Embedded Information Professionals

Embedded librarianship is a term used to describe two different professional circumstances, one based in academic institutions and the other in non-library settings such as businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, etc.

In an academic setting, embedded librarians work with a faculty member to help shape the research component of a given course and then actively participate in research-related portions of the course delivery. In effect, the librarian is “embedded” in the course rather than simply being available as needed or sought out in the campus library.

For purposes of exploring alternative LIS careers, however, it’s the second instance of embedded librarianship that is not only of great interest in terms of job opportunities, but also increasingly how “special librarianship” is playing out as an LIS career path.

In this situation, the information professional (“librarian” isn’t necessarily in the job title) is embedded within an operational unit.

Embedded in the organization

For example, in a business environment, an embedded information professional might be working as part of the marketing team doing market research, or doing competitive intelligence hand-in-hand with the business development team, or doing patent research for the engineering department.

In a nonprofit organization, an embedded LIS professional might be working with the donor relations team doing prospect research, or aggregating topical resources as part of the website team, or researching community issues for the community outreach department.

These are basic examples of what can be very innovative roles; the bottom line, however, is that this type of “librarianship” or LIS work is focused on adding value at the point of need and in a collaborative manner, to the extent that you’re likely to be physically located with your operational department rather than within the organization’s library. Your responsibility will be to use your information skills to help the department meet its goals; your departmental team members will be relying on your skills to help them succeed. Embedded information professionals end up essentially representing and reporting to both the operation unit head and the organization’s main information center.

Integrated within the department

A variation on this role is being an integrated librarian, which is similar to being embedded but without any central library (or librarians) to connect with or report to. This type of role sometimes results when an organization’s information center is closed, but the “intellectual assets,” i.e., the LIS professionals, are retained by assigning them to work with various departments depending on their specific skills. Similar to embedded information professionals, your focus will be on using your skills to help your department meet its goals; your team members will be relying on you to help them succeed (and often you’ll be able to help them do just that).

The challenge: finding these jobs

If you start out inside the organization, for example, as a special librarian working for the corporate information center, you’ll probably be sufficiently familiar with the departments, opportunities, and key individuals to be able to market yourself and your skills as the perfect solution to their needs. (A great reason, by the way, to always get out of the library and get to know staffers, what they do, and what information they need….)

The challenge comes in trying to figure out how to identify and apply for these jobs when you’re an outsider. In that situation your job search will focus on not so much on the titles for information-related jobs as on the skills required. Why? Because almost none of the embedded or integrated LIS jobs have the words “library” or “librarian” in their titles.

Potential search terms

Instead, consider these keywords as starting search terms:

  • Analyst
  • Content
  • Curator (curation)
  • Data manager
  • Decision support
  • Digital assets
  • Information (information specialist)
  • Intelligence (also business intelligence, competitive intelligence)
  • Knowledge
  • Research(er)

To find other relevant keywords for your type of information work, check job postings, LinkedIn job descriptions and profiles, and, if you are a student member, the membership directories of professional associations like Special Libraries Association (SLA) or ASIS&T to see what job titles look relevant. This should give you an additional set of search terms to explore.

Resources

The Embedded Librarian: Exploring New, Embedded Roles for Librarians in Organizations of All Types (David Shumaker’s blog)

Embedded Librarian Caucus, Special Libraries Association

Shumaker, David. The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed. Information Today, 2012. 240p. ISBN 9781573874526.