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.
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]