Embedded librarianship

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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, July 2018


See also Clinical librarianship | Collaboration 2.0 | Digital liaison | Informationists | Smart spaces | SMART Goals | Teaching library users‎

"...The phrase “embedded librarian” is flexible and can have various meanings depending upon the context. Defined generally, embedded librarians are thoroughly integrated into the college, department and courses served and provide contextualized support and instruction..." — Edwards, 2012

Embedded librarianship refers to new service models to "...connect library and information specialists more directly to their users... taking librarians outside of their usual domains, and situating them closer to their users". Embeddedness may last for an hour for one class, short periods or be permanently part of one's "circuit". But why would librarians aim to embed themselves closer to their users? By bringing librarians closer to users, they focus more on their expressed information and learning needs as they occur, in situ, and develop a more complete understanding of their research needs. In newly-articulated embedded models, librarianship positions itself outside physical spaces such as libraries and places librarians closer to users. One of the major benefits of embeddedness is the ability to develop close relationships with people. Of course, as relationships grow, a librarian's knowledge and understanding of their users must also grow.

Dewey coined the term embedded librarianship in 2005, writing: "Embedding requires more direct and purposeful interaction than acting in parallel with another person, group, or activity. Overt purposefulness makes embedding an appropriate definition of the most comprehensive collaborations for librarians in the higher education community". More recently, embedded librarianship has received a lot of attention recently in the academic and special libraries' literature. Its antecedents date back to the 1970s to clinical librarian models (see below). In a 2012 book by Shumaker, the embedded model is examined in all types of organizations. He identifies the characteristics of embedded librarians, and explains how information professionals in public, academic, school, medical, law and other specialized settings can use these principles to enhance their work. Theoretically, the notion of embeddedness recalls important learning theories such as social and situated learning and communities of practice.

In the digital age, librarians can establish their digital presence via Blackboard and through skillful use of instant messaging (IM), blogs, wikis and Twitter. Social networking tools, if used well, bring us closer to users. Newer digital technologies such as iPhones and mobile devices can also be part of embeddedness. A constant digital presence on research teams or being nearer user groups both qualify as embeddedness practices. One of the residual benefits of embeddedness is that other professional groups can see how our field is constituted, and how we can be embedded in broader learning and professional practices.

see S+R's latest Issue Brief, Ithaka's "Leveraging the Liaison Model: From Defining 21st Century Research Libraries to Implementing 21st Century Research Universities."

Benefits of embeddedness

Wikis are digital spaces for collaboration, a form of digital embeddedness

To be socially-embedded suggests you are hunkered down with, and an integral part of a team. Integration can be in close proximity in the same department or via posted office hours once or twice per week in the same physical space or building; it could also be as simple as giving the librarian access to an online course or discussion board to offer virtual office hours.

Other benefits of embeddedness include:

  • To identify ongoing learning needs, research interests, data, informational and training needs of groups
  • To increase use and awareness of library services, collections and librarian expertise
  • To improve quality of library serials and book collections; to be more responsive to shifting requirements
  • To provide consultation services as they arise in context "at point of need"
  • To communicate and interpret library policies and strategic planning in a direct, relevant way
  • To further the inclusion of information literacy into learning and communities of practice
  • To monitor information technology topics and bring relevant technologies to attention of groups

Clinical librarian (CL) models

A clinical librarian is someone who provides specialized library services "in the clinic" by participating directly in hospital rounds and other activities on the wards. By being embedded within assigned teams of clinicians (such as faculty & students, residents & hospitalists), clinical librarians (CLs) can respond immediately to information needs that arise there. In the sense of being outside the library, CLs are therefore more 'clinic-driven' than 'library-driven'.

CLs facilitate access to the medical literature by helping health professionals answer their most-pressing clinical questions. CLs perform, mediate and coach users through searches and in locating best evidence. Information assistance may extend to locating fulltext in print and electronic formats. Although CLs are not universally present in hospitals, they are increasingly common in American hospitals. When well-trained, CLs can respond to many information needs and facilitate problem-solving and decision-making. As such, CLs can be integral to clinical teams to assist in general information navigation and assistance, or in conducting reviews of the medical literature. The integration of CLs into clinical contexts has been enormously successful in health organizations throughout the world.

Medical librarianship's future seems tied to newer domains such as medical informatics, electronic health records (EHRs) and primary literature reviewing. One specific type of clinical librarian is called the informationist, which has been described in the JMLA. Informationists are said to understand the essentials of clinical medicine as well as the principles of library and information science; they enable clinicians to apply better judgment based on improved use of medical literature.

An innovative embedded librarian project in the United States involves an Ambulance Riding Librarian who lends expertise in the areas of emergency medicine, disaster preparedness and medical librarianship. The librarian will describe her adventures as an ambulance riding librarian and discuss how information specialists can contribute to emergency services in April 2013.

In 2013, the U.S. Library of Congress published Clinical medical librarians: an annotated bibliography or review of the journal literature discussing the role of library and information professionals known as clinical medical librarians. According to the report, the "...bibliography addresses the dialogue that has ensued since the publication of the Davidoff-Florance editorial with regard to both the merits and applicability of their concept, including specific examples of librarians working in hospitals and in medical research as informationists".

Benefits of clinical librarians

  • To verify what is known or "true" in authoritative texts
  • To establish knowledge-base and evidence-based health care
  • To assist with decision-making processes and provide individualized patient care
  • To keep up-to-date about an issue or topic
  • To obtain information for patients or to explain important risk factors, especially for well-informed patients
  • To acquire pharmacological information (hard data to guide or back-up prescribing decisions)
  • To fill specific gaps in knowledge on "new" diagnoses and therapies
  • To satisfy curiousity, personal interest, and inclination
  • To resolve issues around uncertainty and best or conflicting evidence

Informationist model

Informationists, also known as information specialists in context, is a term that refers to a type of library and information professional who provides information services to health professionals in context, embedded into clinical care and health research. In this model, the knowledge and skills of health librarians are supplemented by clinical training as well as considerable knowledge in health research. As defined by Detlefsen (2002), an informationist is a clinical information professional with added qualifications, gained either through graduate education or experience. Starting points for these positions could be clinicians who possess specialist skills in medical or health informatics or medical librarians gaining additional skills and qualifications to enable them to work on an equal footing with health professionals.

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