Librarians Who Walk on Water


This isn’t really unique to embedded librarians; I bet every successful reference librarian has had this experience. The people you help profess to be in awe of your ability to find that missing document; track down the most elusive information; manage the most disorganized data, etc. They call you a “magician”, a “gem”, a “miracle worker”. Maybe they even make a Biblical allusion and say you “walk on water”.

This makes it tough when you eventually get promoted, change jobs, etc. — especially if you stay within the same organization. Your old friends ignore your replacement, and keep calling on you. Early in my career, this happened to me. I was a proto-embedded librarian with the same group for 5 years. Eventually I was promoted. Members of the group at first kept coming to me. They didn’t trust my replacement. In time, they figured out he was just as good as I was (better!) — but it was a difficult process for a while.

What’s this got to do with embedded librarianship? I think this problem is worse with a successful embedded librarian. The relationships and collaborations are so close, the trust is so high, that it may be hard for members of the group to imagine someone else stepping in. Yet long term success depends on just that: having capable staff who can step in temporarily or permanently and perform. I’ve seen and read about cases where the whole idea falls apart when one key individual departs.

So, if you’re an embedded librarian, or the manager of an embedded librarianship program, work on developing the bench strength in your organization, and have staff who are ready to step up when they are needed. There are ways to do this. A couple of them are discussed in The Embedded Librarian. And if you’ve figured out a good way, I’d love to hear about it!



2 Responses to “Librarians Who Walk on Water”

  1. Librarians Who Walk on Water | Errol A. Adams, J.D. M.L.S' Blog Says:

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  2. salgore Says:

    I was just talking about this aspect of embeddedness with a colleague. There is an entrepreneurial sense to our work here, especially when given the charge to go out and find and/or make one’s place in a research team. You need to sell yourself to the team, as much (if not more) than the library. It makes it hard to tease out those things that you provide to the research team or group that are generic to all librarians, and which ones are tied specifically to the embedded librarian’s own personal skill set. As we move more and more into the role of informationist and/or embedded librarian, it will be interesting to see what list of services we can tie to the role, independent of the individual librarian.

    I’m still new to this, but it’s a topic I find intriguing to take note of and think about.

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