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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Embedded librarianship: A New Challenge for Subject Librarians?

by Sushiela Naidoo

Subject Librarians are now in the forefront of research as Universities in South Africa and the international sphere focus on the research output of institutions of higher learning. The grading of Universities such as the Shangai academic ranking of universities has given many universities the impetus to be acknowledged in the top universities in the world. Librarians, especially subject librarians are now being called upon to realign their portfolios in order to help increase the research output. Hence, as librarians seek to redefine themselves, the model of embedded librarianship is generating interest as an effective means of applying the knowledge and skills of subject librarians towards the information challenges of the digital age. This increases the prominence of a librarian within the context of the academic process has the effect of adapting the role of the subject librarian to include educator. The subject librarian would then be listed on syllabi and introduced to classes as a co-instructor, forcing students to recognise that the research components of the course are as important as the composition. Having the librarian serve as an evaluator of a student's performance, and perhaps even assign a grade to at least a portion of a student's work, sends a powerful message to undergraduates that the librarian is a significant player in their educational experience.
What is an embedded librarian?
Embedded librarianship takes a librarian out of the context of the traditional library and places him or her in an “on-site” setting or situation that enables close coordination and collaboration with researchers or teaching faculty. The concept behind the embedded librarianship model is to enable librarians to demonstrate their expertise as information specialists and to apply this expertise in ways that will have a direct impact on the research and teaching visions of the university. With embedded librarianship, librarians move from a supporting role into partnerships with their clientele, enabling librarians to develop stronger connections and relationships with those they serve.
If librarians truly wish to be where the user is and to be user-centric, they need to be present in those spaces that users are. Embedded librarianship is a major focus for the future for the profession. The physical library will continue to provide  a place for research, for study, and for group work. But, with the dramatic increase in electronic resources and technological capabilities, bringing the library and the librarian to the user, wherever they are—office, laboratory, home, or even on their mobile device—is at the forefront of what it means to be embedded. 
The new role of the embedded librarian
Subject librarians are challenged as to whether they can align themselves to the new portfolio of becoming embedded librarians. The new role redefines the workflows of these librarians. Being a team player; securing support from your organization and colleagues; having an entrepreneurial mindset; accepting risk; translating library science to other disciplines; building trusted relationships; moving out of comfort zones are new concepts for the embedded librarian to embrace in the future.
The embedded librarian and library management
Embedding a librarian into any course can provide logistical problems and library management would have to give careful consideration to the concept. The added responsibilities can become burdensome if adequate time is not allocated by the librarian for the teaching tasks that go beyond classroom instruction. Participating in more individual student conferences and marking assignments are time consuming activities that are necessary for an effective collaboration to occur. However,  it is vital for librarians to schedule time so that proper attention can be given to these course requirements. Reducing the number of hours assigned to reference desk coverage or other scheduled duties should be considered prior to starting an embedded collaboration.  According to Shumaker and Tyler (2007) managers would also have to consider the following factors:
 Location: Where is your office? With other librarians or with your users?
Funding: Who pays your salary and other costs? Do they come out of a general purpose library budget or from a budget that pays for other expenses of your user group?
Management and supervision: Who writes your performance review? If you left the organization, who would interview and hire your replacement?
Participation: Do you go to meetings of your customer group? Meetings of library staff?
While any change in schedule or duties will have an impact on other members of the library staff, the benefits of an intensive collaboration to the students, the library, and the campus will need to be weighed against these stresses.

Embedded librarians in research
The need for UKZN Library to apply the embedded librarian model in working directly with the faculty they serve as collaborators on research projects or as an integral part of a research team will create a major impact in taking research to a new level. As an embedded librarian in the research context, a librarian works with researchers more “upstream” in the research process rather than just with the products produced at the end of the research lifecycle: books and journal articles. The nature of these partnerships will be different according to the type of research being done and the needs of the researchers, but they will generally involve the application of the practices and principles of library science directly to the research being done. Regardless of the nature of the embedded librarian model employed and the type of research activities librarians seek to engage in, becoming an embedded librarian can be a challenging prospect.

UKZN Library is well positioned to adapt to the changes at the University, and the need for UKZN to attain international recognition as a research university. Subject Librarians in the role of embedded librarians are challenged to demonstrate their commitment to the mission of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The embedded librarian model may offer the potential for subject librarians to apply their knowledge and expertise in new ways. The new field of embedded librarianship in the research context is still an emerging model, the pathways to engagement and the criteria for success are not yet fully defined, though efforts are being made to do so. The barriers may seem daunting, but surmounting the challenges of becoming embedded can be extremely beneficial to the skills of librarians, as well as leading to a circle of fulfillment between librarians, research personnel, and upper management. Embedded librarianship at UKZN will create an exciting way to unearth the potential that these subject librarians have and mobilise them to go beyond the traditional functions of the library, and highlight why librarians are needed now more than ever.
References and important links
1. Academic ranking of universities.  http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU20.  Accessed 01/12/11
2. Bartnik, L. 2007. The embedded academic librarian: The subject specialist moves into the discipline college. Kentucky Libraries, 71(3): 4–9.
3. Bell, S., Foster, N. F. and Gibbons, S. 2005. Reference librarians and the success of institutional repositories. Reference Services Review, 33(3): 283–290.
4. Benedetti, S., Cody, S. A. and Hanerfeld, A. 2007. Integrating a digital library and a traditional library: Librarians and scientists collaborating for sustainability. Technical Services Quarterly, 24(3): 15–27. [Taylor & Francis Online]
5. Brandt, D. S. 2007. Librarians as partners in e-research. College & Research Libraries News, 68(6): 365–396.
6. Matthew, V. and Schroeder, A. 2006. The embedded librarian program. Educause Quarterly, 29(4): 61–65.
7. Ramsay, K. M. and Kinnie, J. 2006. The embedded librarian. Library Journal, 131(6): 34–35. [Web of Science ®]
8. Shumaker, D. and Tyler, L. June 2007. “Embedded library services: An initial inquiry into practices for their development, management, and delivery”. In Special Libraries Association Annual Conference June, Denver, CO . http://www.sla.org/pdfs/sla2007/ShumakerEmbeddedLibSvcs.pdf
9. Stewart, V. D. 2007. Embedded in the blackboard jungle: The embedded librarian program at Pulaski Technical College. Arkansas Libraries, 64(3): 29–32.