I’ve been following some tweets from #ALA12. (As a business librarian I wish BRASS would tweet; BRASS does excellent programming, but doesn’t provide as much value as it could to members not at the conference.) Mark Aaron Polger of the College of Staten Island Library attended an ACRL Distance Learning Section program on embedded librarianship. Mark liked most of the speakers, but tweeted that he wished physical embedding in classes was covered too. (He does both DE and in-class embedded work.) While this was after all a distance learning program, it can be annoying that “embedded librarianship” can refer to different kinds of work. Is it time to un-pack embedded librarianship into some more specific terms?
I asked this question to my wife, a library liaison at WFU. She agreed that rallying around some more nuanced terms might be useful, but then referred me to the latest “Among the New Words” column in American Speech. (She’s really into being the linguistics librarian). The column begins:
Though the “genrefication” of contemporary popular music is nothing new, there is no question that the music industry has in recent years seen a rapid proliferation of niche genres and subgenres. With that proliferation has come a concomitant need to apply labels to emerging musical styles, even if the labels are simply variations or combinations of previous genre names. The naming of new subgenres is certainly a popular activity among music critics and professionals looking for the next big thing.
The column continues with a long Bruce Springsteen quote from his 2012 South by Southwest keynote:
There are so many subgenres and factions: two-tone, acid rock, alternative dance, alternative metal, alternative rock, art punk, art rock, avant-garde metal, black metal, black and death metal, Christian metal, heavy metal, funk metal, glam metal, medieval metal, indie metal, melodic death metal, melodic black metal, metalcore, hard core, electronic hard core, folk punk, folk rock, pop punk, Brit-pop, grunge, sad core, surf music, psychedelic rock, punk rock, hip-hop, rap rock, rap metal, Nintendo core– Huh? I just want to know what Nintendo core is, myself. But: rock noir, shock rock, skate punk, noise core, noise pop, noise rock, pagan rock, paisley underground, indie pop, indie rock, heartland rock, roots rock, samba rock, screamo, emo, shoe-gazing stoner rock, swamp pop, synth pop, rock against communism, garage rock, blues rock, death and roll, lo-fi, jangle pop … folk music. Just add neo- and post- to everything I said, and mention them all again. Uh, oh, yeah, and rock ’n’ roll.
The audio recording of this passage, complete with crowd response, is a fun listen. The American Speech column includes an embedded audio file of just that passage if you are in a hurry. (NSFW alert for the full talk via the NPR link.) (The column is a huge download, though, since it includes many other embedded sound files. But kudos to Duke University Press for including multimedia in its articles now.) The rest of the column provides linguistic profiles of some new labels like clownstep and old favorite nerdcore with sample tunes for each.
So maybe creating subgenres of embedded librarianship could get annoying. (Some of you will remember the fierce discussions about “Library 2.0” and even “Library 3.0.”) But as with discovering new styles of music – or describing a conference program – it can be helpful to use more precise language.
So what did embedded librarianship mean at first? I ran a Library Lit search for “embedded librar*” to learn when the phrase was first used in articles. The second- and third-oldest were from 2006. These articles (cited below) both focused on distance education. Pretty straight-forward.
The oldest article was from 2004: “The Embedded Librarian: Strategic Campus Collaborations” from Resource Sharing & Information Networks. Author Barbara Dewey, then the library dean at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, defined embedding as “direct and purposeful interaction”:
Overt purposefulness makes embedding an appropriate definition of the most comprehensive collaborations for librarians in the higher education community.
She describes many possible campus collaborations: creating collaborative learning spaces in the library, assisting professors with research projects, establishing library salons and coffee shops, participating in campus governance, helping teach, liaising with student groups, fundraising with other campus units, participating in campus virtual spaces, and assisting knowledge creation and publishing. “Embedding oneself at as many venues as possible will ensure that library staff, collections, and services are more fully integrated into all aspects of campus life,” she asserts. [my emphasis]
Dewey referred to the journalists embedded with the U.S. army in Iraq as the inspiration for the term embedded librarianship. It’s an interesting comparison given that the journalists –unlike the librarians – weren’t supposed to actually get involved in the action.
So even if distance education librarians quickly corralled “embedded librarians” to refer to active participation via classroom management systems and other DE tools, the first published use of the term (according to my simple Library Lit search) left its application open to many kinds of activities. Therefore here is my attempt to establish some more nuanced terms for several types of embedded librarianship.
House Librarian: one embedded in a residential college or living learning community.
Librariotica: one embedded in a lounge of a residential hall (a specialized type of House Librarian).
Pluggedindie Librarian: the classic distance education embedded librarian.
Blackboardpopulator: for Blackboard campuses.
CMStep: in case you have Moodle instead.
Officebreak: librarians with office hours in academic departments.
Researchcore: for librarians who help with research projects and even get listed as co-authors of peer-reviewed articles.
Grantstep: for helping write grant proposals.
Indieliaison: liaisons who spend more time with their academic departments and in the classroom than in the library.
Other suggestions welcome.
The three early articles:
Dewey, B. I. (2004). The Embedded Librarian: Strategic Campus Collaborations. Resource Sharing & Information Networks, 17(1/2), 5-17.
Ramsay, K. M., & Kinnie, J. (2006). The Embedded Librarian. Library Journal (1976), 131(6), 34-35.
York, A. (2006). The Embedded Librarian Service at MTSU. Tennessee Libraries (Online), 56(2), 1-7.
The American Speech column:
Zimmer, B. & Carson, C.E. (2012). Among New Words. American Speech, 87(2): 190-207.