True Confession II


I’m in love with Barbara Fister.

She is a deep thinking, straight-talking, feisty but sensible prodder of the profession.

This week’s reading by Fister is a perfect example of how she decants issues.  Take faculty-librarian collaboration.  In her article Fostering Information Literacy Through Faculty Development, she emphasizes the commonalities in library and faculty goals.  She assumes good intent and a unique learning curve for each participant……whether faculty member or librarian.  From that presumption of common purpose, she and her colleagues at Gustavus Adolphus operated from a set of empathic principles about what faculty believe and need. What a great posture for fostering collaboration around information literacy!

The first of those principles is that, across the disciplines, “faculty believe student inquiry is essential…….and take full ownership of it as a pedagogical challenge.”

Student inquiry is indeed a pedagogical challenge and information literacy just one of complexities running through it.  The Oregon State University first year composition class model, described by Deitering and Jameson in their article Step by Step Through the Scholarly Conversation, really highlights this beautifully.  They do an excellent job of explaining how critical thinking, information literacy, and writing are all intertwined in the grand quest for learning and living.

Fister, Deitering and Jameson are saying that this “pedagogical challenge” takes a village to solve.  Faculty and librarians are in this IL Thing together.  This is why librarians need to be involved in course and assignment design.  Librarians have eyes on the information literacy skills and aptitudes that cross all disciplines and all grades.  Because of this, librarians have a view into the student experience that faculty do not have, especially in institutions where interdisciplinary discussion and/or instructional arrangements are not the norm.

So, that said, what should librarians inject into the course and assignment design process? Librarians need to bring their information literacy know-how and a critical eye to assignments.  Their radar needs to be totally switched on to detect assignments that do not engage students’ critical thinking nor exercise their IL muscles in new or meaningfully reinforcing ways.  Too often assignments lack specifics:  specific requirements, specific necessary scaffolding and specific assessments.  Without these, assignments often challenge students to do no more than think of a new way to apply the skills they possessed at the start.

Clocking these sorts of loopholes in an assignment is not easy.  We just finished our 9th grade I-Search research project which has so many good things going for it.  It is a student inquiry assignment that we are proud of…one that truly challenges students, meaningfully embeds information literacy components and represents a solid library-faculty collaboration.   But pieces are missing for which our library should launch a major lobbying campaign.  We are not involved in the assessment of the final outcomes nor, even more importantly I feel, in meaningful formative assessments that would help us keep kids on track and advancing along their inquiry learning curve, wherever that might be.

Why this matters__Exhibit A:
On the deadline date of this year’s I-Search paper, one 9th grader asked me for help.  He wanted two database articles on his topic to ram (my word choice here) into his working bibliography, thereby meeting the assignment’s source distribution requirement.  I said I would help him only if he had time to indeed read the sources and verbally summarize them briefly with me, otherwise those two sources had no business on his working bibliography.

This is classic.  Here is a student displaying a lot of understanding about the requirements of the assignment but missing an essential at the heart of it.  This cries out for a library-injected fix!  The addition on the assignment timeline of a good formative assessment piece, such as a review of annotated bibliographies, or a one-on-one oral defense of sources, by the librarian/teacher team would go a long way assuring that the assignment was more about exercising new muscles and less about “working the system.”

There is a Fister-ism for this: Teach how information works, not how to work information.

Like I said, I love her.

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Relationships Not Carved in Stone

This week’s readings about the many facets of collaboration got me thinking about how I would characterize the library-faculty relationships that I observe on a daily basis.  I see 4 categories of relationships:

  • Intense
  • Emerging
  • Uncharted
  • Resistant

INTENSE library-faculty relationships run closest to the true collaboration and well-developed cooperation described by Leeder in Part 2 of her blog series on Collaborating with Faculty. These are working relationships where teamwork is the norm and communication is easy. They are near perfect marriages, to borrow Leeder’s analogy.

EMERGING library-faculty relationships are instances of first partnerships.  They can be small forays into classrooms or disciplines where the library hasn’t had even a toehold before.  First projects, if handled well, can foster an ongoing, deeper collaboration.

UNCHARTED relationships involve faculty who work in pockets of an institution…. in classrooms, wings or entire buildings…..where librarians never roam!   The curriculum and the needs of the faculty, and their students, here are unexplored territory.   Both parties are largely unaware of what might be gained by working together.  Nothing has been ventured.  Nothing tried.

