Embedded Librarianship at the SLA Conference, Part 2


I may be getting to the point at which I process everything I read or hear against an “embedded librarianship” filter: how does it relate to embedded librarianship? That’s a bit scary. Still, it did seem to me that the keynote speakers at the SLA Conference, while they certainly weren’t addressing embedded librarianship, made points that align well.

Take Tom Friedman, the opening keynote speaker. Friedman continues to develop his “World is Flat” theme of globalization. Among many other points (I won’t try to repeat them all) he emphasized the importance of imagination and creativity in adding value — in this echoing Daniel Pink, whom he cited. One way to generate creative ideas, he noted is to apply concepts from one domain to another. I think that’s what embedded librarians do: take their knowledge of information and apply it within the domain of the information users they work with. The synthesis achieved through their collaboration is what adds value to the organization — and makes them non-routine, unique contributors.

The day after Friedman spoke, the same point was approached from a different angle by KM expert Lawrence Prusak. His central thesis, ironically for someone known for his KM work, was that knowledge isn’t as important as judgment. He proceeded to discuss factors that lead to good judgment in organizations. Among them: the application of multiple forms of knowledge, the application of relevant cognitive diversity, and the democratization of knowledge. Again, filtered through the idea of embedded librarianship, these are all ways in which the inclusion of librarians in problem-solving teams and processes adds strength and capability. Traditionally, organizations haven’t optimized the value of librarians, because they’ve kept us in a box called the library. But librarians bring different knowledge, different perceptual frames and problem-solving approaches, and as we integrate into the organization (or embed ourselves) we are able to apply what we know and how we think in new ways.

The closing keynote speaker was James Kane, whose theme was Loyalty: what it is and how to engender it. Briefly, Kane asserts that loyalty is created out of trust, shared purpose, and a sense of belonging. Without going into too much detail, I’d say that these attributes provide a good description of the relationship of a successful embedded librarian with the information user group: there’s trust in one another’s capability and commitment; a shared commitment to the purpose of the team; and a network of strong social relationships that cement the business relationship.

All in all, I thought this year’s SLA Conference was strong on substance in many ways — not the least in the  presentations of these speakers. And I was encouraged by the consistency between the characteristics of embedded librarianship and the principles that they articulated.


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