The popularity of embedded librarian programs in academic libraries is no doubt one result of the profession’s need to redefine its service model in a time of dramatic changes in information architecture, production, and access. As Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg’s 2009 report, “Lessons Learned: How College Students Seek Information in the Digital Age” [pdf], shows, students bypass librarians in order to access academic resources the vast majority of the time. We gave up our roles as information gatekeepers in the last century and, not soon after, began to see our roles as information guides slip away as well. Our response: redefine the role of the academic librarian in the research process.
The professional literature provides a number of successful examples of embedded librarianship: Tumbleson & Burke (2010) focused on the relationship between faculty and librarians in Blackboard for distance education students, going beyond simple course integration. Librarians at the Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins University and Purdue University Libraries embedded librarians outside the library to become partners in faculty research (Brandt, 2007; Kolowich, 2010). Kesselman & Watstein (2009) provide a number of other successful examples, including one program at Rutgers which brought together librarians, faculty, and students from the Food Science, Nutritional Sciences, the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, and the School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies to solve real-world problems in the food industry (the librarians also helped faculty co-write the grant for the program).
All of these projects are examples of meaningful integration. I’ve been ruminating on this phrase for a few weeks now, trying to think of ways in which our services can be meaningful to students and faculty. It isn’t enough to simply be useful, though that is certainly one aspect of it. I started writing down a list of characteristics that, to me, help define “meaningful integration”:
Library services must be transformative.
If we want to make a difference, we have to change the way students perceive information resources, research, and, in turn, our role in the process. We need to elicit change that shakes the foundation and produces visible (preferably measurable, but I’ll take visible) results. Notably, we have to inspire change in individuals and so:
Library services must be personal.
While we make broad sweeps to change what we do, we also need to focus on the relationships we have with individual faculty and students. If social media has taught us anything over the past decade, it’s that the individual has a tremendous impact on local communities and social groups. Dramatically changing one person’s perception of the library (or research, or information, etc.) has the potential to ripple outward to others. To make these personal connections happen, we need to be “close to the metal” of academic life, whether that be faculty research or student coursework, and so:
Library services must be where the action is.
Every connection starts with a shake of the hand, be it face-to-face or virtual, but we need to be there, standing next to our user, to make it happen.
Each of these characteristics work together to bolster the effects of the other. It seems to me (and I haven’t quite worked out the “how” yet) that the three are inseparable and indispensable if our aim is to become meaningfully integrated into the shifting information landscape. I would even go so far to say that they provide a recipe for success regardless of any and all future changes in libraries, the academy, and information architecture.
And there you have it: your strategic plan for the day. =)
Brandt, D.S. (2007). Librarians as partners in e-research: Purdue University Libraries promote collaboration. C&RL News 68(6), 365-367, 396.
Kolowich, S. (2010, June 9). Embedded librarians. Inside Higher Ed. Available at http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/06/09/hopkins
Kesselman, M. A. & Watstein, S. B. (2009). Creating opportunities: Embedded librarians. Journal of Library Administration, 49(4), 383-400.
Tumbleson, B.E. & Burke, J.J. (2010). When life hands you lemons: Overcoming obstacles to expand services in an embedded librarian program. Journal of Library Administration, 50(7-8), 978-988.