Lessons from Successful Embedded Librarians: The Most Recent Phase of an SLA-Funded Research Project on Embedded Librarianship Offers Some New Insights and Five 'Bottom Line' Recommendations for Success

By Shumaker, David; Makins, Alison | Information Outlook, May-June 2012 | Go to article overview

Lessons from Successful Embedded Librarians: The Most Recent Phase of an SLA-Funded Research Project on Embedded Librarianship Offers Some New Insights and Five 'Bottom Line' Recommendations for Success


Shumaker, David, Makins, Alison, Information Outlook


Several key characteristics distinguish embedded librarians from librarians who provide traditional library and information services. Embedded librarians form strong working relationships with specific teams of information users. As they gain deep knowledge of the team's work, they become partners in the work of the group. They are able to take on new roles, share responsibility for the achievement of team goals, and deliver essential contributions that enable the team to achieve its objectives.

Embedded librarians exemplify the "future ready" positioning that SLA is encouraging information professionals to adopt. Since 2008, SLA has been funding an embedded librarianship research project to study this new wave in the profession. The project's goals are to--

* Define criteria of "embeddedness" for library and information service programs;

* Define indicators of success and identify successful (model) programs;

* Collect data about the practices followed by model programs in initiating, operating, and evaluating their services; and

* Develop recommendations for other librarians who are seeking to implement embedded services.

Earlier project findings have been reported in a June 2009 "Final Report," several Information Outlook articles, and elsewhere (see the bibliography at the end of the article for complete citations). This article summarizes the most recent phase of the project. It briefly describes how the work was performed, presents its findings, and offers five "bottom line" recommendations for success. A more detailed report, Models of Embedded Librarianship Final Report 2011 Addendum, can be found on SLA's Website.

Research Methodology

In this phase of the research, the aim was to gain greater insight into the practices of selected embedded librarianship programs that have been successful over a substantial period of time. Six organizations were selected for study. All had operated their embedded programs for five years or more, and all had seen demand for their work grow over time.

Of the six programs, three were in institutions of higher education--one in a community college system, one in a for-profit university, and the third in a medium-sized research university. The other three were in a mixture of settings--a not-for-profit corporation, a large international law firm, and a large, for-profit multinational corporation.

Site visits were made to all six programs during June 2011. Each visit included semi-structured interviews with embedded librarians, library and information services managers, information users, and senior managers. (In one visit, an unexpected schedule conflict precluded meeting with an information user group senior manager.) Interviews were recorded and summarized.

The Findings: Four Themes

While conducting the interviews and analyzing the recordings and notes, we focused on four themes that had been identified by earlier research as potentially important success factors. The research goal was to understand these themes in more depth and look for patterns of consistent practices. The four themes were as follows:

* Nature of the librarians' contributions: What is the nature of the work performed by embedded librarians?

* Communication and promotion: How do members of the organization learn that librarians are available to work with them?

* Evaluation: How is the work of embedded librarians evaluated?

* Management advocacy: How do library managers, information user group managers, and senior organizational leaders support the embedded model?

The results were mixed. In some areas, the six organizations shared similar practices and approaches, but in others, local circumstances clearly dictated their behavior. Following are the highlights of our findings.

Nature of the librarians' contributions. The most obvious pattern we found was that the librarians at all three academic institutions are focused on information literacy instruction. …

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