Embedded Librarians in Special Libraries

Despite budget cuts and other challenges facing libraries of all types there is room to grow and reach new levels of efficiency.  As the library world comes together in Chicago next week for SLA 2012 Annual Conference & INFO Expo people will be talking about Embedded Librarianship.

This excerpt is from The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed, By David Shumaker.

The literature on embedded librarianship in corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies is not as extensive as the literature pertaining to higher education; nor is it as systematic and analytical as that related to health sciences and healthcare. A contributed paper for the Special Libraries Association (SLA) noted the paucity of published examples.

The problem didn’t seem to stem from a failure of librarians in these organizations to adopt the embedded model, however. The paper reported on a survey, which was conducted with a convenience sample of subscribers to several professional email lists, that found that more than 80% of those listing an affiliation by organization type were in a for-profit (43%), nonprofit (21%), or government (20%) entity. Only 17% of respondents identified themselves as working in an institution of higher education.

A subsequent 2009 survey that I conducted with Mary Talley found similar results. This survey, administered to a random sample of SLA members, once again found that 43% of embedded respondents reported working in the for-profit sector, while 16% were in government and 11% in not-for-profit organizations. The percentage of respondents in higher education was somewhat higher than in the earlier survey, at 28%.

Regardless of actual adoption, the available information about patterns of embedded librarianship in this sector is far sparser than in the other sectors. In these pages, we’re exploring the origins of embedded librarianship in corporations, nonprofits, and government, and will mine the recent literature for indications of the nature of embedded librarians’ work, how their contributions are evaluated, organizational patterns, the overall health of the embedded model in this sector, and the outlook for the future.

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