Embedded librarianship refers to the delivery of library and/or information services outside of a physical library setting. Often this is as part of an operational team – whether in an academic or business or other organization setting. So, for example, in an academic environment, an embedded librarian might be working as part of an instructional design team for an online course, or working in collaboration with the course instructor to develop, monitor, and grade course assignments.
In a business environment, an embedded librarian might be working as part of the marketing team doing market research, or doing competitive intelligence hand-in-hand with the business development team, or doing patent research for the engineering department.
In a nonprofit organization, an embedded librarian might be working with the donor relations team, or aggregating topical resources as part of the website team, or researching community issues for the community outreach department.
These are basic examples of what can be very innovative roles; the bottom line, however, is that this type of “librarianship” is focused on adding value 1) at the point of need, 2) in a collaborative manner, and 3) with or without the existence of a centralized library. It’s also the role more and more special librarians are transitioning into as their libraries (perceived as overhead) are closed down.
One of the challenges in finding these types of jobs is that if you start out inside the organization, you’ll be familiar with the opportunities and be able to market yourself and your skills as the perfect solution.
The challenge comes when trying to figure out how to identify and move into these jobs when you’re not reaching out as part of an existing, centralized library. People may know they need information, but not realize that you’re the solution they’re looking for. For example, a new business development department may need someone who can find, interpret, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information to make it actionable. They’re looking for decision support.
Very rarely will people associate “librarian” with “killer information skill set” – which is, in fact, what we’ve got. So it’s up to you to find the match not in the titles for jobs that may be posted (or needed), but in the skills required.
Perhaps you’re already in an organization in a library role and either 1) you want to move out of that position into an embedded information professional one or 2) your library is going away and its staff is being laid off but you’d like to stay with the organization. How to start? By devising a strategy for demonstrating your value to potential internal employers. David Shumaker suggests three ways to address this situation;
Start with your friends. You want to actively seek out and build relationships with key information users throughout the organization – look for ways to use your information skills to help them achieve key business goals, come up with important “wins.” Essentially, you want to help them (and their department) succeed, so that they understand how much better life would be if you were a part of the team.
Lead with management contacts. There are people who love you, and there are people who love you and can make decisions to hire you. Make sure that the latter see, acknowledge, and come to rely on your expertise. Can you pull together statistics for that last-minute presentation they’ve got to give? Find the market analyst report whose findings substantiate a key business decision? Provide some other killer information that saves the day? The key here is to always focus on need to have, rather than nice to have. Nice to have means they’ll miss you when you’re not around; need to have means they’ll find a way to get you into the budget.
Volunteer. Take a tip from Procter & Gamble: nothing beats a free sample when it comes to getting people to see how good you are. You may find yourself doing your regular job and taking on a bit of additional work on your own time to be able to start building a new relationship (and demonstrating that killer skill set), but consider it an investment in your future. You’re doing the work necessary to create a potential new opportunity. Is there a guaranteed payoff? Nope. But increased visibility for your skills is always a good thing; you never know what it may lead to. What if you’re trying to find a job as an embedded information professional, but aren’t currently working in an organization’s library?
Other ideas for finding these types of jobs:
• Look for jobs that say things like researcher, analyst, information specialist, or business development support. If you’re an SLA member, cruise through the membership list to get an idea of some job titles that sound as if they might be something you could do, and search the job postings for those titles.
• Retool your resume with a focus on transferable skills. Describe your LIS skills in a way that resonates with your potential employer – use business language rather than LIS terms.
• Tell everyone you know that you’re taking your information skills in a new direction and are looking for opportunities to deploy your expertise with any of the following departments: marketing, communications and public relations, community affairs, competitive intelligence, or new business development. Be prepared to describe the kinds of work you could do to contribute value to each one of these functional areas.
Also, don’t hesitate to pitch a position for a company you’d like to work with – in other words, suggest a position that doesn’t currently exist. Contact the head of marketing (or any other department of interest), and tell him or her how you could add value to their group and help it achieve its goals. (I tend to avoid doing things like this by phone since I’m simply appallingly bad at phone conversations, so usually will do a written overview that I might, for example, present to someone over lunch.)
The benefits of the create-your-own-job approach include 1) no one knows what to call you, so you can often make up a cool title, 2) no one knows what to pay you, because there’s no precedent, so you can sometimes negotiate a higher salary, and 3) you get to make the job up as you go along, because no one else has done it before.
Bottom line: whether you’re an embedded librarian or an embedded information professional, moving your skills into operational units and becoming key participants in group outcomes may offer an increasingly important career opportunity for librarians and other information professionals.
Embedded Librarian Resources
The Embedded Librarian
David Shumaker has been in the forefront of the embedded librarian development and is generally considered the profession’s thought leader and most knowledgeable individual on this topic. Although I’m recommending his blog, I’m really recommending that you read anything David writes or researches on embedded librarianship. His blog presents his own thinking and research results related to embedded librarianship and also aggregates key information from others.
“The Embedded Librarian Program,” by Victoria Matthew and Ann Schroeder, Educause, v 29, no 4, 2006.
Although this is an older (Q4 2006) article, it provides a good overview of how embedded academic librarianship was designed into a series of online courses for a community college.
“Embedded Librarians,” Inside Higher Ed, June 9, 2010.
An overview of how a special library (Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins University) dismantled and distributed its resources and informational professionals to function as embedded librarians.
“Embedded Librarianship Part 1: Aligning With Organizational Strategy to Transform Information Into Knowledge,” by Reece Dano and Gretchen McNeely, FUMSI, February 2, 2011.
Focuses on strategic alignment with key stakeholders (i.e., the people who need and can benefit from your skills) and your role in transforming information into knowledge for your organization. See especially the six-step workflow outline.
Models of Embedded Librarianship
Given by “David Shumaker and Mary Talley and Friends” at the 2009 SLA Conference, this presentation provides an excellent overview of all aspects of embedded librarianship.