By Mary Talley, Owner, TalleyPartners, 2011 DC/SLA President (DC & Maryland Chapters, B&F, IT, KM, Leadership & Management and Legal Divisions)
Best Practices for Government Libraries is a collaborative document that is put out annually on a specific topic of interest to government libraries and includes content submitted by government librarians and community leaders with an interest in government libraries. The 2011 edition includes over 70 articles and other submissions provided by more than 60 contributors including librarians in government agencies, courts, and the military, as well as from professional association leaders, and more. Best Practices is edited by Marie Kaddell, Senior Information Professional Consultant; SLA DGI Chair. If you did not write for this year’s Best Practices, Marie invites you to submit a guest post for the Government Info Pro firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relationships, relationships, relationships! Like the old adage about the importance of location in real estate, embedded information professionals’ success rests partially on the depth of their relationship with their user groups. The research that I performed in 2009 and 2010 on models of embedded librarianship with my colleague, Dave Shumaker, showed that strong working relationships are often built on frequent interactions, such as face-to-face meetings, hallway chats, and shared meals and social events. Being present in information users’ day-to-day work life helps them to see the information professional as a member of the group and promotes credibility. Social interactions break down barriers and promote trust. As information users become more comfortable with the information professional, they think of them more often as someone who can solve less traditional information problems.
Being There — Virtually
In a virtual environment, duplicating this level of interaction can be difficult. How can you create and sustain equally strong connections with information users that you may never see? Although you may have to work harder to develop virtual relationships, there is encouraging data from the research, case studies and the literature that shows the way.
In a case study from our research, a knowledge analyst on the East Coast is integrated into a practice group located everywhere around the globe – except the East Coast. The analyst’s strongest supporter is the practice group’s executive manager, who is located on the West Coast. The analyst and the manager rarely meet, and the analyst has never met most of the practice group. Yet, the analyst is one of only two who have full access to all practice group-related emails, which she monitors for both work product (which she captures) and emerging issues (for which she provides preemptive support).
Start at the Top
How did the knowledge analyst do it? Her initial connections with the practice group were made through collaborative work with the senior manager on high-value, departmental work products. In many ways, the analyst worked as an apprentice knowledge manager with the senior manager, learning and building trust. The senior manager encouraged the analyst to expand her subject expertise and take on more challenges. She credits the manager’s support as the single most important factor in her success.
Over time, the senior manager has integrated the knowledge analyst as an active participant in all of the practice group’s online communications, meetings and learning opportunities. As a result, the practice group has come to know and trust her capabilities; demand for her work is skyrocketing and other groups are requesting her help as word spreads about her capabilities.
In the successful embedded groups identified in our research, management support is the key to successful integration of the embedded professionals into their information user groups. Relationships between the embedded professional and management are exceptionally strong. In one self-rated highly successful embedded group we identified, ties to user group management include giving both written and verbal reports to group managers.
In a dispersed virtual environment where information professionals may rarely, if ever, come into contact with senior management, reciprocal relationships between management in both the information center management and the information user groups are also instrumental in connecting individual information professionals with organizational groups. In the case of the knowledge analyst (who is an employee of her parent organization’s library), the information center director has cultivated connections with all levels of organizational management, facilitated the collaboration between the analyst and the practice group manager and encouraged the analyst’s alignment with the information user group.
As important as management support is, the information professional can’t just wait for her boss or a senior manager to intervene. To become embedded, a professional in a virtual or physical environment needs to be highly skilled in outreach and relationship-building. Members of the self-rated highly successful embedded group we identified proactively sought management support, including meeting regularly with customer group management to understand their information needs. Likewise, the knowledge analyst seeks continuous feedback from the two senior managers in the practice group she works with.
Subject expertise is imperative to gaining credibility and trust, but it’s not enough if the information users don’t know – and trust – the information professional well enough to call her for extraordinary issues. When senior management advises contacting this person for all information-related issues, chances are the user group will listen. The knowledge analyst in our case study noted that the senior manager endorsed and promoted her work to the group, increasing her credibility.
In a virtual environment, where casual interaction is unlikely, this endorsement from the top is critical. With management support and information savvy, the embedded professional can be as successful in the virtual world as in the physical one.
Shumaker, D., & Talley, M. (2010). Models of embedded librarianship: A research summary. Information Outlook, 14(1), 27-27-28, 33-35.
Talley, M. (2011). Success and the Embedded Librarian. Information Outlook, 15(3) http://www.sla.org/io/2011/04/995.cfm
Mary Talley is an information professional and an entrepreneur. She heads TalleyPartners, an information management consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, repositioning and embedded information structures for information centers. She was a co-recipient of the 2008 SLA Research Grant to study successful models of embedded librarianship. Mary currently serves as President of DC/SLA.