Research Skills

May 18, 2016 by

Embedded librarians perform a wide variety of functions, but two stand out: research, and teaching about research. The SLA-sponsored study that Mary Talley and I published in 2009 found that these broad categories described the most common tasks, and I don’t have any reason to think that that has changed in the meantime.

That’s why I think many readers of this blog may be interested in an article by Dan Russell in the Winter 2015 issue of AI Magazine, which is published by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

Russell is a research scientist with Google and has been a go-to guru on search functionality for years. The article is entitled, “What Do You Need to Know to Use a Search Engine? Why We Still Need to Teach Research Skills.” Thus, it’s a Google scientist’s statement of why Google’s not a panacea, powerful though it is. Embedded librarians and other librarians can learn some lessons from the article in how to articulate to our non-librarian colleagues why research skills and information literacy matter. As the abstract says, in part: “… knowing how to frame questions and evaluate their results for accuracy and credibility remains an ongoing challenge. Some questions are still deep and complex … And the fact that the underlying information content, user interfaces, and capabilities are all in a continual state of change means that searchers need to continually update their knowledge of what these programs can (and cannot) do.”

It’s also a good reminder to us librarians that research skills — the ability to use them as well as teach them — continue to be a critical asset for us. Frankly, sometimes I get the idea that a lot of librarians and library science students just want to focus on amassing digital collections of “stuff” and have abandoned any interest in retrieval and research technologies and the research process.

Anyway, I hope you read the article, and I’d love to get your comments on it.


Special Libraries Association Releases Revised Statement of Professional Competencies

May 4, 2016 by

At its April 13 meeting, the Special Libraries Association (SLA) Board of Directors approved a revised Statement of Professional Competencies. This new document continues SLA’s 20-year history of leadership in articulating the evolving competencies of librarians and other information professionals.

You can see it at, and there’s a blog post by Carolyn Sosnowski, a member of the task force that drafted the document, at . (Full disclosure: I chaired the task force.)

But why is this important to embedded librarians? One of the important innovations in this new document is the separation of competencies into “core” and “enabling”. “Core” competencies are those that are unique to our profession. The hope is that having this list can help with one of the challenges that embedded librarians face when starting new engagements: how to articulate what they do to others. The “enabling” competencies are the ones that are not unique to librarians, but are nonetheless vital to successful performance. Embedded librarians may need these more than any other librarians, because they have so much contact with so many diverse members of their communities and organizations.

So, I encourage you to take a look at the new competencies, try them on, and see how they fit. If you have comments, I’d love to hear from you.

Embedded Librarians Caucus Releases Webinar Recording

April 29, 2016 by

The Special Libraries Association’s Embedded Librarians Caucus has released the recording of its webinar, “How To Get An Embedded Librarian Job”, which was recorded last December 15.

Featured speakers were:

  • Rachael Altman, Corporate Research Analyst, Grant Thornton International, Ltd.
  • Mia Breitkopf, Connected Learning Coordinator,Aresty Institute of Executive Education,The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
  • Nadine Anderson, Behavioral Sciences Librarian, University of Michigan-Dearborn
  • Jamie Marie Keller-Aschenbach, Head of Research and Access Services, Florida Coastal School of Law
  • George Peckham-Rooney, Data and Operations Specialist, Seyfarth Shaw

Enjoy! And if you have comments or questions, post them here or on the Caucus website, .

“Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch”

March 14, 2016 by

I read this phrase in an article in yesterday’s Washington Post. (See citation below.) The article is about a U.S. company’s expansion into the Russian marketplace. Apparently the company has been very successful despite many challenges in doing business in Russia over the past decade or more. The article ends with the observation that “[c]ompanies bent on expanding abroad must be attuned to the culture of a country and enmeshed in its life to truly succeed. … ‘Culture eats strategy for lunch.'”

You may ask, what in the world does this have to do with embedded librarianship?

