The embedded librarian: working in a techno-savvy academic environment

Embedded librarians don't wait to be asked - they anticipate.

Embedded librarians - gatekeeper and gateway

Traditionally librarians responded to a user’s request by gathering (and sometimes repackaging) information from a range of sources.  Now, however, the trend is for librarians to work collaboratively with the user and to anticipate and meet their information and knowledge requirements.

An embedded librarian is responsive to the needs of the community they serve by opening up lots of opportunities for knowledge use. Muir and Heller-Ross (2010) see embedded librarians as going a step further than responsiveness—they anticipate, don’t wait to be asked, but rather use their close working relationships to identify needs and find solutions.

They act not only as keepers of knowledge but as gatekeepers, streamlining and directing the flow of knowledge.  They also provide channels and access to information sources and knowledge.  These types of roles are critically important in the learning community.

When we researched the subject of 'the librarian as gateway or gatekeeper' (Oyelude and Bamigbola 2012), we discovered that librarians are increasingly seen as both gatekeeper and gateway.  The embedded nature of library work in academic settings has given rise to new role titles: consulting librarian, digital librarian, personal librarian, roving librarian, virtual librarian – and others.

In Universities in Nigeria, faculty in different Departments and Units can interact online with library staff.  They are guided in the use of library databases, can ask questions in real time and also request research skill tutelage for their students. Personal interaction is possible because librarians are members of each Faculty’s Board – and in many cases they take on the role of Faculty Board Secretary.

I have worked in an embedded capacity in the University of Ibadan Library, as both Law Faculty Librarian and Faculty Librarian for Social Sciences.  Building on my personal experiences I conducted research to survey the role of embedded librarians at the University.

My findings revealed that the embedded librarian is still acting as gatekeeper for both students and Faculty, helping them to filter information they need. I also discovered that the embedded librarian has many ‘bosses’, including the University Librarian and the Head(s) of the academic unit in which the librarian is based.  Their activities include advising faculty on resources for students’ projects, assisting with general administration and providing support to students and providing information literacy training for both staff and students.

Future plans

The Ibadan Library plans to model itself along the lines of a few University libraries abroad.  The University of the West England, for example, teaches students a compulsory three-unit course on the use of the library. The course is occasionally audited by Faculty members.  This is an ideal situation as librarians must work closely with Faculty on a project which demonstrates their professional competence and their technological knowhow.

There are some challenges created by the current design of the University Curriculum. Librarians from the library (as distinct from faculty in the Library School) teach the Use of Library module in the Use of English course under the General Studies (GES) Programme. The library should ideally come up with an ICT-compliant Course that will have practical elements. More of the new mobile technologies like iPads, tablets, iPhones and androids need to be used in the course of liaising with faculty and students.

The embedded librarian in the techno-savvy academic environment has to brace up to many challenges the greatest of which is keeping ahead of emerging technologies and constantly having to envision new ways of satisfying their clientele.

Adetoun Adebisi Oyelude is Principal Librarian at Kenneth Dike Library, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.  In October 2013 she spoke at Internet Librarian International about the role of the embedded librarian.