Embedded Librarianship: Or what I always thought was just modern academic librarianship

So, while I procrastinate from doing a book review for a professional publication (see future rant on publications, cost, and usefulness)….I thought I would jot down a little rant here on why I loathe and despise the word embedded, as it applies so frequently now to librarianship.

Let me start by saying I *do not* have negative feelings towards anyone who considers themselves to be an embedded librarian. Or the embedded librarians doing great things at their colleges and universities. Those things are fantastic. Go, you! What I do hate is the idea that by labeling a position or idea an “embedded” this or that it is both a “new” thing to our profession and it causes the responsibility of embeddedness to shift onto one person, or the minority.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never read an article, column, or blog post where I didn’t agree with what someone’s embedded librarianshipedness was actually undertaking, accomplished, or planned to do. But I fear labels in this profession and I have always thought that good, modern librarianship *was* being an embedded librarian. The way I see it, every description of some sort of integration into the curriculum, or co-curriculum, virtual or physical space that is currently hip is called an embedded practice, but to me it looks like simply doing your job well and being a good, forward thinking librarian.

When was librarianship not embedded?

My first job out of library school had me doing a ton of outreach to everything from distance education students to the honors college, in addition to traditional liaison roles like instruction and collection development. I was embedded man, before embedded was cool. But, so were several of the other librarians. We had a presence in online courses, we were doing roving reference, we were integrating into the curriculum and spreading our information literacy program far and wide. When I moved then to a smaller school, the liaison librarians could all be labeled embedded back in 2003. Anything a faculty member needed, their librarian either did it or figured it out. And we had great relationships with students. These instances are only my own and at just two places, but I feel like the embedded movement was a response maybe to overspecialization in librarianship? Reference librarians solely at a desk and maybe instruction librarians from back in the bibliographic instruction day teaching. Was it?

My other problem with the word embedded being bandied about so frequently is that I will never sell a job at my college as the “embedded librarian” and I wouldn’t try. Instead, I’d write an add for a forward-thinking, problem solving, team player with xxx skills. And when they got here, they’d be off and running and embedding all over the campus.

Embedded librarianship isn’t new and it’s about to become an overused expression that feels like a fad. I know my personal instinct is to roll my eyes every time I see the word now and a lot of my friends in this profession feel the same way (even though they only admit it privately:)  Can’t we take these ideas and just call them librarianship instead of putting something cutesy in front of it to seem cutting edge or ahead of a curve? Can’t we make the outcome to become embedded in order to advance student learning, but leave the overused word out of the conversation? Sometime? Please?

And for your sake, don’t get me started on transliteracy.

4 thoughts on “Embedded Librarianship: Or what I always thought was just modern academic librarianship

  1. I completely agree with you about using “embedded” and any other number of buzzwords. What I want to know is if the hype is coming from a need to market ourselves and our services. Librarians are terrible at marketing and sometimes it seems that people outside the profession (including our students and our patrons) are just realizing that maybe there is more to us than just books. I know that’s a gross generalization, but that’s how I got sucked into talking about embedded librarianship and transliteracy. 🙂 The administration needed an easy word or concept to latch on to. Also, coming from a school library (middle/high school) these ideas appeared to be quite new and “revolutionary”. Some teachers were barely even aware that we had databases, let alone the ability and willingness to work with them. At least that was the case in the library where I was working.

    1. Yep, I understand that need. I’ve learned to speak in terms of outcomes instead of buzzwords, but I remember when I used to defend the term “information literacy” too 🙂 I don’t care what people call things, but I just like to err on the side of not having the essential parts of our jobs be labeled with new buzzwords.


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