Openness and the Embedded Library Experience

Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram

January 16, 2018

What is open? In order to be embedded librarians, information professionals must be open-minded and open to new experiences. On a personal basis I have had many conversations with embedded librarians who report that the experience is, in addition to being a growth experience, also quite enjoyable, professionally satisfying and exciting.

They also note that it can be uncomfortable, ambiguous and, sometimes, less than secure, but with more upside potential for their career and compensation.

I discovered a list of ‘open’ terminology relevant to this post at my RSS pal Seth Godin’s blog.

  • “open source: a program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users or other developers see fit. If a car goes open source, then you’re permitting others to copy your engine and body design, improve it, put their improvements back into the pool and share some more.
  • open infrastructure: Amazon’s cloud is an example of this. You build the pipes and allow people to rent them to build their own systems on.
  • open architecture: A system (hardware or software) where people can learn how it works and then build things to plug in to extend it. The IBM PC had an open architecture, which meant that people could build sound cards or other devices to plug in (without asking IBM’s permission).
  • open standards: relying on rules that are widely used, consensus based, published and maintained by recognized industry standards organizations. It means that you’re not in charge, the standards guys are. Bluetooth is an example of attempting this, so is USB.
  • open access: APIs that make it easy for people to get at the data on your platform (Twitter is a great example, so is Google maps.)
  • open video: the combination of a p2p platform, open standards, free to share and open canvas.
  • open canvas: when your platform permits users to express themselves. WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook come to mind.
  • open book: this is a form of management in which all your employees see all the books, thus bridging the gulf between management and labor.
  • open sesame: the best way to get into a cave.
  • open mike: when anyone who shows up can be part of the show. I guess the difference between this and open canvas is that this is more linear. “Who’s next?”
  • open forum: users comment, rate and rank. Digg and Zagat’s come to mind. We could probably divide into the approaches that are more social (Chowhound) and those that are less (Yelp).
  • open door: simple method to allow individuals speak truth to power. Get satisfaction is one example.
  • open engagement: when individuals in power are available to all comers for questions and answers and dialogue.
  • open bar: the alternative to a cash bar. You pay one fee and then get all you want. In a world where selling is more expensive than delivering (things like bandwidth) this makes more and more sense.
  • open borders: your data is portable and you can walk out with it at any time. Amazon has closed borders (your history stays there) but OPML is open borders for RSS.
  • open elections: when anyone can vote, not just the elites, or registered users, or those that pay.
  • open house: allowing prospective buyers to walk around inside your product before deciding to buy.
  • open sauce: a company talks about its business methods publicly to build a brand. For example, Zazzle talking about their philosophies or a DUI blogger talking about how to beat a Breathalyzer.
  • open to all: the opposite of a country club. A trade show or meeting or event that doesn’t work to screen out attendees.
  • open identity: A protocol for carrying your identity from site to site, at your discretion.
  • open interaction: when previously private conversations (like customer support) are handled in public (via Twitter, for example).
  • open and shut: the kind of answer you rarely get.

So, is being an embedded librarian right for you? What might change? What might stay the same? Are you open to new and different experiences? Are you open minded or is there ‘right’ way to practice librarianship? Do you enjoy fewer limits? Are you OK with a less secure environment?

Open Systems in Libraries: Stepping up to the experience plateau

To me, embedded librarianship means that you are not only aligned (there’s that word again!) with your organization’s primary mission, goals and mandate but you’re also a critical link in the organization where your relationships are not just evident on the organizational chart but also in the social network of the decision structure. The people who matter, those that you work with, know you and your value deeply through personal experience and you have a relationship that goes beyond the role described in a traditional job description.

You create this through the experiences you have presenting your expertise as an equal member of the team. Some of those experiences involve the traditional skills of librarianship—organizing, research, answering questions. Some are just more transformational where good work and service transcends into a deep business relationship. The difference is in the balance between reactive and proactive behaviours. It is largely in how you spend your time—the balance changes from one where you mostly ‘do,’ to one where your involvement in meetings and relationships causes you to have insights and ideas that can be carried forward as part of the core team tasked with moving the organization forward. It is simultaneously an exciting and threatening opportunity.

As librarianship evolves, we will see an even greater emergence of librarians who practice independently from libraries, collections, and other librarians. This will occur more quickly in communities like special libraries. As more content goes online, the gatekeeper/gateway roles of librarians will decline in importance and need. The increase in need (and importance) will come from librarians’ shoulder to shoulder work with key users and management as well as from those building products and services to enhance strategic use of knowledge in their environment.

Let’s all be open to the opportunities that are knocking. We might even open the door before we hear the knock and create our own opportunities.


Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram

Stephen Abram is a popular Lucidea Webinars presenter. He is the past president of SLA, and the Canadian and Ontario Library Associations. He is the CEO of Lighthouse Consulting and the executive director of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries. He blogs personally at Stephen’s Lighthouse (

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