ALA 2012: Embedded Librarian Best Practices

Embedded Librarian Best Practices: You Can Do It, We Can Help (Follow link for description & PPTs)

Moderator: Debbie Nolan, Dean of University Libraries, Towson University
Speaker: Kate A. Langan, Humanities Librarian, Western Michigan University
Speaker: Kathleen Pickens-French, Public Services Librarian, Miami University Hamilton
Speaker: Krista McDonald, Director, Rentschler Library, Miami University Hamilton
Speaker: Paul Betty, Distance Learning Librarian, Regis University


  • Debbie’s slides
  • 65% of all 2 & 4 year institutions offered credit-bearing distance ed classes in ’06-’07 (per USDE). 61% online, 35% hybrid/blended, 26% other. 12.2 million enrollments
  • 4.6+ million students took at least 1 online course in Fall 2008 – up 17% from prior year. Growth was way more than overall higher ed student population (1.2%). 25% + students take at least one course online
  • ACRL Standards for Distance Learning Library Services – define library access/entitlements. Must meet needs of all constituents wherever they are.
  • Lots of growth but quality is still a concern.
  • Research action is now swirling around LMSs, not the physical ref desk. Must be more proactive & creative to teach IL to distance students.
  • Activities Embedded Librarians (ELs) engage in: virtual reference service, electronic access/delivery of resources, online IL instruction, libs as online co-instructions, etc.
  • Challenges: vagaries of LMSs, the usual tech problems, multiple communication strategies & amount, instructors want different levels of involvement
  • Future: If we are to remain relevant – envision a future in which EL is the norm, not the forefront.

Kathleen & Krista:

  • Informal rule of 3s when dealing with online content – 3-minute video tutorials, 3 line descriptions, etc.
  • 3 things beyond your control: your institution’s LMS; faculty member’s course design; student info seeking behavior (ISB)
  • 3 reminders on ISB: they SKIM text so don’t use too much (3 lines of text or fewer in descriptions); they zoom in on actionable content – buttons, images, text that’s a link, search boxes, etc., so use it wisely; they lose patience and will move on if they can’t figure something out.
  • 3 things to strive for with LMS pages for librarians: consistency – otherwise they have to relearn “how the libraries work” every time. But need to be flexible so update/change content appropriately (keep an eye on what the prof is doing – changes to assignments, etc., did you cancel a db and have a dead link to it now?); usability – assess it to find out what students think
  • They found almost 90% were using page they put together. . . .but 50% still go back to Google.
  • How many resources to include? students said they’d try up to 3 before abandoning for Google. Your embedded librarian page is not a showcase for all your stuff – just use the ones that will help the greatest number of students in the class.
  • A lot of their distance students are also taking in person classes, so they have the opportunity to interact with them in person. Instant Messaging has been thorny for them – do we embed a chat widget or not?
  • Most are doing research on weekdays after 5pm. (35% are working between 9pm – 1am) On weekends about 25% work in the afternoons but most are evening/nighttime to do homework. Think really hard about your own availability! Not there when they’re doing their work. Open until 9pm on weekday evenings . . . but only one librarian.
  • Have tried to be adaptable to work around this. Sending email blasts to students – who needs help, here’s how to get it. Using LibraryH3lp account to allow everyone in the library to catch chats so they’re not out of luck if “their” librarian is out/away. Also have done video tutorials.
  • They will for the most part only watch a tutorial for 3-4 minutes tops.
  • What’s the problem? Why are we still having problems with this? Old habits die hard.
  • We want to provide all possible things they might need. Even if you are doing an online research guide, think about limiting yourself to only include what would fit on a physical handout.
  • Working in isolation – we can read about your EL stuff but can’t actually look at it. Why not let our colleagues take a look at make suggestions about our pages.
  • They’re using templates – consistent navigation/terminology so students know what they’re doing. Saves time! Improves sustainability/scalability.
  • Keeping templates organized – terminology/lingo is important – not only consistent within LMS but also with library website.
  • Use page anchors but make the most important content obvious and very visible right away. Also helpful to have anchors that link back up to the top from the different sections.
  • Sub-headers – helps to move through, also great for accessibility (marked up so that screen reader knows how to parse it).
  • Bulleted lists!
  • No matter what, cut your text in half. Then cut it in half again.
  • Images/buttons – remember they like actionable stuff.
  • Students assume that you’re an expert because the prof has allowed you into the online class. So, they aren’t interested in your bio.


