What’s in a Name?, Or, Is An Embedded Librarian Still A Librarian?

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Not long ago, I had a conversation with a very successful colleague — something of a role model for me — who is a bit skeptical about embedded librarianship.

I sketched out my vision of embedded librarians as members of teams, groups, units — organizations — indistinguishable in status or value to the group from any other members, except for the fact that they bring a unique awareness of the importance of information and knowledge, and skill in applying information and knowledge to improve group performance. Indeed, it’s that focus on information and knowledge that makes them specially valuable to the team.

At that point, she asked, “but are they still librarians?”

I think they are. I think that the skills and values they bring from the profession of librarianship are critically important in an embedded role. I think that with all the diversity of roles and institutional settings that librarians wind up in, there’s still a common core to the profession, that gives them (us!) a unique identity. I think the ALA-accredited Master’s degree is still the shortest road to acquiring these values and competencies (but not the only one). I’m reminded of one of my favorite Stephen Abram statements — that librarians don’t have to work in libraries, and that they don’t all have to have the job title “Librarian”. Plus, when I re-read John Cotton Dana and S.R. Ranganathan, I like to think that they would agree.

So I’m a bit worried when I sense that some in both the nontraditional “information  management analyst” or “knowledge management specialist” camp and the traditional Librarian camp want to go their separate ways. I hope that doesn’t happen. I’d like to see more and more librarians get out of the library, and adopt elements of the embedded services model. I think it will be good for them, the organizations they work for, and the profession of librarianship. But I hope that as they do so, we won’t lose the sense of professional identity that we have.

What do you think? If you’re an embedded librarian, do you feel that the word “librarian” covers what you do? Do you identify with the profession of Librarianship?

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