Archive for August, 2014

If You Have to Ask …

August 31, 2014

Recently, I was re-reading an old document (from 1993, actually) that contained advice I’ve seen over and over in the library literature, and disagree with pretty strongly.

Talking about corporate librarians, the authors say that “a large number of our potential customers do not use our services” and go on to advocate that “we should interview non-customers whenever possible. We can ask how they obtain and use information and what we could do to provide it.”

While I applaud the emphasis on outreach, I have two problems with this line of thinking.

First, we shouldn’t be measured solely by our reach, or what proportion of our potential audience comes in contact with us in some way. That may be a more important measure in some contexts than others. But as a rule it’s more important that we reach the right audiences — the ones who need us the most. Where, in the corporation, government agency, law firm, etc. can we have the biggest impact? In the university, which courses have the heaviest information fluency component? Embed instruction in those — don’t worry about the rest.

Second, I’ve generally found that asking people about their information behavior is a relatively unproductive exercise. There are exceptions, but for the most part, they don’t tend to think about it. They’re not aware of the options they could have. Information is secondary, it’s a tool to get some other goal accomplished. It’s that goal that they’re focused on. So instead of asking them about information, ask them what they’re working on. Better yet, observe what they’re working on. And by all means don’t ask them what you should do to provide information. Two skills the librarian should bring are the ability to  analyze the information dimension of a situation, and the ability to improve it. If we can’t do that, then they probably don’t need us. But we shouldn’t be asking our “potential customers” to do our job for us.

Both of these points fit well with embedded librarianship. Embedded librarians should think strategically about where to embed: who needs us the most; where can we have the greatest impact? And the more embedded librarians collaborate with a group, the more we understand the nature of their work, and the role of information and knowledge in it — and the more opportunities we see to make a difference. So, we don’t have to ask — we know.


Law Firm Librarians Moving Quickly to Embedded Model

August 1, 2014

Over at the Dewey B Strategic blog, Jean O’Grady reports a few tidbits from the American Lawyer 2014 survey of law firm librarians. Among those tidbits: “81% of are embedding librarian in practice groups up from 14% in 2012.

That’s an amazing change! It sounds like embedded librarianship has become standard operating practice in law firms. Not that I’m surprised — in my SLA-funded research I studied a leading firm that had an outstanding program, and that was back in 2009 and 2011. It’s great to see the practice spreading!

(The ALM survey report is here; but unfortunately it’s behind a paywall.)