Standing On the Shoulders of Giants


Moving from a Macro to Micro-level Library/CMS Embedment Using an Informed Toolkit Approach


The encouragement for libraries to cultivate a presence in online course management systems (CMS) has been building for over a decade (Beagle, 2000; Cohen, 2002).  Increasingly customized integration within courseware have been defined from the macro to micro to molecular to nano levels of embedment (Shank & Dewald, 2003: Farkas, 2008).  The main arguments for more seamless integration are user-centered.  The goal is to be at the student’s point-of-need, funnelling resources and instruction at the right time and in the right dose to faciliate the learning objectives of the course and guide students ever onward along the information literacy path.

A survey of librarians within the California State University System revealed minimal leveraging of their Blackboard courseware as a platform for delivering information literacy instruction (Jackson, 2007).  With so much room for experimentation, Jackson recommends a multi-faceted response where libraries explore a variety of technologies and approaches.  Many libraries are doing just that.  Librarians at Ohio State University, for instance, acted on Jackson’s recommendation by developing what they call the “toolkit approach” which emphasizes “multiple methods of integration to be used alone or in conjunction with one another.” (Black, 2008, pp. 499-500).  A good read through the literature, in fact, yields a wealth of ideas for how a particular library might rethink its practice within its institution’s CMS and create a toolkit of approaches tailored to fit a unique learning community.

This annotated bibliography will inform an upcoming proposal to implement a more micro-level embedment of library services and resources within The American School in Japan (ASIJ) High School’s Blackboard courseware. The group of articles presented here may appear an eclectic mix but each has been carefully selected because it in some way addresses a unique need or circumstance in ASIJ’s learning environment.  These site-specific circumstances include:

  • a current macro-level library embedment on our Blackboard courseware which is slated for a major upgrade.
  • new subscriptions to LibGuides and, hopefully, to Turnitin, an instructional and assessment tool addressing plagiarism and proper use and attribution of sources,
  • a highly collaborative library/technology team that includes a technology assistant and an instructional coach, and
  • a faculty and administration persuaded by evidence-based recommendations and practices that prepare our students for their college destinations.

Taken as a whole, these articles will provide evidence and guidance for the stakeholders at ASIJ to move toward a more seamless, point-of-need delivery of library resources, support and IL instruction at the course and project level.  In addition, I hope that this set of articles will also be of use to you, my LIBR 220 classmates.  In selecting them, I concentrated on articles that I felt added something as yet unsaid in our course conversation about embedding in courseware.  Many are very recent articles building on our course readings and lectures and all are noteworthy, in my opinion, because they offer a new, valuable contribution to our discussion.


York, A. C., & Vance, J. M. (2009). Taking library instruction into the online classroom: Best practices for embedded librarians. Journal of Library Administration, 49(1-2), 197-209.

Identifying a gap in the research about best practices, which has relied primarily on isolated case studies, York and Vance conducted a survey of 159 academic librarians, from at least 69 institutions, about their roles in online learning environments.  Combining the results of this survey with the findings of an extensive literature review, York and Vance offer a list of seven best practices for librarians embedded course sites.  Notable among these is the encouragement for librarians to participate in CMS training along side faculty and to seek additional specialized training with CMS support staff as a way to build both skills and rapport as a collaborative partner in the online course environment.

Hoffman, S., & Ramin, L. (2010). Best practices for librarians embedded in online courses. Public Services Quarterly, 6(2-3), 292-305.

This companion article (to an analysis about faculty perceptions of courseware embedment (Hoffman, 2011)) combines findings from a literature review, Ramin’s personal case study and Hoffman’s mixed methods study of librarians practicing courseware embedment at six different academic institutions.  The distilled results include a listing of 19 best practices which the authors’ group into four categories related to 1) courseware embedment pre-planning and development, 2) time management, 3) leveraging the CMS environment, and 4) troubleshooting potential technical difficulties.  These categories offer a useful framework for reformulating a more integrated presence within a CMS.

Bezet, A. (2013). Free prize inside! Embedded librarianship and faculty collaboration at a small-sized private university. The Reference Librarian, 54(3), 181-219.

Bezet shares the 12-year “evolution” of Everglade University’s CMS-embedded library presence from its initial macro approach to a more extensive micro-level of service, in a concerted effort to become, for students and faculty, what Bezet calls the “prize inside the box”(8).  Bezet’s discussion of the evolutionary phases is packed with practical details and concludes with ten “Lessons Learned” that offer excellent building blocks for other libraries embarking on or retooling an CMS embed.  Of particular interest is Bezet’s recommendation that librarians cultivate what she calls a “culture of collaboration” to ease the way for librarian to gain administrative access to all online courses and to stay abreast of library content by showcasing, monitoring, updating and weeding in timely and judicious ways (185-187).

Pickens-French, K., & McDonald, K. (2013). Changing trenches, changing tactics: A library’s frontline redesign in a new CMS. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 7(1-2), 53-72.

Pickens-French and McDonald describe how they seized on an institution-wide change in the CMS provider to completely rethink their library’s embedded presence on course sites, transforming an initially unwelcome and daunting top-down directive into an informed leap forward.  They explain how they caste a critical eye over their current practice.  As a result, they developed templates for research modules that enhanced sustainability and better accounted for student preferences and behavior.

