Embedded Librarians – AALL Session Review

Embedding Librarians to Add Value to Your Institution
Tuesday, July 24

This session was interesting for its content and unique in its format.  The hour and half session was divided into two parts. The session began with a traditional panel discussion that was followed by breakout sessions. I often cringe at suggestion of “breakout” sessions but in this case it was a prefect way to both learn about and discuss the topic.

David Shumaker, one of our field’s recognized authorities on embedded librarianship and professor at Catholic University’s School of Library and Information Science began discussing the evolution of embedded librarianship. He noted that while this model may be ideal for many environments, it not a magic bullet. Embedded librarianship also requires a unique set of skills that are not often highlighted in library school and something that David believes needs to quickly change.

His presentation was followed by Marguerita T. Young-Jones of Reed Smith LLP who discussed the success Reed Smith has had with the embedded model.  Marguerita noted some of the potential problems with embedded librarianship like “mission creep” have surfaced in her experience. “Mission creep” is when librarians are asked to do non-librarian tasks. Talented and responsive embedded librarians may be rewarded with requests to assist or perform tasks outside of our area of expertise and requires a deft response so keep the client happy but not take on additional unrelated duties.

Finally, Owen G. Smith, of the 6th Circuit Library of the U.S. Court of Appeals discussed a draft plan he working on to embedded libraries with judges. Owen noted that introducing librarians into judge’s chambers  (or at least nearby) has a special set of challenges but when presented as a way to save money and space, while increasing service, judges are very willing to listen.

After these presentations the audience was asked to participate in breakout sessions by library type: academic, private and court. I attended the court group which consisted of about a dozen court librarians mostly from federal libraries. Owen described detail his concept of embedded librarians could be an excellent model if the right librarian(s) could be found. We also discussed how this type of librarianship is not for everyone and does demand a special set of skills. And although many of us clearly think the embedded librarian is a terrific idea a for courts, there was general agreement that a better title is needed market and sell to our courts.. Owen said he was using “librarians without walls.”

I thought the breakout idea, after the general session was a terrific idea.  The smaller groups gave us a chance to discuss the topic from a more “local” point of view that would not be possible in a large group.  It is also much easier to ask delicate questions that may not be appropriate for a larger audience.  I hope AALL considers expanding this format for next year. I had mentioned new format to another attendee who as it turns out was at the “firm” library breakout session. She said she liked the concept but her group was too large to have a real discussion. Our courts group was a perfect size but the room we were given for our breakout session was not ideal. While this format does present more challenges than traditional session, the problems we experienced could easily be overcome.
PS–David Shumaker just published a new book, The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Talking Knowledge to Where It’s Needed.  He says, “this new model is replacing traditional reference librarianship, and is changing the profession at the same time–replacing outdated stereotypes with a new image of effective competence and engagement. ”  I hope to have a book review in the next issue of LLAM eNews.