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How Embedded Are You?

May 29, 2013, 7:02 pm

What does it mean to be embedded? We have workshops, blogs, and books, but I’m not sure that we have a common definition. Perhaps it circles around the act of taking content or services outside of our traditional framework (spaces, websites) and integrating them into the natural habitat of our users?

 

But that feels too vague. If I provide office hours in a classroom building or if I interact with a class via the course management system— am I embedded? Technically, yes, but this is a gray area to me. There are different degrees of experiences.

 

roleThe more I think about embedded librarianship, and I will confess I have not read much of the emerging conversation, the question I’m having is with depth. How engaged are we? Are we simply serving a traditional librarian role in an nontraditional environment or is there something else to it? Are we changing our context or are we just changing our location? If I setup a table in the student center to answer reference questions– am I just extending the ref desk or should I reconfigure my role/behavior/approach to match the culture of that particular environment?

 

I thought about this over the weekend and two engagement models emerged: Doctors Without Borders and the Peace Corps.

Doctors Without Borders provides medical assistance to people threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe.

 

The Peace Corps provide assistance with technical, social, and economic development.

 

Both play advocacy roles. Both work directly to help people through the provision of services or engagement. Both change lives.

 

But there are several big differences too. One is focused on providing treatment, while the other is focused on improving community infrastructure. One is a service provider, while the other operates more like a participant-observer. One is transactional, the other is longitudinal.

 

To me it seems to boil down to the scope and shape of the interaction. On one side you have solutions-delivery and on the other a productivity-building objective.

 

Depending on the discipline or partner, the approach we use might vary. But I actually used this concept today during a meeting while talking about our Living-Learning Communities. Instead of just showing up and delivering “library skills” we need a deeper cultural immersion before we really know what is necessary or how to build that program.

 

The point I’m trying to make is that embeddedness is a spectrum. Consider the embedded journalist in this framework—that is a very different role than Doctors or Peace Corps volunteers. It is easy to toss around the embedded label but obviously it means different things to different people.

 

If you’ve dabbled in this area I’d like to collect a few high impact case studies. How have you reinvented the role of the library through embeddedness?

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