The Stealthy Embedded Librarian


This post is inspired by an article I read recently in the March 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review. (I’m always behind in my reading…)

The article is “The Case for Stealth Innovation” by Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg. The authors discuss the advantages and requirements for introducing innovations quietly, not attracting senior management attention until the innovation is well established, “flying under the radar.” While the stealthy approach has its requirements, like finding allies who will support you, it avoids the possibility that by seeking permission, you’ll receive a premature “no” from an executive who doesn’t “get” your proposal.

The stealthy approach resonates with the challenges of initiating embedded librarianship. In the organizations I’ve studied, there are some that have taken the non-stealthy approach, and others that have employed a more bottom-up strategy. To be sure, there are cases in which senior executives push the librarian into an embedded role. That’s great, if the boss is alert and understands the opportunity for the librarian to contribute. I’ve seen examples of that in my research.

But when you don’t have a senior leader like that, finding an ally in middle management may be the best — or only — way to go. I like to think that in healthy organizations, power will be distributed sufficiently that a library manager and the manager of a group that needs an embedded librarian can make it happen without having to get senior approval. Then, they get the opportunity to prove the concept before publicizing it widely.


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