A Job for You as an Embedded Librarian

by Tracy Wasserman, Head Editor, INALJ Florida

A Job for You as an Embedded Librarian

The traditional librarian sits at a reference desk somewhere, waiting for someone to ask, text, or email a question. Nowadays however, librarians are increasingly providing “point-of-need” services in the form of embedded librarianship, being a part of the instant human connection that is there at the time services are required without having to be asked first. For an excellent overview of embedded librarianship, read INALJ Rachel Altman’s article on embedded librarianship and the power of human connection.

I recently had the opportunity to serve as an embedded librarian as part of my LIS graduate studies. I and my fellow classmates in a Virtual Reference Services class were “embedded” into classes at another academic institution, in a pilot embedded librarianship program. We were each assigned as teaching assistants to distance education graduate business and education classes, and were given administration access to the Blackboard Collaborate host site for our assigned classes, and access to the global campus library website that included instructional resources, past questions answered and recorded by the university’s library and its sister institutions, and other systems, tools and apps used by the university’s librarians. As teaching assistants, we posted regularly to our class online discussion boards, with helpful tips and tutorials. My class was a capstone project class in administration, so I hit upon the strategy of direct emailing the students when they posted their project information, with research that might be helpful, before they asked for help. Most were very appreciative and found my research useful to their projects.

The takeaway from this experience was that people are often reluctant to ask for research help, thinking they can get by on their own, and then, Voila! up shows the librarian unannounced with some helpful advice at the right moment, and you have just maybe made a convert to the library for the future, and accomplished your mission as a librarian. This is the idea behind embedded librarianship, and many academic institutions in particular have implemented embedded librarian programs, where librarians are assigned directly to classes, especially research intensive classes. The program at the Hartness Library, which serves Vermont Tech and the Community Colleges of Vermont, allows professors to sign up for a librarian to be embedded in their classes either as a semester-long librarian or a guest librarian. Similar programs are popular at other institutions such as SUNY Orange in New York and at the Welch Medical Library of Johns Hopkins University, where the librarians are embedded as “informationists” in various departments.

Many job ads seeking librarians incorporate the words “embedded services” or “online help/ instruction” into their list of duties and/or responsibilities. In Florida, a recent job posting from an academic institution is looking for a librarian as an instructor in learning resources to assist in . . . ”embedded services, instructional support, Virtual College and online services,” while another school is seeking an online librarian to . . . “work as an embedded librarian inside online courses.”

Embedded librarians can be found not only in academic libraries, but many special libraries in corporations, government, law firms and medical institutions. Public libraries, too, are finding ways their librarians can partner with community organizations as embedded librarians. My favorite is the Ambulance Riding Librarian of Indianapolis.

There are many one-time embedded librarian success stories that report interest and enthusiasm in the idea. Sometimes, however, continuing a program may present problems in scalability and sustainability, where demand can outstrip supply, or budgeting. It takes vision and dedication to implement and sustain an embedded librarianship program, and you may be just the person to succeed! So get yourself out there; maybe you can find a need and create a niche as an embedded librarian where you are currently employed, or seek out an opportunity at an existing successful program by regularly searching INALJ’s job postings for the right fit.

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