The importance of user engagement — how embedded are you?

I was reading an article the other day by Freiburger and Kramer (2009) titled Embedded librarians: One library’s model for decentralized service and was pleased to read about a successful (although preliminary) attempt at integrating their librarians into an embedded role at the Arizona Health Science Library. What is an embedded librarian? The Embedded Librarian blog defines the role using the following steps:

Your office is with your customers, not with other librarians

Your budget is provided by your customer groups, not by the library

Your performance review is provided by your customers (faculty, students, doctors) as opposed to library management

You attend meetings run by your customers, not just meetings with library staff

The early results from Freiburg and Kramer’s article indicated that the librarian was not only providing more hands on training in courses and through library workshops, but also sitting in on faculty committee meetings and contributing to grant development teams. This type of role is something I find really exciting because it takes the librarian out of their traditional role and places them in the middle of their patron base, where they are more visible. 

The article reaffirmed for me that there are several approaches that need to be considered before librarians approach an embedded role:

Provide a strong and consistent effort toward liasion duties

Relentlessly market the program and maintain visibility (attend faculty meetings, develop special events, meet faculty members and make an effort to meet as many faculty members as possible)

Strive to acquire feedback from students and faculty at every opportunity (design evaluations for each setting where you are working)

Be approachable, engaging and professional 

Understand the environment and disciplines where you work

Gain the trust of your users 

Another article by Schulte (2011) confirms in a case study from the Ohio State Health Sciences Library that developing more proactive reference services provides opportunities creates more specialized reference transactions. This result demonstrate that being more hands on with our patrons allows us to provide more individualized service to a specific patron base.

Embedded librarianship is so appealing to me because it places the librarian in an environment where they can be of use to their patrons. Too often I have seen librarians sitting in their office at the back of the library where nobody can see them. Becoming more accessible to our users and demonstrating that we are excited and qualified to help them in their own environments will provide us with a new role. My concern is that I do not see enough case studies published about their embedded librarianship efforts. I plan to conduct my own research on this topic in the future and in the mean time, hope that more studies emerge so that best practices can be developed. Being a librarian who loves to engage with his users, I love the idea of being hands on and available to patrons at every opportunity. 

The Embedded Librarian blog has been an incredibly valuable resource for me in terms of learning about the various components of this new role. The bibliography they developed has a wealth of information on the topic. 

To conclude I would like to ask a question: Out of curiosity, how embedded are other librarians out there? What measures have you put in place to try and become more engaged with your users? I would love to know! 


Freiburger, G., & Kramer, S. (2009). Embedded librarians: one library’s model for decentralized service. Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA, 97(2), 139-42. Retrieved from

Kealey S.(2011). Continual evolution: the experience over three semesters of a librarian embedded in an online evidence-based medicine course for physician assistant students. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 30(4), 411-25.

Sullo, E., Harrod, T., Butera, G., & Gomes, A. (2012). Rethinking library service to distance education students: analyzing the embedded librarian model. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 31(1), 25-33. doi: 10.1080/02763869.2012.641822

Schulte, S. J. (2011). Eliminating traditional reference services in an academic health sciences library: a case study. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 99(4), 273-279. doi: 10.3163/1536-5050.99.4.004


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