Ripple Effects


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

______. (November 27, 2010). What a drip. Retrieved from

Both are available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license



About tellthetruthruth

I'm a 12 Thinger.
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4 Responses to Ripple Effects

  1. Hi Ruth!
    Thank you for another fascinating post about the perils of embedded librarianship. You write so well and make the reader feel like they’re right there in the library with you. With everything you have to do leaves me astonished, thinking “How does she do it?!” What you described sounds like a lot of work outside the library in embedded classes — which seems to create a backlog of the regular work and obligations inside the library.(Another ripple effect, like you said.) 😉

    A lot of what you described as the “usual” things you do in your library is what pages do in our library. For example, there is a librarian staff supervisor who handles the periodicals, and he has several pages that organize and shelve the periodicals for him. Also, there are about 40 – 50 total (part-time) pages that shelve DVDs, CDs, books, etc. I’m sure our library is a lot bigger than yours, but if I put what you described in proportion to our library, it’s still a heck of a lot of work!

    It sounds like each day requires a lot of planning and self-imposed time limits and overall good time management. Is the time you spend on each task up to you? In any case, I’m sure it also takes the collaboration with the other librarian, faculty members, students, and administration as well. What a lot of juggling you have to do! There’s only 24 hours in a day — I guess something’s gotta’ give, right?

    The great thing about what you’re doing is that you’re creating a protocol (or setting a precedent) in this new, flexible, and innovative-type of librarianship. I’m sure your example will leave a favorable impression on other faculty members’ minds. Until IL instruction becomes standardized across the board, I think it’s wonderful (as hard & time-consuming as it is for you) to do what is most beneficial for the students – the high-touch way!

    I always love reading your descriptive and eloquent writing. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I’m glad you’re going to continue embedding in classes until it becomes unmanageable for you. I think it’s great that ASIJ is focusing on developing greater awareness about research. I admire and respect you for all your hard work and all that you are doing to help the students! Great blog! Have a great day!

    Warmest regards,

  2. mgfarkas says:

    You’ve definitely seen first-hand (and shown all of us) the problems that can come with being a victim of your own success. At least in higher education, a lot of liaisons behave as independent actors, but with embedded projects, that is simply not possible. There has to be some coordination and collaboration amongst colleagues. As you’ve demonstrated, you need to coordinate with your other staff to find a balance between your intensive instructional support and the day-to-day work of the library (or even the increased demand on traditional library services that your initiatives create). We can say “it’s a good problem to have,” but it is, in fact, still a problem, and setting limits and finding that delicate balance takes time in and of itself. Still, I appreciate your “it’s worth the problems” attitude; it’s one I definitely share as well!

  3. You know, I didn’t realize it until I read your description but we run into the same issues when it comes to the OC Public Libraries eSupport Team. The eSupport Team handles patron issues with eBooks and eAudiobooks either in-person, on the phone, or via email. These problems demand attention in a way that pulls us away from our normal duties, and it does impact other staff who must pick up the slack so that we can offer this support.

    For public libraries (or at least for the OC Public Libraries), the borrowing of eBooks and eAudiobooks is an important part of a strategy to keep up with technological trends as public libraries embrace methods of remaining relevant, and/or improving their relevance to library users. This relevance increasingly hinges on use of technologies like the ability to borrow eBooks and eAudiobooks from our collection. And of course, support of the use of this technology is vital if it is to succeed. So there is definitely a “bring it on” attitude towards our particular form of embeddment, but it is not shared by the entire staff–especially those staff members who have little interest in eBooks and eAudiobooks, or are themselves, intimidated by the technology.

    The sustainability question is, perhaps, different for us though. Because new technologies are so tied to arguments of relevance, the kind of technological help we offer must be sustained or eBook and eAudiobook services will suffer rather than grow. If this happens we lessen our ability to make the argument that we are relevant in that we are supplying library materials in a manner where they can be accessed electronically by our patrons.

  4. Diana Sotolongo says:

    Thank you! For a student like me, not working in a library yet, your comments means a lot. One thing is to read an article, which pretty much looks like a book to me, and another is a classmate to tell “the real thing”. It called my attention that you said, “we must respond and we can because we have not hit the wall of un-sustainability yet”, however there are books to be shelved and periodicals to be processed. It seems to me that you are very busy. That made me thinks that the evaluation of unsustainability is subjective. You are not able to do your job because you have to do your job … Then perhaps the problem is to set priorities, and as you said, sometimes high-touch embedding is the best way to go…temporarily.

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