Shell, L., Crawford, S., & Harris, P. (2013). Aided and embedded: The team approach to instructional design. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 7(1-2), 143-155.

This article highlights how a team approach to CMS integration, can reduce the technological, instructional and assessment barriers common to embedment attempts.  The authors describe their courseware embed experience at Arizona State University which involves a team, comprised of librarians, faculty and an instructional designer, pooling their expertise to develop an array of targeted, visually-rich learning modules that are woven into the authentic assessment of each course.  The inclusion of the instructional designer on the team upped everyone’s game, improving the quality of learning modules and streamlining embedding into the CMS.

Bowen, A. (2012). A LibGuides presence in a Blackboard environment. Reference Services Review, 40(3), 449-468. DOI: 10.1108/00907321211254698

Bowen reports on incorporating LibGuides in a Blackboard site for an undergraduate  course on communications at California State University, Chico. The results of a survey of student perceptions about their use of the LibGuides confirms the importance LibGuides prominence within the student’s workspace.  Bowen also offers step-by-step instructions about how to meld LibGuides into a Blackboard environment.

Hess, A. N. (2013). The MAGIC of web tutorials: How one library (re)focused its delivery of online learning objects on users. The Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 7(4), 331-348.

In 2012, librarians at Oakland University Libraries, in Rochester, Michigan, launched an evaluation of the libraries’ learning objects with the intent to re-organize, re-design where necessary and re-focus tutorials on user needs and use behaviors.  Hess details evaluating the worth of learning objects, using an in-house rubric that emphasized the value to the end user as well as adaptability and sustainability from the library’s perspective.  The process led to significant housekeeping wherein outdated or ineffective tutorials were jettisoned and others redesigned or newly created to fill identified gaps.

Xiao, J. (2010). Integrating information literacy into Blackboard: Librarian-faculty collaboration for successful student learning. Library Management, 31(8/9), 654-668.

Xiao offers an example of a library embedment into a Nursing course, with a significant research assignment, at The College of Staten Island.  She describes setting up portals on the course site, leading to relevant library resources for the research project including the plagiarism prevention and writing assessment software, Turnitin.  Xiao showcases combining the efficacy of Turnitin with other face-to-face and asynchronous embedded instruction methods to heighten student understanding of what constitutes plagiarism and the writing skills (paraphrasing and synthesis) and citation mechanics that are needed to prevent it.

Knight, V. R., & Loftis, C. (2012). Moving from introverted to extraverted embedded librarian services: An example of a proactive model. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 6(3-4), 362-375.

Knight and Loftis champion the adoption of a more proactive, gregarious “extraverted” posture for librarians in online environments.  Their well-described approach includes 1) combining discussions about course expectations with faculty with a thorough analysis of the course syllabus from the students’ point-of-view and 2) careful mapping of relevant library content, learning objects and librarian support with course requirements and schedule. They stress that the timing of delivery of library support, whatever its form, is crucial to insuring its usefulness to students.


This collection of articles provides much needed evidence, as well as a host of practical suggestions, to promote and guide a big re-think of ASIJ’s library presence in our CMS.  The works of York & Vance, Hoffmann & Ramin, and Bezet reinforce, and build on, the convincing arguments in Meredith Farkas’ 2008 review of best practices for library embedment in courseware.  Two more articles promote new stances toward change and innovation for libraries with circumstances similar to ASIJ.  Pickens-French and McDonald highlight how an institutional change in the CMS poses a perfect time to dramatically alter business-as-usual.  Shell, Crawford and Harris remind us how we can leverage the advantage of a diverse and skilled team to make our CMS a true virtual campus of learning for our students.  The remaining articles feature useful point-of-need embedment ideas that include refashioning and reorganizing our suite of LibGuides and online tutorials, wisely utilizing Turnitin as an instructional tool, and injecting an extraverted approach in our collaboration with faculty by analyzing syllabi and mapping to capture crucial junctures in the students’ learning experience.

This exploration of the literature is tailored for one unique learning environment and it is still far from exhaustive.  Yet, it demonstrates, I think, that this sort of review into the varied, multi-faceted and innovative endeavors of academic librarians is empowering for any library.   Curating ideas from scholarly research, we can construct our own toolkit of approaches to evolve a more targeted and useful delivery of library services to our students and faculty.  We are ready now to prototype and experiment!

 Works Cited

Beagle, D. (2000). Web-based learning environments: Do libraries matter? College & Research Libraries, 61(4), 367-379. Retrieved from

Black, E. L. (2008). Toolkit approach to integrating library resources into the learning management system. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(6), 496-501.

Cohen, D. (2002). Course management software: Where is the library? Educause Review, 37(3), 12-13. Retrieved from

Farkas, M. G. (2008). Embedded library, embedded librarians: Strategies for providing reference services in online courseware. In S. K. Steiner & M. L. Madden (Eds.), The desk and beyond: Next generation reference services (pp. 53-64). Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Hoffman, S. (2011). Embedded academic librairian experiences in online courses: Roles, faculty collaboration, and opinion. Library Management,32(6/7), 444-456.

Jackson, P. A. (2007). Integrating information literacy into Blackboard: Building campus partnerships for successful student learning. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33(4), 454-461.

Shank, J. D., & Dewald, N. H. (2003). Establishing our presence in courseware: Adding library services to the virtual classroom. Information Technology and Libraries, 22(1), 38-43.


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I'm a 12 Thinger.
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