Moving from Macro to Molecular

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!




About tellthetruthruth

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6 Responses to Moving from Macro to Molecular

  1. Hi Ruth!
    I really enjoyed reading your blog as usual. I think it’s wonderful that you’re taking on the challenge to embed more of a library presence and move it from the Macro to Molecular level. I strongly feel that the more librarian involvement, the better for the students — of course, depending upon favorable circumstances between the librarian, faculty, and administrators.

    Also, I really liked the explanation of your design for the widget, and areas you are targeting for improvement. How exciting it is that you’re able to put what we’re learning into practice!

    Re: Faculty-Librarian Collaboration
    I wish I could quote your eloquent and profound sentiment to include in my annotated bibliography assignment: “Our effectiveness will always hinge on faculty collaboration. We need to see this as a challenge, not an obstacle.” What you wrote is very powerful. A shift in perception can make a big difference in attitude. Thank you!

    Re: Molecular-level
    That’s so funny, Ruth. I thought the exact same thing about the molecular level. I see it another way. If the coursework and IL instruction is integrated so seamlessly that you can’t even perceive the presence of the librarian, I find that problematic. I agree with what you said that if molecular level is a better approach for students and their learning outcomes, then the approach should be used. I completely agree with you ideologically, but so many articles say that librarians may lose relevance and disappear. Also, I’ve read a lot about librarians being the “silent supporter.” If the librarian’s presence is unseen or unnoticed in the coursework at the molecular level, I’m afraid librarians may also disappear! It’s a double-edged sword, you know what I mean? 😉 Thank you for the fodder for thought!

    Warmest regards,

    • embendered says:

      Yes, I know what you mean about the double-edged sword. This is definitely the wrong time for libraries to don an invisibility cloak!

      But our readings actually make me very hopeful that where ever and whenever we effectively embed….our value will shine through. I think that micro and molecular-level embedment when done well, particularly in a way that boosts the quality of student work, will definitely win faculty. And, from my experience, it is where we’ll see the biggest gains to students valuing libraries as well. In earlier posts, I’ve talked about the spin-off effects of our HS-brand embeddments (1:1 reference help, purchasing spot-on sources, just-in-time research organization or citation tips). Those times where we have provided students, as an entire class or individually, with that “thing” that they absolutely needed for their coursework seem almost kinda magical. They are transformational….in terms of upping the image of our library and, hopefully, the college and public libraries in our students’ future lives… a way that none of our macro-level services could ever be.

  2. hannah says:

    Ruth, I’m so glad you bring up the overloaded library website in connection to LMS. If the library website is overloaded with too much information, a macro-level approach in the LMS is practically pointless because the motivated students who click on the library tab might just be too overwhelmed to continue any further. I know I’ve already ranted about this, but I think the overloaded library website is a real problem and an obstacle keeping many students and faculty from comfortably locating and using library resources. As librarians carve out more of a presence in LMS, we need to make sure we don’t make the same mistake of an overabundance of information there as well. Our presence in the LMS needs to be simple, strait-forward and useful in an intentional and specific way. I think your outline above does just that with minimal information in the form of a widget or tab and embedded subject specific guides. Having ways for students to contact embedded librarians directly minimizes the impulse to provide lots and lots of information into the LMS because the students know they can contact a librarian if they need research help.

    • embendered says:

      Rant away, Hannah, because this is a battle worth fighting! I remember your earlier post about this phenomenon of overloaded library websites actually confounding and detering usage. I can so totally see the terrible possibility that we might just take our more-is-better M.O. to an LMS environment and clutter yet another online venue. One hopeful thing about a LMS setting is that, at least in our case, the technology specialist, the instructional coach and the teacher are in there too. Their critical input might help mediate away from information overload. That is my hope, anyway!

  3. Meredith says:

    The LMS can really be a portal to just the parts of the library website most relevant to the class, making a labyrinthine website less of an issue. But you’re so right that making library access more seamless can also make our branding less visible, and that can be both a blessing and a curse. I remember getting a complaint from a student about the library that said at the end “thank goodness my instructor put those library links in our classroom.” I remember yelling in my head “THAT WAS MEEEEE!” But, really, if they think it’s coming from their instructor, is it really a bad thing, especially if they’re going to be more likely to use it then?

  4. georgereads says:

    Hi Ruth,
    You outlined some great strategies for further involvement in your school’s LMS. I think library presence will continue to remain necessary no matter at what level we work in. As long as we keep it fresh with different approaches and keep assessing what is working and what is not working. Great post!

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