The term embedded….and its derivatives embeddedness and embedment….when applied to libraries, librarians and library services felt trendy to me at first and a bit co-opted. I don’t think I’m alone in that reaction. When I toss this term about with people outside the profession, it often causes a snort of laughter or at least a bit of a raised eyebrow. But these responses are almost always followed by either a skeptically or sincerely posed question: “What is that exactly?!”
The answer….the embedded library model and its practice….is anything but trendy and co-opted. It is, in fact, important, positive, sustainable and a perfectly logical extension of the library profession’s core principle of service. To me, while the term embedded is relatively new, the efforts it encapsulates — to customize services to our users and to be out there and in there with our users where ever and whenever they need help — are not new. Back in the day, the bookmobile was an innovative embed. Branch libraries that cropped up in strip malls in the 70s were an embed. These are examples of libraries “taking it to the people” before we had a hip term, like embedded, to bandy about.
I believe that libraries have certainly earned the right to co-opt a shiny new term! How we embed is now dramatically different in terms of the breadth and depth of the information and services that we can offer and the myriad ways in which they can be delivered. Embedded library services are a many faceted gemstone of possibilities. The traditional desk-hugging librarian is now an increasingly rare specimen. The beauty of the trendy term embedded is that it is attention grabbing. It makes people outside the profession –as well as any remaining desk-huggers within – wonder, inquire and then, hopefully, nod their heads in recognition at the logic of it all.
I read David Shumaker’s fine distinctions of embedded librarianship with interest. He clearly sees advantages to a taxonomy that sets the virtual, the personal, the consulting, the roving and the embedded librarian apart from one another. But I wonder whether these distinctions set up obstacles to adopting what works for individual libraries. Do Shumaker’s fine parsings of the term hold up…or even matter…in practice?
Perhaps I feel this way because I have already hijacked the term embedded for my high school library setting and I’m loath to part with it. My self-described embedded experience is a daily reality. It so absorbs my work life and sloshes over to my after-hours that it can interfere with all else…..including writing this blog post in a timely way! Our high school adopted a 1:1 Mac laptop program three years ago, enabling a shift toward a moveable feast of library services during the school day and virtual presence 24/7. The shift has gotten some real traction recently. Since our LIBR 220 course started just over a week ago, I have delivered the following library services in an embedded-esque (new term….feel free to co-opt!) manner:
- IL instruction for our 9th grade I-Search research project, combining a flipped classroom series of tutorials with in-classroom instruction.
- Introduction of a project-specific LibGuide for a long-term research project for AP Environmental Science course.
- Design & introduction of a LibGuide for a weeklong exploration of revolutionary movements for World History, including providing in-classroom, targeted database search advice with each small group on their chosen revolutionary movement.
- In-classroom targeted database search instruction for an upper level Japan Seminar course research project.
- Design of a LibGuide for research projects in Psychology, to be unveiled in the classroom next week.
Our new high school library efforts don’t neatly fit Shumaker’s careful definition of embedded. We are an untidy hybrid of virtual, roving, consulting, personal embeddedness with necessary remnants of the traditional practice still. We are a work-in-progress. But I think we are re-imagining our services in line with the embedded model. The activities I list briefly above are the product of much effort, including the wooing of faculty, proactive marketing of prototypes and collaborative discussion to refine them. In turn, these embedded practices spin off a multitude of projects and the promise of longterm partnerships that are both supremely satisfying and daunting. These efforts to embed at the heart of learning in our high school is reinvigorating our role in the lives of faculty and students.
Curb service 10,000 current books – convenient, free, time saving: Chicago Public Library, Randolph St. corridor [Poster]. (ca. 1936-1941). Chicago: Illinois WPA Arts Project. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/98508385/
Shumaker, D. (2012). Defining embedded librarianship. In The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed. Medford, NJ: Information Today.