Here’s the thing: I still see librarians setting strategy in a vacuum. They get it that the library walls have come down, and that library services now need to reach outside the building, but they develop their plans without really taking into account — and becoming part of — the life and culture of their communities. They approach the community as outsiders from “the library”, rather than building their identity as members of that community. One of the advantages that effective embedded librarianship brings is engagement, so that the librarians really become “enmeshed” in their communities. So, take a fresh look at your strategy. Does it really make your library operation a part of the community you serve? If not, you may want to integrate embedded librarianship into it. Or, culture may eat it for lunch…

Reference: Fairchild, G. (2016, March 13) “Selling in Russia? ‘Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch.'” Washington Post, p. G2.

Word of the Day

December 27, 2015 by

I’ve recently learned a new word that I like a lot. It’s more than the word of the day — it may be the word of the year. You  won’t find it in the Britannica/Webster’s dictionary or the OED. There’s no Wikipedia entry for it (somebody should take care of that!) Based on a quick review of my university library’s discovery service, Google Scholar, and Google, it appears to have been coined in 2007 by Gunther Eysenbach of the University of Toronto.

The word is “Apomediation”. Here’s how Eysenbach defines the role of the “apomediary”: “The agents that replace intermediaries in the digital media context may be called ‘apomediaries,’ because rather than mediating by standing ‘in between’ (inter-) consumers and the services or information they seek, they ‘stand by’ (apo-) and provide added value from the outside…”* In other words, the apomediary isn’t a gatekeeper standing between information and the information seeker (the traditional concept of the librarian’s role), but a guide, advisor, and facilitator who works with the information seeker to help focus attention on the best, most important information.

This is a useful way to think about the role of the embedded librarian, for whom the traditional intermediary role has become outmoded and inaccurate. When we talk about the embedded librarian as collaborator or partner, we can’t be talking about the old gatekeeper / intermediary model. “Apomediation” is a great word to describe the new model that has to replace the intermediary.

I was introduced to the term by an excerpt from the book, “Library 3.0: Intelligent Libraries and Apomediation”, by Tom Kwanya, Christine Stilwell and Peter G. Underwood, who write extensively about the role of the apomediary librarian. Though they don’t use the term “embedded”, the relationship they describe between librarians and community members dovetails extremely well with embedded librarianship. Elsevier has made the excerpt available in a collection entitled “Facing Contemporary Challenges in Librarianship” which you can find at . It’s also on ScienceDirect.

*Here’s the citation to Eysenbach’s original article: Eysenbach, G. (2007). From intermediation to disintermediation and apomediation: new models for consumers to access and assess the credibility of health information in the age of Web 2. 0. In Studies in health technology and informatics: Vol. 129 (162–166). IOS Press.

Embedded Librarians on Twitter

September 15, 2015 by

We’re moving ahead with the new SLA Embedded Librarians Caucus. The latest step forward is our Twitter account, @SLAEmbedded . If you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow us. Thanks to Laura Williams, Nadine Anderson, and Jack Dale for setting this up!

More progress is on the way, including a website and plans for a webinar later this year. If you’d like to advance the practice of embedded librarianship, please join us!

Library Strategy

August 25, 2015 by

I’ve avoided writing about strategy for a long time. In large part that’s because the words “strategy” and “strategic” are so over-used these days. In the Special Libraries Association, where I focus a lot of my attention, it seems sometimes like they show up in every other sentence. There was even a proposal to rename the association as the Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals a few years ago. I didn’t get it — I could never figure out what was wrong with being a tactical knowledge professional. “Strategic” seems to have become synonymous with “valuable” or “worthwhile” or “successful”, and that’s wrong.

But my thinking was refreshed recently by a chain of readings that sent me back to one of the gold sources on strategy, Michael Porter’s 1996 Harvard Business Review article, “What Is Strategy?” Here’s what Porter has to say (HBR, Nov/Dec 1996, p. 68): “Strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position involving a different set of activities.” And (p. 75) “Strategy is creating fit among a company’s activities. The success of a strategy depends on doing many things well — not just a few — and integrating among them.”

Those statements provide a framework for understanding the basic task for libraries and librarians today, and the role of embedded librarianship.

