In his landmark work regarding embedded librarianship, David Shumaker (The Embedded Librarian) has identified an emerging model for special librarianship, one based on a central corporate library or information center that has one or more of its librarians “embedded” in – and working as part of – operational units rather than being located in the library.
However, a related but as yet fairly undefined career path is also evolving, one where librarians who were staff in an existing corporate library are moved into embedded information positions when the corporate library is dissolved. In this case, the librarian is essentially “untethered” from any internal library facility (or resources), creating a very different working dynamic.
One of the most rewarding career paths open to LIS pros is working for LIS vendors; it can be a great way to redeploy both your specific skills and your knowledge of the LIS market. Your knowledge and job experience will be a valuable asset, and depending on the company you work for, you may have a wide range of growth opportunities.
Although you may feel you don’t have the personality for sales (although if you do, there’s some serious money to be made here), there are numerous other roles to play. These could include marketing, market research, account management, product development, external market communications (social/digital media), information/content development and/or management, indexing and abstracting, taxonomy work, customer product training, competitive intelligence research, and user testing, among other roles.
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.
Considering transitioning from a traditional LIS job to a job outside the familiar library roles? One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is figuring out how your traditional skill set “maps” to non-LIS positions.
In an effort to create a group of questions that could be replicated for each LIS role, I decided to take one job – reference librarian – and see how it could be taken apart as an LIS role and then parsed into non-LIS opportunities. A caveat here: I’ve never actually been a reference librarian, but have colleagues who’ve been willing to share their reference-librarian experiences with me, so this represents my best-guess interpretation of basic reference-librarian skills.
Here’s the process I would go through to map this role:
One of the ongoing challenges LIS students and professionals face is trying to figure out what skills, experience, and attitudes will enable us to make a viable contribution in the evolving workplace, be it traditional facilities-based librarianship, special librarianship, or some type of alternative LIS work.
In an effort to nail down some (any!) answers to this tough question, I tend to read as much as I can about the future of work in organizations, and recently came across an interesting publication published March 10, 2011, by the Aspen Institute, “The Future of Work: What It Means for Individuals, Businesses, Markets and Governments,” by David Bollier.
Recently I’ve been reading a book by Steven Rosenbaum called Curation Nation: Why the Future of Content is Context (McGraw Hill, 2011).
Rosenbaum’s premise is based on two ideas: “First, curation is about adding value from humans who add their qualitative judgment to whatever is being gathered and organized. And second, there is both amateur and professional curation, and the emergence of amateur or pro-sumer curators isn’t in any way a threat to professionals.”