  • 560 one shot sessions last year – 40 on satellite campuses – 5 or 6 librarians are doing these! Kate did 25 in the fall – really can’t do any more.
  • IL is now in the strategic plan for academic affairs. But they can’t reach everyone – 80 sections just of freshman comp. But only 20 – 25 come in.
  • Faculty just assume students are getting this somewhere and don’t think about it otherwise. What are we missing? The classes are located far away from the library, so it’s long-distance in a way. If they don’t come to me and I can’t go to them – how do we do this? Distance learning.
  • Embracing e-Learning/distance learning. Rethinking the players involved in the structure. Is the target audience even the students? She thinks it’s the instructors, who don’t know how or when to teach info lit concepts.
  • Teaching the teachers to become a proxy librarian.
  • Ecologies of information literacy – people, modalities, tools.
  • Librarians are the keystone species of the ecosystem. Is this sustainable? We can’t do anymore IL classes. We need to pass this on & recruit others to help.
  • Modalities are varied – face to face in the ref desk or classroom, and then tons of ways to virtually connect.
  • Tools – analog tools for face to face, digital tools for virtual spaces.
  • Librarian still initiates the information cycle & still involved as the pivotal player – packaging all the tools & concepts for the instructors.
  • E-learning as a repository of info lit – best practices, reading materials, chats, sample assignments, etc.
  • Doesn’t have much control over how her content is presented in their elearning system. But has sample syllabi and assignments, rubrics on how to grade assignments to assess IL – called an “info literacy toolkit.” Failed miserably last summer. But sounds like since then the strategic plan has come out so that will help give some heft to what she’s doing.
  • Toolkit offers just-in-time service that’s sustainable and adaptable and self-paced. May want to offer something that’s more global in addition to the freshman comp info.
  • Takes a larger view of what the ultimate goal of EL is – new ideas for scope/scale.
  • Paul & one other primarily responsible for instruction for distance services division – ~10k students. They drive to the satellite campuses and do lots online.
  • ID the courses that have a research component to focus on. This means that students are a little ways along their degree path, though. Solicit instructors directly. Try to work with instructors to clearly define what they’ll instruct on – not doing deep subject instruction.
  • Key piece of info for him is how to get assistance after he leaves the class.
  • Thru this have built some very strong relationships with faculty who are library advocates. They’ll contact months in advance to schedule the library session. Helps to establish this as a norm among new faculty & librarians can eventually become partners or consultants in course redesign and development.
  • Adding into course structure is good but also can backfire as number of sections increases – if you can’t scale on your end this gets tough depending on what the requirement involves. (He has to reply to individual posts by students in each section in week three of one class.)
  • In the past online classes were mostly asynchronous. He can work to do things like develop templates, handouts, tutorials, etc that the students can use whenever they log in to work on something.
  • Has been recently thinking about the massive open enrollment courses popping up. Thinks info lit might be a good candidate. We really do not need to be working in isolation on this – let’s collaborate more.
  • Now online instruction is adding synchronous components. (They use Adobe Connect.) Finds that students who do log into the meetings they offer are very appreciative. They record the sessions & post them for anyone who can’t attend.
  • Students will kind of self-ID their learning style to an extent. Say things like “I tried to read your posts but it wasn’t until this live meeting that I really got it.”
  • Why webcasts? Faculty were requesting them, institution got a very flexible license. He got his own meeting room for their Adobe installation which they find greatly helpful. Allows them to do more sessions that they instigate.
  • Even the on-campus students prefer online access & interaction. (Student who’s 10 feet from the ref desk and uses online chat to ask a ?)
  • Learning curve has looped back around to A/V – kids learn all kinds of stuff from YouTube videos. LMS is very text-based but don’t forget other modes of delivery that are really useful.
  • They’ll be doing more webcasts for other services like office hours, orientations, etc. (this is where own meeting room in Adobe comes in) Recently got greater access to the LMS – really grew out of their good work, demonstrated benefit and competence. They have access to everything now.
  • Scalability & sustainability – collaboration is a key element of the solution.
  • Faculty don’t know about info lit & still can’t find library resources – how do you train them to reinforce concepts in class? Kate – training the advanced scholar is a whole other thing. Looking more at the nascent scholar.
  • We don’t have any online library classes but trying to start implement a plan on this. How? Krista – Talk to your instructional designers and the people involved in your elearning stuff on campus – that’s who faculty go to.
  • Lots of presenters mentioned collaboration with faculty – I’m new to the distance ed role, wondering how to navigate these waters. Strategies, tips for establishing relationships? Kathleen – feed them! Krista – Be active on institutional committees. Paul – Committee work is a good way to make relationships with senior faculty in particular. They have influence & will disseminate info thru the ranks.
  • How do you get physical materials to your distance learners? Paul – Goes through ILL. We ship to them anywhere in the world, but they have to pay to ship it back. With online courses try to point them to our licensed online stuff to reduce those costs & wait times. Side project of this is that they are copyright clearance people on campus now & look at faculty lists to say here’s what we have, here’s what we don’t and what it would cost – is there a suitable alternative?
  • Blended situations – how does this impact librarians who are not in the main library? Paul – good question. Conference questioner ran – silos everywhere, people are working in isolation even within their own institutions.


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