For decades, if not centuries, librarians had a “valuable position” based on the integration of a set of activities focused on acquiring information resources and making them available — collections and access. Our position was unique. We had no competition. Then came the revolution of the 1990s, which is still underway. Many types of information became readily and cheaply available from a variety of sources. The position of librarians that was built on collections and access was no longer unique and valuable. (Yes, there are exceptions, as well as different rates of change in different sectors.)

However, the revolution in information ubiquity brought along with it new problems, including problems of attention, analysis, and interpretation. Librarians actually have a number of competencies that can be combined with new ones to form a new set of integrated activities as the basis of a new “unique and valuable” position — a new strategy — that addresses these new problems.

I do not think that embedded librarianship is the new strategy. In some situations it could be. But in others, it is an essential component of the strategy: a subset, made up of a number of integrated activities itself and in turn integrating with other activities, to establish a new unique and valuable position for librarians.

One more thing. Porter also acknowledges that “Operational effectiveness and strategy are both necessary to superior performance”. (p. 61) So it’s okay to be tactical too.

Is Knowledge Power?

August 12, 2015 by

You can’t get through a course of study in librarianship without hearing the adage “knowledge is power” or its variant “information is power”. It’s often repeated but rarely examined, though a few cynics have asked why, if it’s true, librarians are not running the world.

Well, a current news story gives us a fresh opportunity to examine the validity of that old saying. The New York Times version is headlined “Nine Charged in Insider Trading Case Tied to Hackers” ( ) According to the story, the scheme involved breaking into the computer systems of news distributors like PR Newswire and Business Wire, getting advance access to press releases, and trading on the information in advance of its becoming public. The Times says the scheme yielded over $100 million — pretty powerful.

Yet there’s nothing exotic about the information the hackers obtained — millions (billions) of us have access to the same news on the web and our favorite digital library resources. We have the same information the hackers had. But they had a few things the rest of us lacked: timing (they got it first), context (they knew what the news meant), ability to act (they had the mechanisms to trade on the information), and motivation to act (they were willing to take the risks — in this case legal — to use the information).

So I think this story is yet another reminder that knowledge, or information, alone is not power. The value of information is not inherent in the information by itself. And if librarians want to make a difference (what are power and influence after all but “making a difference”) then we cannot just deal with information in isolation — we have to be engaged in the use of the information: timing, context, ability, and motivation to act.

While you’re doing that, though, just keep your ethics with you at all times!

Words of Wisdom

July 8, 2015 by

I’ve just been reading the Dec. 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review, and points made in 2 of the articles really resonated with my thinking about embedded librarianship.

Advice in the article “Why Corporate Functions Stumble”, by Kunisch, Muller-Stewens, and Campbell, reads like a primer for librarians and knowledge managers (who are, after all, a corporate function): start small, focus on quick wins, don’t try to do everything all at once, etc. But my favorite sentence is this: “Managers who see themselves as functional professionals and don’t feel a need to fully understand the company’s divisions are guaranteed to antagonize business units.” Just substitute “librarians” for “managers”.

That’s followed by Keith Ferrazzi’s “Getting Virtual Teams Right”. Many embedded librarians end up on cross-functional teams, virtual or not, and the role can feel uncomfortable, especially for those new to it. Ferrazzi gives good advice, targeted to team leaders, on how to make virtual teams work. The same advice is useful for any team member on what to look for in a well-led team, and maybe some suggestions to make to your team lead too!

Over and over, articles like these have convinced me that we are not engaged in anything unique when we practice embedded librarianship — we are going through experiences that are common to other organizational functions as well, and we can gain a lot by applying the lessons from these other functions to our own practice.

Embedded Librarianship News Updates

May 29, 2015 by

I have two exciting news items to report:

First, I’ll be presenting a webinar for the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) next Wednesday, June 3, at 2:30 p.m. US Eastern time. It’s entitled “Embedded Librarianship: Connecting the Dots, and Avoiding the Pitfalls.” For more details on the agenda and registration, please visit ,

Second, the Special Libraries Association Board of Directors approved the formation of an Embedded Librarians Caucus at its May meeting. Over 100 SLA members signed the petition to form the caucus! We’ll hold a kickoff meeting at the upcoming SLA Annual Conference on Tuesday, June 16 at 9:45 a.m. All members and prospective members are invited to attend!