Archive for April, 2015

Solo Librarians and Embedded Librarians

April 4, 2015

A quick check indicates I’ve never blogged about solo librarians — an omission I’m now about to rectify.

Solo librarians, of course, are the only librarians in their organization. It might be a small law firm with just one librarian, or a small corporation, or even a unit — perhaps an R&D lab — in a large organization with no centralized library and no mechanism of communication and collaboration among librarians who are dispersed around the enterprise.

The question arises, what’s the difference between a solo librarian and an embedded librarian. It’s a great question, and it came up again last week in the context of the petition drive to start an embedded librarians caucus in SLA, which already has a Solo Librarians Division.

Here’s my answer:

Think of a Venn diagram with two partially intersecting sets. Some solos are embedded (more and more these days, I estimate) and some embedded librarians are solos.

That is, many solos function in close, collaborative working relationships with others in their organizations, and they have the characteristics of embedded librarianship that I’ve written and spoken about. But, although declining, there are still people who are the only librarian in the organization, who still function primarily as custodians of resources and answerers of ready reference questions; they are equally accessible to everyone and they are not closely collaborating with anyone. These solos do not fit the definition of embeddedness.

Take the other case. Many embedded librarians are organizationally attached to centralized library organizations, though they may spend their days away from the library and other librarians. They may have offices with the groups they are embedded with; they spend most of their time in collaboration with the teams whose work they are participating in. This matrixed organization is the model at MITRE, where I used to work; it’s written up in a couple of the case studies from my SLA-funded research; and it’s the predominant model in higher education. So, these librarians are embedded but they are not solos.

I think these will continue to be two distinct categories of librarians, though I’m personally not so optimistic about the prospects of solos who don’t develop the collaborative working relationships that characterize the embedded model. I think what we will see is more solos who are embedded and more networks of librarians who are embedded with units and work groups but also maintain connections with their peers across the enterprise.

By the way, we’ll be closing the SLA petition drive on April 10. SLA members, sign up now at to become a founding member!