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Binge Reading (and a few brushes with insight)

This is perhaps a rather risky admission for someone who has decided to pursue a career in librarianship, but in all honesty, the past couple of weeks have been characterized by failed searches, extraneous articles and many a misspent hour reading chapters that at first seemed relevant, but ended up being the opposite.

I can certainly give myself an indulgent pat on the back for the sheer volume of material I’ve churned through, but it’s difficult to ignore the comparatively small amount I’ve put down on paper in the form of ideas.

The thing is, I actually think I’m pretty good at advising others on this type of thing. When I’m not studying, I work part-time in the libraries of two fairly major universities and a lot of my time is spent helping people find the information they need. However, I’ve come to realise that it can be difficult to practise what you preach.

Frankly, I’m amazed that I’m surprised by any of this – it happens EVERY TIME I work on an assignment. I devise an overall direction for my work and I jump in. The binge begins. My key failing is that I neglect to fully establish in my own mind the granular aspects I wish to investigate. I’m struck by how much this seems to be connected to fear – fear of not having enough to write about (ha!), fear of actually thinking about what I’m going to write about, and that strange trepidation which causes you to dance around what you want to say so much that you sometimes end up avoiding saying it at all…..the list goes on.

All that being said, I know at the back of my mind that this is simply how I work. How I ‘deal’ with applying myself to the intimidating business of thinking and writing. And I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a small part of me that enjoys this special kind of literary debauch. It’s interesting what you retain, often without even realising it. When you actually get around to putting words on paper, fleshing out ideas and joining the dots, lines and passages occasionally emerge from the hazy hangover of your last research bender and you make a connection – admittedly it’s sometimes a rather tenuous connection, but that’s not the point – you’re learning.

I’m writing this on the tail end of one such study blowout – let’s hope it serves me well.

T.

April, 2017.

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Teignmouth – May, 2015

(I thought it might be nice to include a picture this time. Unfortunately, I don’t really have any photographs that depict research mania, so here’s a small reminder that spring is on the way)

A (not so) new direction…

One could be forgiven for thinking of embedded librarianship as a new concept – a buzz term, a fresh innovation, another service model designed as a reaction to the changing information landscape. This, however, is not the case, and whilst the use of the term itself is certainly fairly recent, the various practices it describes have actually existed for many years.

Brower (2011) makes reference to medical librarians who, as early as 1960, accompanied doctors on their rounds providing specialised information services. Similarly, Konieczny (2010) discusses roaming informationists; individuals who possess detailed subject knowledge in addition to highly developed information acumen. Other studies make reference to the early existence of departmental libraries (Schulte, 2012) or branch libraries (Drewes & Hoffman, 2010) – small scale, specialised collections, located within, or in close proximity to, certain academic faculties.

The term embedded librarian was first coined by Barbara Dewey in 2004, who borrowed the expression from the established ‘practice of “embedding” journalists within military units during the Iraq War’ (O’Toole et al, 2016, p.530). Dewey (2004) too, acknowledges the early existence of faculty collections, embedded libraries of sorts, which after reaching unwieldy sizes were combined with other similar collections paving the way for singular, amalgamated campus libraries.

It’s certainly interesting to consider the idea that embedded library services actually may have formed the foundations of the large-scale libraries that are now characteristic of most university campuses. Is the recent enthusiasm around embedded librarianship a sign that we are moving full circle in an attempt to perhaps re-establish the kind of relationships we previously enjoyed with faculty? Or perhaps this approach to librarianship is the most appropriate course of action in a world where information is more pervasive than ever and is increasingly less tied to traditional reference services.

The development of information communication technologies has fundamentally altered the way in which we live, and in particular the manner in which we search for, communicate and use information (Floridi, 2010). The utilisation of tools such as blogs, discussion forums and live chat services by libraries is a means of extending the reach of librarians beyond the physical walls of the library and providing a service to students where and when they need it (Drewes & Hoffman, 2010). This form of online or virtual embedded librarianship is perhaps one facet in the natural adoption of technology by library services.

It would seem that the practices with which embedded librarianship is associated are not new, rather they are intrinsically linked to the formation of academic libraries as we know them today. The recent resurgence of these practices, however, is perhaps indicative of a certain preoccupation amongst library professionals – quite simply the enduring desire to find the best methods possible to meet the needs of those looking for information.

The reading continues. More to follow.

T.

March, 2017.

Brower, M. (2011) ‘A Recent History of Embedded Librarianship: Collaboration and Partnership Building with Academics in Learning and Research Environments’, in Kvenild, C. & Calkins, K. (eds.) Embedded Librarians: Moving Beyond One-Shot Instruction. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, pp. 3-16.

