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Embedded librarianship: the future of libraries

With the rise of the internet and electronic research resources, it is not uncommon for a librarian to hear that libraries are no longer necessary. “You can find anything on the internet” is an often heard phrase. What most of those people do not realize is how integrated librarians (and information scientists) are in organizing and providing information to the public. Libraries must be able to offer resources across multiple formats, not solely through the internet and single books, but through models and creative and organizational programs as well.

Librarians used to be seen as the gatekeepers of information, allowing access to the library’s resources, now the librarian’s role has pivoted to that of tour guide. No sane academic would deny the depth of information resources that technology has provided to modern society, but the issue lies with information literacy and if or how people use the information they find. While earning a Master’s of Library/Information Science, a budding librarian is taught how to absorb and analyze information, how to organize said information, and how to present that information to the library’s audience.

For many health science librarians, their audience is a wide range of people from physical therapy and nursing students to physicians and clinical researchers. And with evidence-based medicine or evidence-based practice (EBM or EBP) on the rise, many librarians realize that to help guide users to the best resources, they need to be proactive, not reactive, in their teaching of information literacy. This means being embedded in the subjects for which they are offering resources. Librarians continue to provide the tools so that health providers can continue to make the best practice decisions, but librarians also teach users how to get the best use out of those tools.

There is a rise of librarians becoming embedded in teaching classes for medical students and showing clinicians where to find the best practice guidelines. Plenty of these health science resources are freely available to the public but are not widely known because WebMD is listed before them on a Google search results listing. (While Google is a helpful tool, their search algorithm is based on popularity of the websites that have been chosen from Google in the past.) Many health science librarians are becoming part of the academic and clinical teams that helps to provide better health outcomes through research and evidence-based practices.

Now that librarians are charged with the task of making themselves actively involved in the learning process, rather than being there when someone has a project due at the end of the course, it is important for librarians to stay on top of their embedded areas’ current research. While webinars and listservs have been common continuing education staples for a handful of years now, subject-intensive conferences are also gaining more momentum.

Multiple regions across the United States (the Great Lakes, the Northeast and Southeast, Texas, etc.) are now offering “Science Boot Camps for Librarians”. These conferences offer concentrated learning about science specific subjects from experts in their respective fields that librarians can then take back to teach their users and students. Being able to look at multiple disciplines within the span of a few days also helps to connect subjects that may not have interacted before. For example, in Augusta, Georgia, there is one of three Medical Illustration programs in the United States at Augusta University. In addition to needing to know advanced medical anatomy, the program must also connect with the latest and greatest in illustrative technology. Nowadays, the focus is on 3D printing and being able to do more than ever before with negative space. So much precision goes into one illustrative representation.

As a librarian embedded in the College of Allied Health Sciences at Augusta University, I have been fortunate to work with multiple fields such as occupational therapy, nutrition and dietetics, public health, respiratory therapy, medical illustration, dental hygiene, and others. As clinically intensive disciplines, most of their preliminary students want enough of a cursory knowledge to find information for a project that will amount to a grade. However, for those that delve further into research or realize how evidence-based practice will infinitely help their fast-approaching career, the library is often the first place they turn.

As a librarian, I am there to perform duties such as guiding clinical laboratory students and faculty on how to perform systematic reviews (whose definition includes the term “exhaustive search”). I am here to teach what resources people should be looking for, why to use those resources, and to sometimes interpret those results for users. A couple months ago, I needed to find dietary guidelines on a food preservative for the hospital’s nutrition services to make sure the transition to a new food service would not be harmful to patients.

Each discipline needs different requirements. Public health often needs statistics and raw data on certain populations. Often the government and various foundations that do keep precise records of various health populations are not well known and will not pop up on the first page of a Google search.

It is common for me to enter a classroom and ask the students what they are working on are and to then walk the students through the resources that are available to them, explaining each one as I go as to why it may or may not be helpful. “You’re doing a project on dementia? Well, you will want to look at PubMed because it will offer you the most resources and is essentially the Google of the health science world. You will also want to look at PsycINFO….”

It is a balance of finding out what resources the health sciences want and being able to provide the resources that users need, and the best way to find that balance is to have a librarian at the health science table.

Featured image credit: “Books, Library, Bookshelf” by smithcarolyn01, Public Domain via Pixabay.

Recent Comments

  1. Diana Tope

    In the 8th paragraph, I wonder if there is a typo. The sentence reads: “I am here to teach what resources people should be looking for, why to use those resources, and to sometimes interrupt those results for users.” Does the author perhaps intend to say “Interpret” rather than “Interrupt”. Thanks for this well-done article. I am planning to take it to my doctor, who recently told me that “everyone knows that libraries are useless now.” Grr-r-r-r!

  2. Yasmin Coonjah

    Hi Diana,

    Many thanks for spotting we have now corrected it! Have a great day

    Yasmin,
    OUPblog deputy editor

  3. Tim Zijlstra

    This is increasingly common in Nursing degrees as well, it is a logical consequence of an increased focus on Evidence Based work and the relating assessment, don’t you think?

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