Alignment and Embeddedness, Part 1

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As an active member of the Special Libraries Association, I’m thinking a lot about “Alignment” these days. SLA’s Alignment Project has focused on both helping members “align their value and contributions with the strategic goals of their organizations” and develop communications that executives and employers will understand, so that what the librarian does will be recognized and valued by their bosses.

(If you’re not an SLA member and would like to know more about the Alignment Project, visit http://www.sla.org/content/SLA/alignment/index.cfm .)

Alignment is a laudable goal and I completely agree with it. The question is, how does a librarian achieve it? How do we ensure that what we’re doing really matches up with the needs of the organization — and that we talk about it in terms that leaders of the organization understand?

It seems to me that Embeddedness has something to offer. The Embedded Library Services model has to do with getting close enough to others in the organization — whether physically, by locating your office in their area; organizationally, by transferring supervision from the library manager to the customer group manager; or operationally, by forming a strong working relationship — to understand their information needs and develop specialized solutions that meet those needs. Our research (see Executive Summary posted on the blog last month) has shown that successful embedded librarians are good at building relationships, and either bring a good knowledge of the customer’s domain to the organization when they arrive, or work diligently to develop it as they begin work.

The second half of Alignment is communicating in terms that the organization’s management understands and values. Managers of successful embedded services do just that. Among the attributes we’ve found associated with the management of successful embedded programs are that they evaluate their programs in financial terms and through stories, as well as using more traditional activity statistics. Also, they communicate their evaluations back to customer managers.

Ultimately, successful embedded librarians transcend the traditional library operational model of providing services in response to requests, and become partners with their “customers” — sharing the responsibilities and the rewards for organizational outcomes.

What could be better aligned than that?

(In part 2, I’ll share some thoughts on what can go wrong.)

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