Dewey, B.I. 2005, “The Embedded Librarian: Strategic Campus Collaborations”, Resource Sharing & Information Networks, vol. 17, no. 1-2, pp. 5-17. http://0www.tandfonline.com.wam.city.ac.uk/doi/abs/10.1300/J121v17n01_02 [Accessed: March 2, 2017]

Drewes, K. & Hoffman, N. 2010, “Academic Embedded Librarianship: An Introduction”, Public Services Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 2-3, pp. 75-82. http://0-www.tandfonline.com.wam.city.ac.uk/doi/abs/10.1080/15228959.2010.498773 [Accessed: February 25, 2017]

Floridi, L., 1964 & Dawsonera 2010, Information: a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford. https://www.dawsonera.com/abstract/9780191572982 [Accessed on February 16, 2017]

Konieczny, A. 2010, “Experiences as an Embedded Librarian in Online Courses”, Medical Reference Services Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 47-57. http://0-www.tandfonline.com.wam.city.ac.uk/doi/abs/10.1080/02763860903485084#aHR0cDovLzAtd3d3LnRhbmRmb25saW5lLmNvbS53YW0uY2l0eS5hYy51ay9kb2kvcGRmLzEwLjEwODAvMDI3NjM4NjA5MDM0ODUwODQ/bmVlZEFjY2Vzcz10cnVlQEBAMA== [Accessed on March 2, 2017]

O’Toole, E., Barham, R. & Monahan, J. 2016, “The Impact of Physically Embedded Librarianship on Academic Departments”, Portal : Libraries and the Academy, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 529-556. http://0-muse.jhu.edu.wam.city.ac.uk/article/624188 [Accessed on March 5, 2017]

Schulte, S.J. 2012, “Embedded Academic Librarianship: A Review of the Literature”, Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 122-138. https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/EBLIP/article/view/17466 [Accessed on February 21, 2017]

Embedded Librarian?

In recent weeks, I’ve embarked on an independent research project investigating the concept of embedded librarianship. I’ve spent some time searching for key texts and have already found a number of interesting avenues to explore. That being said, my research is still very much in its infancy. I have yet to form an established understanding of what embedded librarianship constitutes or indeed, what it signifies within the world of libraries. With this in mind, rather than share the meagre amount I have learnt so far, it seems more appropriate to instead share my first impressions – my (possibly naïve) perspectives on what embedded librarianship is and what it can achieve. This will hopefully serve as a logical first step in recording the progress of my research and will provide something to refer back to as my understanding of the subject develops.

 I first encountered the term, embedded librarian, when carrying out research for an essay on an entirely separate topic. I understood the term to describe a librarian that exists and works outside the confines of the library walls – physically displaced from their typical habitat and embedded instead within the environment of those who would normally be expected to visit the library. The concept piqued my interest straight away. The possible advantages and limitations presented by the approach are quite intriguing. As are the various questions the concept raises:

  • What happens when a librarian is severed from a physical collection?
  • What specific services does the embedded librarian provide?
  • Is the embedded librarian more useful or relevant than the traditional librarian?

These are just some of the questions I hope to address through the course of my research and hopefully I can return to some of these points in later posts. For now, however, I will leave you with some of my initial, and no doubt, idealistic, impressions.

Part of the impetus behind my desire to conduct further research on this topic is the idea that this approach to librarianship could represent a means by which to improve library services and highlight the value of information professionals in a multitude of different contexts.

In particular, I am struck by the potential of embedded librarianship for gaining true insight into library users’ information needs and behaviours. Embedded librarians could be ideally placed to observe and develop an involved understanding of how best to help people identify, seek and use the information they need. By working within specific environments, embedded librarians could feasibly develop a valuable contextual sensitivity resulting in more thorough domain knowledge. Ultimately, this knowledge could allow for services and approaches better attuned to specific subject discourse and institutional needs.

On a human level, embedded librarianship could do a lot to improve relations between librarians and those that they seek to help. If a librarian is removed from the library and placed within the users’ work or study environments, surely this can do something to redefine the power relationship between librarian and library user. The potential for a more equal standing could allow for more fruitful collaboration and knowledge exchange.

Exciting stuff!

Now, I feel it’s important to make clear that I’m very aware of the gulf that exists between theory and practice and certainly a number of points I have mentioned above could be seen as somewhat overly optimistic. Indeed, over the course of my research I may well come to refute most of what I’ve written here, but that’s the nature of educating oneself, isn’t it?

My aim is to explore various real world examples of embedded librarianship, especially within academic institutions. A brief search of the journal literature indicates that there is a fair amount to read concerning this topic. I will be sure to reveal what I find here.

T.

February, 2017