High-touch embedding….if it is effective….is going to generate ripples. And I don’t mean only tiny ripples. Expect waves! I was surprised by the magnitude of the impact on reference questions (that 400% jump!) from the embedded librarian pilot reported by Bennett and Simning. But, the fact that the pilot caused a bump in reference traffic jibes with my experience. Every meaningful intensive experience we have had embedded in a course has generated a ton of spinoff work…..particularly 1-on-1 reference meetings, purchasing, custom database searching, LibGuide development or enhancement, and citation queries. The questions and requests just flood in.
This. Is. So. Good.
But there are trade-offs to the embedded model and the heightened activity it generates. In my case, when we are full-on high-touch, it totally subsumes my original job description. Step in the library some days and you can see the concrete evidence of the embed trade-off: carts of books dry-docked awaiting shelving, periodicals stacked to be processed. My former self would be so ashamed!
And let’s not forget the ruckus! When the librarian and I are off on our noble embeds, the 2 library staff we leave behind are quickly outflanked by marauding teenagers. Okay, I overstated that for drama but, honestly, supervision is a big part of my job and, when I am not there to do it, a tantalizing void opens up that high school students simply can’t resist filling with noise, contraband food, PDA and general hijinks. I know too that when the librarian and I aren’t there, the queries of walk-in or call-in patrons often just have to wait. Our two co-workers are miraculously cheerfully about adjusting what they used to do….unmolested by reference queries and supervision duties….to pick up the slack of our absences.
Can we keep this up? This week I’ve thought a lot about Jen’s point in her Week 5 blog post that “this increased demand to the point of un-sustainability is exactly what we are looking for.” At my library, we took our show-on-the-road several years ago with the advent our 1:1 laptop program but we quickly plateaued in terms of the number of students we were reaching. This year, a new school-wide emphasis on research has sparked a big upswing in teachers seeking library services….from high-touch to low-touch. Every new opportunity to insert ourselves into the learning landscape is desirable. We must respond and we can because we have not hit the wall of un-sustainability yet.
Every library experimenting with embedding and, particularly with high-touch embedding, surely must travel its own unique, iterative path from planning to implementation to practice to reflection to revised practice. Bartnik, Farmer, Ireland, Murray and Robinson gave honest and revealing evidence that, even at a single university, the experience and success of each embedment scenario can be remarkably varied. I believe that, depending on where your learning institution and library are on the embedded model implementation roller coaster ride, high-touch is definitely a powerful approach. But, it needs to be one of many strategies that a library deploys.
This week I’ve gained a healthy appreciation for the limits of high-touch embedding. I will adopt a more watchful and proactive stance about our use of it as we evolve here, so that it is one of our tricks of the trade, not the single solution.
And, the ripples?
For now, I say, bring ‘em on!
I feel very strongly that our high-touch presence in courses with major research components have been transformative for a more significant number of students than our previous one-shot endeavors. High-touch delivery is very often just-in-time and just-what-is-needed in a way that utterly captures a students’ attention and is the most convincing IL instruction I know.
Images used in this post:
Jez Elliot. (November 28, 2010). Splish. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/polarjez/5214853350/in/photostream/
______. (November 27, 2010). What a drip. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/polarjez/5214261835/in/photostream/
Both are available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license