Para-librarians and Embedded Librarians, Part 3


Way back on Nov. 21, I promised there would be a Part 3 to my discussion of Para-Librarians and Embedded Librarians. I can’t believe that was almost 3 months ago. It’s time to get it done!

The question is, if librarians (generally with the Master’s degree, in the U.S.) stop staffing the library reference desk, and paralibrarians take over, with strong service skills but presumably less background in complex search strategy and advanced knowledge of information resources, then what happens to those challenging, in-depth research projects that do find their way to the reference/information service desk?
The obvious answer might seem to be, “well, they get referred to the librarian.” To be sure, we can’t rule that situation out – it’s bound to happen sometimes. But I think that with an effective embedded librarianship program, it will be rather unusual. Instead, people will turn first to their embedded librarian for help, and those complex projects will never get to the reference desk.

With effective embedded librarianship in an academic or organizational setting, two things are accomplished. One is that information seekers are self-sufficient for many tasks, because the embedded librarian is providing instruction and otherwise helping them maintain their skills and knowledge. The second is that they know their librarian, understand that the librarian is accessible, and already has a good grasp of what they are working on. So, following the principle that people turn first to other people they know when seeking information, they turn first to their embedded librarian.

In this scenario, instead of the reference desk serving as the intake point for tasks referred to the embedded librarian, the embedded librarian serves as the information project coordinator, relying on reference desk and other centralized library staff for backup and support (like document delivery) when executing complex research or information management projects.

This is exactly what happened in my own past management experience when we implemented a strong embedded model. I thought the reference desk would be a key intake point for referring tasks to the embedded staff, but it never materialized. I’ve also observed this in my research.

For my next post, I think I’ll extend this point a bit and compare Help Desk management to reference services management. I promise to take less than 3 months to follow up with that!


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