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Embedded Libraries: Taking the Library to the World

If a student wanted to learn about glacial geology, what better way than to go out and see its effects?  

The landscape of Central New York ripples with the impact of glaciation and we travel though prominent examples of geologic formations at every turn.  

What if, instead of simply reading about geology in a book, we had a field guide of resources and materials that could be accessed on location?  

What if we had a library embedded in locations of educational significance? Glacial geology is but one subject that could benefit from this approach.

What about local history or architecture or literature or countless other topics?

Critics often pin the supposed imminent demise of libraries on the decline of print media. However, as I argue in a previous Information Space post: the face of libraries are changing, but their function is not. Imagine a radically different face for libraries: rather than having books and physical collections serve as the nexus for learning, libraries could embed themselves within the community. Embedded libraries could help to engage communities and foster learning throughout our local landscape.

A New Face For Libraries

The idea for embedded libraries developed as a group project for Professor R. David Lankes’s Introduction to the Library and Information Profession course, where I worked with Hyerin Bak, Brandon Fess, Jennifer McDonald, and Jared Raymond to develop a website and experiment with the concept.

EM-QRAs we outline on our website, there are four ways to use the information and resources for our Embedded Library. Users can explore our map, search the catalog on our website, browse by subject, or (if the project were implemented) scan a QR code posted at a location.

Any of these access methods bring users to a location’s page on our website, where we include a short description of notable features demonstrated by the locale, offer additional resources, and provide a space for users to comment and contribute to the conversation. For an example, see the article on Chittenango Falls State Park.

So, you may ask, where do librarians fit into embedded libraries? In short, they act as curators—assembling articles, gathering resources, and moderating community involvement.

Scalable Solutions

The true potential of embedded libraries resides in the concept’s scalability. Over the course of a few weeks, we were able to build a basic foundation for the project, which required few resources beyond our time and energy. On this foundation, embedded libraries could expand in a number of directions, which we elaborate on our website. Beyond adding content in a variety of subjects, embedded libraries could employ Library Boxes to distribute content, integrate with smartphone and wearable technology apps, benefit from the framework of the semantic web, and providing knowledge-sharing in conjunction with Human Libraries.

Just as “embedded librarianship” takes library professionals out into the field, this project seeks to decentralize the library’s structure of information and resources. The better libraries can integrate their functions with their users’ everyday lives, the better they can fulfill their missions to make information available to the public.  

So in that vein, rather than being a threat, technology has the power to save the core functions of the library. In order to see ways forward, we must approach librarianship from new directions, and the use of localized content shows great promise.

Have you got some thoughts or comments about the future of libraries or how embedded libraries could work? Please offer them here!

Ryan Perry

I am a second-year graduate student pursuing a Masters in Library & Information Science degree at Syracuse University's iSchool. My interests revolve around digital technologies, music, disc golf, hashing, and craft beer. I received a MA in American Cultural History from the University of Rochester and I hold down a night job as a live sound engineer. Find me on Twitter @unwordedly.

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