One interesting theme at the MLA Informationist panel was the importance of space. Several informationists mentioned how important it was to have office space co-located with the medical groups they work with, and others speculated about “virtual embedding”, in which the informationist isn’t co-located. I mentioned one of the interviews that is reported in our Special Libraries Association research. An information manager at a large international professional services firm told us of a distributed practice group in which the embedded librarian, the practice group leader, and group members were scattered across many different cities, and rarely saw each other face to face. Yet they seem to work very effectively this way.
Afterward, I was thinking more about the role of space and face to face interaction in embedded services. The importance of physical presence is often mentioned in the embedded librarianship literature, but I do believe that distributed teams can work effectively — though I think it’s also valuable for participants to get together in person when they can. The lesson for successful embedded library services, perhaps, is that the librarian needs to interact just the same as other team members interact. If the team is physically co-located, but the librarian is apart, that’s a problem, because the team will have hallway conversations that the librarian will miss out on. The librarian won’t be a full partner in the team interaction. But if the team is distributed and interacts electronically, then the librarian needs to be part of that virtual space. Again, it’s essential to full partnership that the embedded librarian participate equally in that “space.”