RESISTANT relationships arise when librarians do venture boldly into uncharted territories but come away feeling unwelcomed or somehow thwarted in their efforts.  (Perhaps this works the other way around more often than librarians realize!)  Librarians can have long memories about such occasions, no matter how brief, where they felt rebuffed by faculty.  Those impressions can get institutionalized in such a way that the library never launches another attempt at relationship-building with that faculty member, or even the department as a whole.

All of these types of relationships can be nurtured and, to some extent, each in its own way.  A well-developed, intense library-faculty relationship can offer chances to experiment with more complete partnerships, like direct library involvement in assessment or student needs scanning.  But the danger with intense library-faculty relationships is that they can be so reaffirming and all-absorbing for librarians that there is little time nor inclination to explore other pairings that are more uncertain.  I think too that faculty on the outside of that inner circle of library-faculty coziness can sometimes feel excluded or at least perplexed about how to join in.

Emerging relationships need attentive care.  Newly receptive faculty partners might get a better feel for library contributions through customized prototypes, for instance.  Carefully tended emerging relationships are wonderful incubators for other new library-faculty match-ups.  Capturing the enthusiasm of one faculty member in a department unused to library collaboration can provide an inside champion.

Uncharted relationships call out for other strategies.   They might benefit from a descriptive menu of library services, like the brochure that Olivares developed for the College of Business at Saint Cloud State University.   She wisely showcased a “spectrum of services” to be “as hands-on or as distant as the faculty member wished” (Olivaries 144).  This strategic combination of proactive soft-pedaling is very similar to what Leeder encourages in her Five-Step Program.  She suggests, for instance, that librarians avoid stoking their service menu with only technology-rich or complex scenarios that can scare off first partnerships.

Finally, resistant relationships need gentle cultivating too.  Leeder and Olivares both display a bold, congenial and buoyant mix of attributes that can soften resistance or, at least, diffuse it.  They both emphasize the importance of genuine curiosity and what Olivares refers to as “schmoozing”!  They suggest simply making small changes in habits (eg., vary lunch venues, attend evening lectures) to broaden the chances of interacting, in an informal way, with a larger number of faculty.

No matter what descriptors we use to characterize library-faculty relationships, a healthy variety is certainly routinely juggled by librarians in institutions of all sorts.  I like the idea, suggested by Leeder, that such relationships are not carved in stone but instead are part of a progression from, say, uncharted/resistant to emerging to intense.  Librarians need to stay hopeful and engaged to greet faculty wherever they are and craft the next iteration of a genuine working relationship.

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Micro User Needs Assessment

A closer look at the Library’s contribution to the
research experience of our high school students


At the High School Library of The American School in Japan, we constantly reflect on our contributions to student learning and our collaborative efforts with faculty.  But our reflections, although earnest and critical, are based mainly on our impressions and informal avenues of feedback.  We have not made concerted efforts to gather outside data, such as the examining student work or conducting formal interviews, surveys or other means of user needs assessment.  We would like to develop a more evidence-based practice. This study is a first step in that direction.  While taking a deeper-than-usual look at a particular research project, I utilized a variety of measures, currently at our disposal, for a better assessment of our students’ learning experience and the library’s role in it.

A Chance to Experiment
The teacher of our high school’s Modern World History (MWH) course sought out library involvement on his launch of a new research component, called the Revolutionary Movement Project.  In addition to enthusiastically welcoming a new faculty-library partnership, we had just entered into a LibGuide trial and were actively looking to apply it to specific projects.  We also saw it as a chance to incorporate, for the first time, a user needs assessments into our collaboration on an in-class research project.  Brief descriptions of both the research project and the library’s contribution will set the stage.

Description: The MWH Revolutionary Movement Project
Students chose a modern day or historical social/revolutionary movement to research.  Their goal was to determine to what extent their chosen movement fit the criteria of a revolution, a concept they had been studying over the course of the first semester of the year.  The 62 students, from three sections of MWH, formed 20 research groups.  Each group researched their chosen social/revolutionary movement.  The group members collaboratively curated sources into a shared Google Doc and examined their evidence against the criteria of a revolution.  As a culminating activity, each group gave an informal presentation to the rest of the class, sharing what they had discovered.

Library support for this project
After discussions with the teacher and a review of the assignment description, rubric and list of student topic choices, the head librarian, Linda Hayakawa, and I supported student research efforts in the following ways:

  1. LibGuide: We created a project-specific LibGuide, highlighting databases and websites selected for the students’ set of topics.

