Archive for August, 2012

Everybody’s Doin’ It!

August 21, 2012

One of the points that comes up in conversation about embedded librarianship is that it’s a lot easier if your organization already has an orientation towards flexibility, dynamic teams, matrix management, functional integration or some similar approach to getting diverse people working together to accomplish tasks.

If you’re working in a traditional organization and have an org chart defined by a lot of little functional boxes that don’t collaborate very well, your efforts to promote embedded librarianship are definitely going to be counter-cultural. If your arms get tired, it’s because you’re paddling upstream all day.

In my corporate experience, I was fortunate to work in an organization that really “got it” about cognitive diversity and cross-functional teaming. In addition to embracing embedded librarianship, they also established Human Resource Business Partners. As a manager, I had a designated HR person to work with on any staffing issues that came up. It made my life easier!

In the past few years, I get the feeling that the notion of an HR Business Partner has become pretty widespread. As a matter of fact, I recently read something in which the author referred to an “HRBP” without even spelling it out. It took me a minute, but I realized the acronym stood for “Human Resources Business Partner.” If you go to, you’ll have no trouble locating it.

The same idea seems to be taking hold in information technology units as well. In a recent interview ( ), the president of American Railcar Industries, Lee Anderson, says, “Rather than training everybody in development skills, we are embedding key skill sets into business units.”

Substitute “information management” for “development” and you’ve got embedded librarians. So maybe if you’re having trouble explaining embedded librarianship in your organization, these models from Human Resources and Information Technology can help.


The Embedded Librarian Workshop at WebSearch University

August 8, 2012

I’ll be conducting a workshop on developing your strategy for embedded librarianship as a preconference program for WebSearch University in Washington DC. This will be a half-day workshop on Wednesday, September 12, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Whether you’ve read The Embedded Librarian or not, this will be a great opportunity to develop your own strategy, fitting your special organizational circumstances while comparing notes with others.

Details on WebSearch University are available at: .

Early bird pricing ends this Friday, so sign up now for the best rate. I hope to see you there!

Librarians and Instruction, Part 2: Embedded, or Standalone?

August 6, 2012

I’ve been remiss in failing to mention the emlibs list. Emlibs was started this past spring, is hosted at Miami University of Ohio, and is intended for “embedded librarians in the Learning Management System.” See . If you”re doing information literacy instruction and haven’t joined yet, you might want to consider it.

Anyway, I recently read an interesting article, “Academic Libraries and the Credit-Bearing Class”, by Margaret Burke of Hofstra University. It’s available at . At Hofstra, librarians teach standalone, one-credit courses in information literacy, and Burke advocates this approach as preferable to the course-embedded model. I posted a question on the emlibs list about comparing the two approaches, and a helpful, if inconclusive exchange followed, with Ms. Burke taking part.

In the article and the emlibs discussion, one point surfaced that does bother me about some of the embedded instruction initiatives I’ve read about: there’s little or no evaluation of information literacy outcomes, and if there is, the librarian isn’t involved in the evaluation. At a program earlier this year, I heard librarians doing course-embedded IL instruction say they didn’t want any part of evaluating student work. While I can understand the time and logistical obstacles, I think that to adopt that attitude is a shame. After all, if information literacy is important, shouldn’t there be defined learning objectives? And if there are, then shouldn’t they be evaluated? And if the librarian is doing the instruction, as a recognized expert in IL, then wouldn’t the librarian be the logical person to do the evaluation? In my research, I did find examples of librarians evaluating learning outcomes, and in the interviews I conducted, a clear trend among academic librarians to improve their ability to evaluate.

So this discussion has given me a lot to mull over. We need to know a lot more about how information literacy is being evaluated, and ultimately we need to be able to compare the standalone credit-bearing course to embedded instruction as a framework for information literacy education. It seems to me there are strong reasons why the embedded model ought to produce better results, but I haven’t seen any research to back that up.

So — over to you. I’m hoping readers of this blog will have additional insights, and I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Librarians and Instruction, Part 1: Embedded Librarians and the Digital Literacy Corps

August 2, 2012

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about the instructional role of librarians — so much that I plan to do two posts on the topic. Here’s part 1.

Belated kudos to Buffy Hamilton, the Unquiet Librarian, for her June 12 posting , “Dear FCC and ALA: Do You Really Not Get It?” (See )

In response to a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to establish a “Digital Literacy Corps”, Buffy (and several commenters) point out that such a corps already exists: in the form of school and public librarians who, embedded in the classrooms and communities, teach digital and information literacy skills. Indeed, why does such a corps need to be invented, when it already exists?

I agree wholeheartedly with Buffy and the commenters that this is exactly what public and school librarians need to be doing. However, she and several of those who commented mention what, in my opinion, is the key problem: not enough school and public librarians really are engaging with the community and teaching these essential skills. Too many are content to perpetuate an outdated model of librarianship that enables them to sit tight in their libraries … for now.

The research I did for my book, The Embedded Librarian, confirms this view. Despite the efforts of innovative professionals, and the codification of new ideas in the publication Information Power and other sources, a study done for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in 2008 reported that most school librarians did not have well-developed collaborative relationships with classroom teachers. (R. Todd, School Library Monthly, v. 24 no. 7, p. 54-58.)

So we are in a Catch-22 situation right now. There are effective school and public librarians who are reaching out, forming partnerships, and addressing acute community problems like the creation of essential 21st-century knowledge. I consider them embedded librarians: they focus on relationships, understand the domain and context of their work, share responsibility for achieving common goals, and bring outstanding librarianship skills to bear. However, their efforts are undermined by traditional librarians and their enablers who see the librarian as a custodian of books. As long as they give credence to the old stereotypes of the librarian, people like those in the FCC will think they have to create new corps of professionals to do what some librarians are already, and all should be, doing.

What to do? Among other things, redouble our efforts to move the center of gravity in the profession to a new, connected, active, embedded model. For starters, maybe the FCC could give the money for that Digital Literacy Corps to the IMLS for a program to really create a corps of embedded public and school librarians!

… Well, it’s a thought …