RefRen: Embedded Librarians

I had the great good fortune of being able to attend the second Reference Renaissance conference in Denver earlier this month.  (The first was two years ago.) With just over 300 attendees, it was small by conference standards, but the energy among the participants was tangible, and the group as a whole was friendly and curious. And our library director, Rivkah Sass, was the co-chair!

Here’s a summary of the sessions I thought would be most interesting as possible applications for Sacramento Public Library.

Community Reference: Embedded Librarians
Douglas County Libraries

Elizabeth Kelsen-Huber, Colbe Galston,  Kathy Johnson and Amy Long

What: interacting with the community and demonstrating professional library skills outside the physical building. District initiative for the library – get out there and become engaged.  Different understandings led to different implementations in the various libraries.

One implementation is embedded librarians – this fulfills the need for a process for getting librarians out of the library. The participatory service model allows the librarian to become familiar with the group, and informs group of library services. The first project was to embed a librarian in a group of developers and business organizations for a specified time period.  She attended meetings, coordinated email lists, took minutes, did research, and helped the group achieve its goals.  It also raised the library’s visibility in the community, as the group’s members  took the experience back to their businesses and community organizations.

Challenges: scheduling and training.  Paraprofessionals staffed the reference desks more, to free the librarians to be out in the community.   Librarians attended meetings and advocated for the library – this put a name and a face to the library.  Now, embeddedness is an expectation, not a requirement.

Librarians communicate among each other internally via their Community Reference blog – this helps the district unify the community reference efforts; access is private, for library staff only. Librarians post about “hot” issues countywide, biographies of community leaders, minutes of community meetings. They look for common themes and issues they can then propose as a community reference project.

They measure the program’s effectiveness with statements librarians would find to be true, and by evidence that needs are being met on all sides. Organizations they work with are reluctant to see the end of their community reference project.

Comment from audience: by getting out, we are making sure the community knows the value of the library and will vote to continue funding.

Q: are organizations you work with recommending you to other organizations?  Yes. It’s hard to get out once you get in.


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