    Home LibGuide
  2. Prototype: Linda created a prototype Google Doc repository for group resource discoveries.  The intention was to give students a clearer picture of what was expected.  The prototype explicitly modeled exploring a range of sources as well as the proper use of images and citations.  Both the LibGuide and the prototype were embedded in the MWH course site on Blackboard. Google Doc Prototype
  3. Small group conferencing: I visited the classroom to give a brief orientation to the LibGuide and prototype.  Then, while the rest of the class went about their research, I conferenced with each group.  The main goal of the conference was to model an effective search within at least one database well-suited for their topic.  We hoped this more targeted database coaching would improve database usage for this project.


I combined three methods to take a post-project, or “after-the-fact”, look at the students’ research experience. I hoped to determine whether or not they found our project-specific LibGuide, and additional support, to be helpful and to simply experiment for the first time with the assessment tools that are currently available to us.

1.  Analysis of Google Docs
I sought permission to view the Google Doc of each research group, as a repository of their research discoveries it would provide a window into their research process.  Of the 20 research groups, nine shared their Google Doc.  Using the students’ citation trail, I hoped to assess student usage of the databases and curated websites as well as their image use and citation practices.

2.  Survey of Student’s Research Experience
I developed a survey to gauge student use and opinion of library support for this project.  The survey included 4 rating scale questions followed by 3 questions to inspire more detailed comments.  The teacher posted the survey form on the course Blackboard site and allowed me 10 minutes of class time to conduct the survey, thereby insuring a high response rate (85%), hampered only by student absence.

3.  Group interviews
I conducted face-to-face interviews with 2 research groups, consisting of 3 students each, to ask these more open-ended questions:

Describe how you started your research?
What research paths proved effective?
Of the sources on your Google Doc, which did you showcase for the presentation portion of this assignment?
How did this research activity compare with others you have been involved in?Can you see Research Guide being of use in other courses?


Google Document Analysis Results

I conducted a quick scan of the citations in of the nine Google Docs.  Only two showed clear evidence of effective use of database resources.  In both cases, the research strategies discussed in the reference conference had been employed.  Five of the nine groups showcased information from the websites curated on the LibGuide.  The citation trail for some Google Docs was not always obvious and, in some cases, the citation conventions were not carefully followed.  Wikipedia was a commonly cited source.  Also notable, across the nine documents, was the clever use of images, cartoons and YouTube videos to enliven the final in-class presentation.

Survey Results
Survey results from the three rating scale questions were quite positive for the LibGuide, its database and websites resources, as well as the group conferences for targetted database assistance.

Survey Summary 2

A closer look at the written comments section of the survey though gave a more nuanced, and realistic, portrait of student usage and opinion.  A categorization of the written responses revealed a similar overall positive reception of the LibGuide assistance.  But this was tempered with very specific criticisms and insights into what made database searching and the curated websites less than helpful.  Examples of such comments from students include:

“I thought the databases were a bit difficult and time-consuming to use compared to the websites on the Research Guide.”

“I found them [the databases] useful, but it was sometimes hard to find a lot of information because our movement was moderately new.”

“There weren’t many websites with information we hadn’t already seen.”

“The websites were useful but some content did not relate to what exactly we wanted to find.”

Group Interview Results
The interview sessions involved two groups.

  • The first group stated that they started their research with Wikipedia, finding it a good place to get familiar with their topic about which they had almost no prior knowledge.  They felt that Wikipedia gave them a good overall introduction and suggested keywords that they employed with success in other search venues.  For their presentation, they used images as prompts to engage the audience.   The interview revealed that they found the suggested websites from the LibGuide useful but confirmed that they found no need to use the databases.
  • The second group had not done any research prior to the unveiling of the LibGuide so they found the ABC-Clio World History database introduction in the group conference an extremely useful starting point.  After that, they thought their Google searches were more productive.  They did not find the rather esoteric set of curated websites for their topic very helpful.  For their presentation, they followed an outline summary of their research which they enhanced with images.  They felt that, although this research project had a tight timeframe, they were able to go into more depth on a fairly specific topic because they could divide the work with their research partners.


Upon first glance, the Google Docs of the nine groups were discouraging on several levels.

