It was interesting to learn this week, in Meredith’s article Embedded Library, Embedded Librarian: Strategies for Providing Reference Services in Online Courseware, about the absence of library considerations during the evolution of CMS design and implementation. That explained a lot of what has puzzled me about how Blackboard is employed at my school. Because our library has no more than a macro-level presence in Blackboard…..with links to generic, one-size-fits-all webpages….the library fades into the interface landscape. Few know we even exist there. To confound matters, the intrepid student or faculty member who does pursue the library through the Blackboard link, will likely be scared off by the labyrinthine library help options. Meredith noted that “if a student is required to leave the CMS to find the library, then this is the online equivalent of requiring a student to drive across town to get from the classroom to the library” (55). Students and teachers just aren’t going to suffer that inconvenience especially if their wayfinding within the virtual library turns out to be a giant puzzle.
I know it is just plain wrong to wish our failures on other libraries but I must admit there was something very comforting about finding out that this CMS disconnect is a common problem and not just ours alone. What’s even more comforting and, in fact, empowering is the potential of the micro and molecular-level solutions that Meredith and this week’s case studies flesh out. These approaches provide just the right content, at just the right time and in just the right place in ways that even a small library like mine can adopt.
So what would it look like for us to move from macro to micro/molecular?
We would need:
- A widget or tab on course sites, with our photos and contact information, offering near 24/7 (probably more like 12/7) availability via face-to-face, email, chat or video conferencing.
- A way to showcase course subject and project-specific LibGuides with embedded tutorials.
- Access to the announcements and/or discussion platforms for the course. This access would preferably be direct but could also be facilitated through the course instructor.
- A push-and-pull readiness to proactively highlight helpful information and also respond to student and faculty requests for help.
- A growing knowledge base from which to quickly retrieve the push and pull responses in the form of screenshots, video tutorials and templates for email answers.
- Collaboration from faculty.
We have the building blocks of these already. We just need to get our foot in the door of our CMS and to market this concept effectively to teachers. Our technology staff will be helpful in brainstorming options within Blackboard. Teachers that we currently heavily support via a variety of online learning objects would hopefully be receptive to piloting a more embedded Blackboard presence. Such pilots would help us refine a smorgasbord of approaches that we can take to the faculty as a whole. Collaboration with faculty will be key but this is true whether we stand pat at macro or move toward molecular. Our effectiveness will always hinge on faculty collaboration. We need to see this as a challenge, not an obstacle.
I can imagine at least one concern that has not yet been mentioned about the seamlessness of a molecular level approach. Libraries may be afraid of losing their branding rights. It has seemed so important to position ourselves in such a way that the user always knows just what products the library has provided. I think this is one reason why we load up our website and persist in offering that as our sole portal. But no brand is worth anything if it stands alone and unused. If molecular level approaches can increase student involvement with what the library has to offer, then our brand is strengthened, not diminished!