Rethinking Value: How Embedded Roles Makes Us Valuable

Yesterday I posted David Shumaker’s article: The Value Proposition of Embedded Librarianship. Today, I want to continue on that theme with this article by Mary Talley, co-author of the SLA Funded Research Project: Models of Embedded Librarianship, 2009 for this article: Rethinking Value: How Embedded Roles Makes Us Valuable. This article was originally published in the 2010 Best Practices for Government Libraries: The New Face of Value. Best Practices is a collaborative document that is put out annually on a specific topic of interest to government librarians. The 2010 edition includes over 70 articles and other submissions provided by more than 60 contributors from librarians in government agencies, courts, and the military, as well as from professional association leaders, LexisNexis Consultants, and more.

Read on…

It was a wonderful life. When I started on my professional career – first as an academic librarian and later as a law library director – libraries and librarians were the only information game in town. Books held the answers and we held the books. There was no question that our work supported our organizations in crucial and irreplaceable, if not always measurable, ways. There were no doubts about our intrinsic value: they needed us to find, organize and get at the data. These were powerful positions. It was a wonderful life.p>

That was, of course, before the competition arrived – before the Internet, before Google and Bing and before self-service customers, and good-enough information – before librarians moved into the unaccustomed position of having to prove our value. Then, just as we begin to adjust to this new position, along comes Facebook, Linked-In, TripAdvisor and the “wisdom of the crowd” to up the ante and force us to rethink our competitive edge and our place in this ever-evolving, 2.0 information world.

The embedded library services model offers librarians opportunities to identify their value, deliver the services that contribute most to organizational missions, and communicate to decision-makers about what they have done.

Rethinking our positions and what makes us valuable to our organizations, forces us to look long and hard at exactly where our old positions really placed us within our organizations. Were those positions really all that powerful in the days-beforethe- Internet? Did we drive our organizations back then, tending the gates of knowledge? Or, did our positions then put us in adjunct roles that were primarily transactional and reactive in nature, as many are now? If our positions did not allow us to be active participants in driving our organizations’ goals and objectives forward, we were – and are – adjuncts in our organizations. In a self-serve, peerto- peer, 2.0 information world, as long as we hold adjunct roles in that world, we will remain stuck in the uncomfortable position of having to prove our value.

It is tempting to want to maintain business as usual and collect endless amounts of data on what we do as proof of how indispensable we are to our organizations (i.e., “if only they understand what we do”). Here’s a cautionary tale of efforts to prove value that backfired when the library in a large government agency tried, a few years’ back, to quantify its contributions and demonstrate its importance to the core business.

This library found itself in the position of having one client within its organization that was both its largest customer and its most contentious one. Because the library’s contract with this group was always renewed with a great deal of trouble, the library tried to prove its value by documenting the heavy use this group placed on it by measuring, for example, the number of information requests it received from members of the group. Rather than see the value in this, the senior administrator of the client group took the data presented as an indication that the people in his group were not working as hard as they should be and that the heaviest users of the library’s services were the laziest!

How, then, to prove value in a credible way? We need to move the conversation away from “proving value” to being valuable, by trading in our adjunct roles for those that have direct involvement in the high value work that drives an organization and in the outcomes of the organization, the goods or services it produces. Embedding information service providers in organizational groups offers a path to that direct involvement by moving information professionals out of libraries into their customers’ work and exchanging the service-provider role for that of team members with shared responsibility for the outcomes…

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN PDF starting on page 114.

Want more Best Practices?

The 2011 Best Practices for Government Libraries: e-Initiatives and e-Efforts: Expanding Our Horizons is now available: 2011 Best Practices for Government Libraries in PDF. Best Practices for Government Libraries for 2011 and prior years are all available from the right sidebar here on the Government Info Pro.

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