What does ‘Embedded Librarian’ mean?

Over on LinkedIn there is a discussion about what the term ’embedded librarian’ means, if anything at all! The consensus seems to be that it means a library or information professional working within a team (usually clinical?) outside of the library walls. I think there’s slightly more to it than that. I came across this term in some reading I was doing back in 2007/8 and tried to make sense of it without much success at that time.  However, I think there, it had got slightly confused with the term ‘blended librarian’ – meaning a blended skills set.

So I turn to Schumaker* who has written extensively on the subject. There is a willingness to lean towards the literal meaning of  ‘an integral part to the whole’. I have chosen to call the post “what does ’embedded librarian mean?” because I want to ask the question not only of the term itself, but also what it means to next generation Librarians.

Embedded Librarians, who are they?

Embedded librarian essentially to me, means partnerships. Instead of working outside of the  remit of the researcher, the student, the corporate group, it means having a partnership with, and being part of the outcomes. This is where ‘integral’ comes in. There is also a physical location element to this, and I have already mentioned the breaking down of the restriction of working within the Library walls. Integral is the key word, and this is significantly where this role differs and diversifies from the traditional reference work of a librarian.

Schumaker compares the two roles decidedly eloquently when he outlines the differences between traditional and embedded librarianship.

Responsive v. anticipatory

Individual customer v. Team of collaborators

Standardized v. Customized

Single transactions v. Ongoing Projects

Service v. Partnership

So, are you sitting there wondering if you may be an embedded librarian but you just don’t have the title? It is important to note that this may be a situation other than academic. For example, you may be a medical librarian. You may be an records archivist. You may be working within a school. If you are involved in projects, working within a team of collaborators, forming partnerships, taking responsibility for outcomes, then this may be you!

The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed

David Shumaker, published by Information Today Inc (16 July 2012)

Here is the first comprehensive survey of the growing practice of “embedded librarianship”—a strategic model for placing information professionals into partnerships with the individuals and working groups that depend upon their knowledge and expertise. David Shumaker looks at implementations in all types of organizations, identifies the characteristics of successful embedded librarians, and explains how information professionals in public, academic, school, medical, law, and other specialized library settings are using embedded librarianship principles to enhance their work and careers. – Waterstones

The thing about Embedded Librarians, is that they have an impact on professional and paraprofessional Librarians. This is where we have to return to the skills set needed across the board in the library sphere which I have talked about before.

Next Generation Librarians

Out there, in the big wide yonder, there are Librarians sans  qualification, doing a great job. These are usually referred to as ParaProfessionals. They are however, professional! These people, are the ones who will be picking up the slack and filling the gap left by the Embedded Librarian – the Librarian who no longer has the remit of dealing with enquiries, short reference questions, service issues, and ‘clerical’ type work. In his blog post for ‘Embedded Librarian’ entitled Para-Librarians and Embedded Librarians – Part 1Schumaker goes on to say ‘that term “paraprofessional” is odd. In the legal profession, there are paralegals. In the medical profession, there are paramedics. So why do we not use the term paralibrarians? It turns out that “paralibrarian” isn’t a brand new word. In fact, it first appeared in print almost exactly 20 years ago, in an editorial by John Berry in the Nov. 1, 1992 Library Journal.’ He also goes on to say that what is likely to occur is that paralibrarians will end up assuming greater responsibility for running that physical space we call the library.’ I think this is true as it is possible to see that a para-Librarian dealing with metadata, could indeed end up dealing with service desk enquiries, referencing issues and indeed search issues at service level. So we have to ask ourselves if this is a bad thing for the para-Librarian? I could see where this could cause some potential issues. In my experience the Acquisitions librarian, or the Metadata librarian may be an introverted “head down” type person who is solely focused on providing collection management on a theoretical level rather than a “shop floor” level. Is this a good thing? I would say not. One of the longest running problems with libraries is communication and the division between areas of responsibility. Fundamentally it is important to conjoin teams in any situation where each is essential to the whole. That issue is a huge topic, but what I find myself asking here, is that are these para-Librarians equipped to presume some of the role of the former Librarian who is now enjoying his or her new and challenging and progressive Embedded Librarian role? 

“Embedded librarianship is rapidly emerging as the defining role of special librarians, and David Shumaker’s seminal work is just the roadmap we need to understand this important new opportunity for information professionals.”

—Kim Dority, author,Rethinking Information Work

‘thoughts from scarlettlibrarian’


One thought on “What does ‘Embedded Librarian’ mean?

  1. I personally agree with the all ideas about embedded librarian. When i was in library and information college, i heared when my professor said “librarian is a master of non, but a container of all” the main reason why he said this is that, we have to have some knowing about each subject area, Unless we are not able to organized the library collection as it is expected to be.

    I worked as library professional, yes there a lot of things are expected from me, Setting strategic plan, digitization, networking, how do we make accessible our printed collection specially when i am working in national library of Ethiopia, we have many collection which have to make great contribution to development of education, science and cultural integrate, but this collection are only available in Addis Ababa. But there many users looking these manuscript, so we started thinking to make accessible, we do have different archival collection which have great demand by many scholars, because of these and other factors we become
    “Schumaker compares the two roles decidedly eloquently when he outlines the differences between traditional and embedded librarianship.

    Responsive v. anticipatory

    Individual customer v. Team of collaborators

    Standardized v. Customized

    Single transactions v. Ongoing Projects

    Service v. Partnership”
    so today people working in National Archives and Library of Ethiopia are contributing to the development of our country, in education, science, cultural development, tourism, integration world development and cultural changes.

    Librarian to be anticipatory, team of collaborators, customized, ongoing projects and partnership should be by default. These because today we are dealing with internet connectivity, metadata, datamining, datacogitation, ebooks, knowledge organization, and the demand from user.

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