Wednesday, 22 April 2015

It's All About Us: The Importance of Embedded Librarianship

Sometimes it is only with hindsight that you realise you’re going about things the right way, professionally speaking. Over the past year I’ve been reflecting on how the law library profession has changed over the last two decades. When I concluded that ‘I like to think of library services being an 'information centre'; we are at the centre of the firm and information revolves around us, whilst we ensure it gets to the right place’, I had no idea that I was describing embedded librarianship. Although I was actually referring to communications, the latest SLA event on the 20th April at the Sage offices emphasised the importance of physically being in the middle of things.

We heard two very different speakers; Jacqueline Beattie, Information Services Lead at Neftex Petroleum Consultants Ltd, and Genny Franklin, Clinical Librarian at Barts Health NHS Trust. Both offered a tale of embedded librarianship in their respective fields: geoscience and obstetrics and gynaecology. A brief overview of their roles and their employers will inevitably draw out differences between the two roles, but there are inherent similarities. And it was these similarities to which I found myself nodding my head.

Neftex provides information to companies in the mining and drilling industries. The three information teams feed large amounts of raw bibliographic data from scientific research papers into a database, which can then be turned into 3D geographical maps to produce an incredibly valuable asset. After all, sinking oil wells is an expensive business. The goal is to provide the best geoscience information, set the standard for indexing in this subject, and train their scientists to add real value to this information. As evidence of being truly embedded, all graduates and new starters sit with the information team and learn how the systems work, so that they can then move into their departments knowing how to research properly.

This holistic approach has ensured the success of the company, which has won plaudits for its inspiring brand. By having access to better information with expert indexing, it has improved the research culture and the flow of knowledge. They rely on feedback, querying techniques and retrospective checking and are able to constantly improve their systems. If anyone is struggling to sell the importance of library and information in their companies or organisations, this success story is a great case study.

Genny offered an alternative picture of overwhelming success in a high pressure, low investment industry; the NHS. The general public may query frivolous expenditure on clinical librarians; after all, it could be argued that doctors have spent time studying medicine. Why would they need highly trained researchers, essentially diverting funds from nurses on wards? Anyone supporting this view needs to have a conversation with Genny after a ward round, a stint in clinic, or a medical professional development meeting (called ‘Journals Club’).

Most of us enter the library profession to help people. But most of us do it from the detached world of law, accountancy, surveyors’ offices, research and development companies, or university, school and public libraries – library and information people pop up everywhere. However for two days a week Genny is on the frontline, seeing people at their most vulnerable, with her on the spot research meaning the difference between ‘the best’ and ‘a better method’ of treatment. Her medics rely on quick and reliable access to an ever increasing amount of research, and as her embedded time within the department demonstrates her services are heavily used.

Every consultant in her department has asked for searches; how many of us can boast that in our firms? The cardiologists have looked at their obs & gynae colleagues and have started to consider their own clinical librarian but they face funding issues. Success has brought its own problems. She does not have time to answer all the queries and they will contact her evenings, weekends, and holidays. Not only that but the logistics aren’t idea as she uses her own electronic equipment whilst in the department. And as she becomes more embedded and accepted in the medical team, she finds herself both offering and requiring emotional support, as she says, it’s a high stress and she sees a lot of pain.

I want to conclude on two similarities which they raised. Many professionals with whom we work assume that research is an ‘easy’ task. Jacqueline and Genny have shown their colleagues that required special skills; one by ensuring graduates spend time in the information centre, and the other by practical demonstration. When someone is in a hurry for information, they think they can find it quicker and yet they can’t. Secondly their roles mean that they are in direct contact with scientists or medics, and we in other professions need to embrace this way of working and not sit apart from our colleages on the ‘front line’. Only then can we prove our worth and achieve the glowing feedback that these two information professionals regularly get.

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