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Dedicated or part time embedded librarians: What works best for your organization?

Posted by Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD on 6/19/2018
Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD
Dedicated or part time embedded librarians: What works for best for your organization?

Embedded librarians can be dedicated staff members, or available upon request on an ‘as needed’ basis. Which strategy works best for your organization, project, and budget?

Embedding an information professional full-time means there’s always someone with in-depth knowledge of the field or subject. The embedded librarian can quickly identify, retrieve, and disseminate pertinent information to appropriate stakeholders and clients inside and outside the organization.


There are a variety of ways to approach embedded special librarianship. We’ve already talked about the purpose of embedding an information professional into a project or team. Let’s look at options for staffing those embedded special librarian positions. There are two basic options for dedicated staff: full-time and part-time, although you can also embed an information professional for the duration of a project.


Full-time dedicated embedded librarians are specialized staff assigned on a permanent basis to a project or team, department or division. That specialized librarian brings knowledge of the field of information retrieval and a subject specialty, while housed within the group. Advantages of this include that the embedded special librarian contributes to the project on a full-time basis, is always there, and always available to provide information and specific, in-depth research.

In addition to retrieving information, the dedicated information professionals repackage information to meet the needs of the team and the organization, assist with writing marketing pieces and supply background and in-depth data for grants and future product development. Knowledge learned and built within the group stays with the group even as it is disseminated throughout the organization.


Part-time embedded special librarians are available on-call for the project. These information professionals are housed within the information center and are assigned a variety of duties including participation in a project on an as-needed basis. A part-time information professional is perfect for a smaller project, one with a smaller budget or a long lead time. Just-in-time marketing and grant writing are perfect opportunities to call upon the pool of special librarians within an organization. They have a broad knowledge of information needs and an overall sense of institution-wide, ongoing projects.

The disadvantage of part-time is the adage of ‘out of sight means out of mind.’ If the information professional isn’t physically part of the development group, information and data is retrieved, gathered and disseminated by team members instead of an assigned special librarian. Information isn’t always distributed in a timely manner—rather, the group scrambles for just-in-time release of information. There’s always a ‘catch up’ phase each time the part time embedded librarian joins the conversation or a meeting.

An Alternative Option

Leveraging an embedded special librarian for the duration of a project is an alternative option to dedicated or as-needed information professional staffing. This option is perfect for an organization where project staff are reallocated or assigned depending upon need and specialty. In some organizations, each time a project finishes, staff is shuffled around depending upon need. In this case, embedded special librarians are assigned at the beginning of each project cycle. Knowledge is shared enterprise-wide and information center professionals gain a broader perspective of the organization’s intellectual and information needs.

The best staffing option?

Consider how the institution assigns projects and responsibilities. Are projects designed around groups of specialists that shift and reconfigure regularly, or do the specialists work in subject or specialty focused clusters? If the former, a part-time special librarian is best. Assigning an information professional for the duration of the project also works. If projects are always determined by subject or skill specialty, a full-time embedded special librarian is the key.

In all cases, embedded special librarians bring knowledge of developing projects back to the information center, providing professional development to their peers. They disseminate information to the organization as a whole but also to the information center for use in current and future projects.

Summing it up

Assigning embedded special librarians depends upon how the organization allocates staff and specialists to projects.

  • Dedicated embedded special librarians means information stays within the group, focusing on subject specific needs, and requiring little retraining and re-acquaintance with the parameters and needs of the project.
  • Dedicated information professionals are always there, never out of sight or the information loop.
  • Part-time access to information professionals means competition for time and attention to information needs, and time spent catching up on project details and progress. Delays in acquiring information must be built into project timelines.
  • Part-time allocation of special librarians is perfect for small projects or smaller organizations.
  • Shifting information specialists by project works when staff are reshuffled based on knowledge and need. Information professionals are cross-trained and recognize institution-wide information needs.

The next blog post will consider how embedded special librarians enhance catalog records, focus metadata and subject terms, and improve access to databases and information retrieval systems.

Topics: Professional Development, Special Librarians