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Embedded Librarianship: From Laundromats to Zumba Class

by on April 18, 2019

I first learned about embedded librarianship in public libraries at the PLA 2014 conference in Indianapolis. There at the program “Creative Community Connections,” librarians from Colorado and Ohio shared their story of embedding library staff in community institutions outside of the library. The panelists defined embedded librarians as those who “attend meetings and events hosted by the organization, share library programs/services of interest to the group, and may take on a leadership role within the group.”

I was particularly impressed by the infrastructure that the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Ohio had developed to support this process, including a form that library staff (at all levels) can fill out to propose becoming an embedded librarian. The form includes the expected time commitment and a description of “how will engagement with this organization benefit the library?” It is very smart to think about the staffing implications that emerge when library staff spend significant amounts of time working outside library facilities.

In any case, Barb White from the Akron-Summit County Public Library has continued talking about and developing her library’s approach to embedded librarianship. Most recently, she presented at an Ohio Library Council day-long symposium “Community Engagement @ Your Library: Creating Vibrant, Diverse, and Inclusive Communities.” At this event, librarians from across Ohio shared how they practice embedded librarianship. The possibilities are endless! Sarah Glover Crawford from Lima Public Library states that we should be doing more to “Take [our] programming abilities and skills and show them off (almost) anywhere! Today more than ever it is critical that libraries start thinking and moving outside their walls and establish a strong presence outside in the community.”

Here are two examples of librarians doing just that — embedded librarianship in laundromats and Zumba classes. You may have heard of librarians delivering programs in laundromats. This idea has recently taken off, and has received some high profile media coverage, including by PBS’s News Hour, the U.S. News & World Report, and in the Chicago Tribune. These efforts involve partnerships between local public libraries (Chicago Public Library and the New York Public Library, respectively) and the non-profit organization Libraries Without Borders.

Brian Bannon, commissioner and CEO of the Chicago Public Library, stated that “Kids are not really being engaged while they’re at the laundromat … What if we could use them as an outreach point – a place where we could support literacy and engage with children and families? It’s an unlikely place in a lot of ways, but it’s a likely place in that it’s a traditional area where kids and parents go.”

This, in a nut-shell, is what embedded librarianship is all about: Meeting people where they are and finding ways to add value to people’s lives through this process.

Meanwhile, in the rural community of Odell, Oregon (population 2,255), Patty Lara of the Hood River County Library District practices embedded librarianship by taking library services to a weekly Zumba class. She writes in the article “Impacting Rural Hispanic Communities by Reaching Out, Connecting and Providing Services at Different Levels” in the Oregon Library Association Quarterly that she started practicing this form of embedded librarianship in 2014: “This opportunity came to be because of my little sister. She took me to a free community Zumba class offered in Odell. As I quickly discovered, this was a perfect opportunity to promote library services. I attended the next Zumba class where I presented my ideas to promote the library to the instructors, and they were excited to partner with me. I now carry with me a crate of books, laptop, and scanner. I have the ability to register new patrons and provide library services once a week.”

Lara shared this story in her article: “Just last year, I had an older woman ask me for a library card. She was a little quiet and reserved, and she told me she was specifically looking for a certain book. I told her I didn’t have it at that moment, but I would bring it to the next class. She came up to me during the following class, and I showed her the book. She was so happy and told me she would have never been able to get a hold of a book like that because she didn’t have the resources to get to the library.”

The local media in Hood River has also reported on Lara’s embedded librarianship at a Zumba class. Read more about her work here.

Where do you practice embedded librarianship? What impacts has it had? Share your story in the comments.

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