September 16, 2008

Embedded?

Okay, I have avoided this topic long enough. For several months my "Coming Soon" sidebar has promised a post on whether I am embedded or not. While I am not ready to reconstruct my blog with a new address (I originally tried for "Sassy Librarian," but that was taken), I am ready to open myself up to the possibility that, as many have suggested, I am not, in fact, embedded, but "only" a special, solo librarian in as traditional a sense as that job can be.

I have tried to remember where I originally heard the term "embedded librarian" and why I grew to see this position that way. I remember that the first time I heard Susan Fifer Canby's brilliant notion that "special librarians work in the white spaces of the organizational chart" was when her colleague Karen Huffman addressed my Information Systems class last fall. Perhaps I have confounded the terms "special librarian" and "embedded librarian," and perhaps the latter term is too young to warrant a full-on debate of my status.

Mary Talley and Dave Shumaker are currently researching this topic through an SLA research grant. Their survey takes into account organizational structure, proximity to physical library resources, administrative reporting requirements (i.e. is your boss a librarian?), and other criteria that will eventually lead to an operational definition of embeddedness, or at least a cogent spectrum of models of embeddedness. While the vast majority of my Google alerts on "embedded librarian" return tales of academic instruction librarians embedded in Freshman Composition courses and accounts of media librarians embedded with subject specialists, I still feel a pull toward the moniker because of the structure of my position within this organization.

I work with transportation people. We have a dozen or so technical assistance specialists, a webmaster, a finance department, and me. I do manage a print library but that is a very small part of my job. I am not exactly part of the "program staff," but I am more involved with the substance of what we do than the accountants and the webmaster. My boss has tasked me with becoming a "content generalist." So far, maybe I am just a solo special librarian in a very small organization that is going digital. But consider this....

My salary comes from three separate federal grants, each of which calls for a part-time information specialist to carry out its strategic goals. My primary project, which determines who my supervisor is and how I spend most of my time, is to provide information services to a National Resource Center that is housed at our organization. The National Resource Center team consists of six staff people: five program staff and me. While in our team meetings, I feel I am the quintessential "embedded librarian." I am a full-fledged member of the team, but I have funding through them because they need an information specialist. Parts of what I do may not be considered library-like, but all my tasks can be improved by drawing on my library science education.

So where does that leave me? We may have to wait for Shumaker and Talley to publish their study before making an informed decision. In the meantime, I hope this topic will encourage the blog-comment-activity I have tried unsuccessfully to encourage on this site, but which will be a nice primer before I draft my "Controversial Topics" posts later this fall.

4 comments:

John R. Lang said...

Although my perception is that it is only a matter of semantics, "embedded" librarian sounds better to me than "special" librarian and more adequately describes our types of positions. My job title is librarian/historian and I do perform as such in our multi-national, non-profit but I also am a fully-functioning member of our Marketing Dept. with related responsibilities in product development and product project management.

Steven Jeffery said...

I might pose another question:

Is someone who never works in a library during their workweek a librarian at all? Consider this: You have two different people. One works in the corporate library 10 hours per week and works in the office area 30 hours. You have a second person who works in the office area using the same skills for their entire 40 hours. What is the difference between them? Looking at job descriptions it seems to be a job title. The first might have a library-related job title while the second might be called a business analyst. What is the difference?

EileenBoswell said...

Thanks, Steve, you made me remember part of why I originally dubbed myself "embedded." The way I had started explaining it to people was that, "I don't work for/in a library; I do library-type tasks for an organization." I think Mary Ellen Bates was the one who originally pointed out that Librarian, and a few other titles such as Gardener, is a job once defined by its physical location. If this is the case, perhaps there is no need for me to qualify "Librarian" with "Embedded" because so many of us now do library-type tasks in all sorts of settings. Or, perhaps, the term is needed while we are in a transition of consciousness about this issue.

MommySquared said...

Hi Eileen--as someone outside of the library science field, I think that the term "embedded librarian" really describes where you fit and what you do, at least in my limited understanding! Just my thoughts...