if not all, of your time away from a “library”. And the term “librarian” still carries a lot of baggage for many people: shy, retiring, risk-averse, reads all the time, hair in a bun — you know.

This debate has been going on for longer than the 30-some years I’ve been in the profession, and I’ve held opinions on all sides of it. A few years ago, my views crystallized, and I have to thank Stephen Abram, now immediate past president of SLA, for the insight.

In an article in Information Outlook, Stephen pointed out that librarians do not have to work in a library, and they don’t have to have the job title “Librarian”. He used the analogy of accountants. Accounting is a recognized profession. Its members share a common educational background and professional skills. And they have jobs like “Manager of Accounts Receivable” or “Chief Financial Officer”.

So it is, or should be, with librarians. Librarianship is a profession. Its members share a common educational background, and skills like information organization, information services, knowledge of information resources, ability to manage information systems and information-related organizations. They can hold jobs with titles like “Information Analyst”, “Knowledge Manager”, or “Chief Information Officer”.

Seems to me this is a much more satisfying definition of “librarian” than “someone who works in a library”.

What we take with us as embedded librarians, when we leave the library, are our skill set and professional values that distinguish us as Librarians, and which we can put to work anywhere we go, anywhere we are embedded.

Corporate Libraries: Slated for Extinction?

January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

I’m using the holidays to catch up on my reading. An item in American Libraries Direct, Aug. 13 was entitled “12 Tools That Will Go the Way of the Fax and CDs”. It cited the author as Dave Pollard, who was a well received speaker at the SLA Conference in 2007, so I followed the link to Dave’s blog and his 12 predictions. It’s at .

It turns out that Dave’s prediction no. 7 is “Corporate Libraries and Purchased Content.”

The good news is, Dave actually has a prescription for corporate librarians to succeed. He says, “With luck, they’ll learn the employer’s business and morph into subject matter specialists, producing real research and analysis and adding meaning and value to information.”

That’s exactly what I believe that successful corporate embedded librarians are doing! So, while I don’t fully agree with Dave’s prediction (see my comment on his blog), I think that he’s got part of the answer. I think that the embedded services model is one that enables librarians to overcome the barriers that have sometimes existed between them and their customers and to make their services truly and directly valuable.