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Embedded Librarians

April 2, 2018

The notion of an embedded librarian is a completely new concept to me and embarrassingly is someone I had never heard of until this weekend. While reviewing a webinar presented back on January 9, 2018, by Emily Mross, Lori Lysiak, and Victoria Raish of Penn State University entitled “Embedding in a Tangled Web: Starting an Embedded Librarian Program,” courtesy of the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Round Table (TL&T) of the Pennsylvania Library Association, my horizons were broadened about this academic aspect of embedding a librarian into an online course, much like a website, a YouTube video, or, on those especially stressful days, an ingrown toe nail. What an intriguing and commendable aspect of our librarian profession!

Serving as an embedded librarian is by no means an easy endeavor. Mross, Lysiak, and Raish suggest that academic librarians considering this should start with light involvement in “embeddedness” versus full involvement. Librarians should begin with one class and focus on their level of involvement. Being lightly embedded means that the librarian might participate in discussion forums and serve as a resource for students. On the other end, being fully embedded might require creating assignments for the course and reviewing student work. This stipulates that a large portion of the class time must be managed by the embedded librarian. It is advised to know your capacities as a librarian and to not stretch yourself too thin with commitments and too many courses. Planning a semester beforehand is suggested to encourage a rapport with the instructor and to get to know his or her style of teaching. Because students taking online courses may not necessarily reside on campus or live nearby, factoring in their time zones and how (and when) you wish to conduct your reference services is also required. You will need to be flexible with how the students can reach you.

Expectations must be established before embedding yourself in a course or two. The additional support of your stakeholders must be obtained and an environment of respect needs to be nourished. Besides the students and course instructors, other stakeholders might include program leads, instructional designers, and even the registrar. The latter is extremely important to foster a culture of respect with due to FERPA stipulations. Embedded librarians need to remain open-minded to feedback from all the stakeholders and ask questions. Remaining consistent by knowing and respecting your limits is key.

Mross, Lysiak, and Raish report great success with embedding at Penn State, with librarians embedded in sixteen courses. This is the result of targeting high-level undergraduate and graduate courses and initially meeting with the department administrative heads. Courses which might be ideal for an embedded librarian were identified. Three faculty agreed to participate in the pilot program. At the end of the semester, a survey was administered to the students. Faculty could see a marked improvement in student work and were able to tell which students took advantage of the embedded librarian reference. Sadly, some students were not even aware that an embedded librarian was available in the course. These are results which need to be taken into consideration for future courses.

Are any of you embedded librarians? Can you share with me how you do this? Do your students take advantage of the service? How do you remain flexible to accommodate the unique circumstances of online courses?


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