  • The customized database help didn’t have the impact I had hoped.  Using a project-specific LibGuide to showcase particularly useful databases and offering targeted database advice for each topic, appeared to get only a small amount of traction within the sample of documents.
  • Tracking citations in student work isn’t easy!  It became clear quite quickly that the provenance of sources wouldn’t be obvious without a bit more inspection, although this too brought only partial success.
  • Citation tracking also laid bare that there is still a lot of work to be done with our students on proper image use and citation.  Our prototype of model usage wasn’t a mark many groups were able to meet consistently.
  • Students seemed to rely more on Wikipedia, YouTube and their own Google searching than on targeted LibGuide information although there did seem to be good evidence that research groups found the curated websites helpful.

The more discouraging findings were particularly surprising because they conflicted so dramatically with my impression of the effectiveness of the LibGuide and in-class support.  In line with our conventional insular reflection practices, I had marked our efforts as a clear success!  But, already, my initial data gathering had jarred me out of my self-congratulatory mood!

The Google Doc analysis, while sobering, came into better focus when combined with the survey and interview results.   The survey results were generally positive about the usefulness of the LibGuide in general, its curated websites specifically and its even its selected databases to some extent. The written comments from the survey, as well as the remarks by students in interviews, revealed that students often had very good reasons for de-selecting databases in favor of websites, Wikipedia and their own Google searches for their Google Doc final product.

  • The LibGuide databases and websites acted as a launch pad to other finds.
  • Solid information on their chosen topic was easily available on the Web or, in the case of more current or obscure social movements, not well-covered in our subscription databases.
  • The assignment outcome — an in-class presentation meant to inform and engage fellow students — dictated a different set of sources, such as mixed media, than a traditional academic research paper.
  • Several comments mentioned the difficulty of database searching.  In retrospect, I think the individual group conferencing on databases might be more effective if students have something concrete to refer to later.  Perhaps a quick screenshot of the database searches that were effective could be added to the LibGuide, or emailed to each group member, as an after-the-fact reminder.
  • Finally, it is worth celebrating that their own discoveries, taken as a whole, often contributed to a forceful presentation of their topic.

The written comment section of the survey also elicited very thoughtful, practical advice from the student researcher about how to improve the LibGuide.  For instance:

  • “What would make it more useful is maybe adding some videos as well? Some people might have had trouble finding good videos” speaks directly to the fact that we did not adequately account for this project’s presentation format in our LibGuide design.
  • “Maybe including the best possible database for each group’s revolution” combined with “putting the databases links on the same page as the ….websites may come in handy” suggests a completely different organization of the LibGuide by topic rather than by source type.


Multiple outside assessment measures strengthen our previously insular reflective practice and help to disabuse us of easy, subjective, first impressions.  This process let us experiment with the varied assessment tools that are at our fingertips.  In future iterations, the ease of embedding surveys within LibGuides and utilizing LibGuide’s built-in analytics will provide frequent, relatively effortless feedback.  Use of these ready analytics will allow us to be more nimble and user-centered in our adjustments. We’ll be able to direct our efforts to more time-intensive assessment methods, such as interviewing students and faculty, analyzing student work and, hopefully in the future, tracking more closely the research process of a sample of students.

Data gathering, such as that gleaned from this user assessment, helps us modify our services in ways that are truly responsive to the needs of our students.  It makes learning an exchange, where students teach us as much as we teach them. In addition, it provides evidence to bring to the planning table with teachers.   From this more informed position, we can lobby more convincingly for adjustments to assignment rubrics that would explicitly state citation and image expectations and, where appropriate, source usage requirements.  We may be able to extend our collaboration with faculty into assessment of student work for information literacy outcomes that have previously gone unmeasured.

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True Confession

This week’s lecture, readings and environmental scan assignment have been a real education.  So true confession time: This is my first ever, first-hand experience with any sort of user needs assessment, ethnographic research, environmental scanning or curriculum mapping.   I’m ashamed to admit it.  But here it is: I have been working blind.

Blind_Blog Wk 3

As I listened to this week’s lecture, I made a mental checklist.

  • Most libraries do not actually do a great deal of user assessment.”  Check.
  • We spend a lot of time in libraries trying things….trying something else….”  Check.
  • We waste a lot of time not getting it right.”  Unfortunately, probably a Check.
  • We often rely on our own intuition to make decisions in libraries. Check.
  • We often think we are our patrons, and that our patrons are like us.”  Check.

On behalf of all environmental scanning/assessment slackers out there, I argue that many librarians are sincerely reflective in their practice and constantly reworking their approaches.  I’ll bet they come away from every instruction sessions or reference exchange and immediately check in with themselves.  Maybe even beat themselves up a bit!   What went well? What didn’t go well?  After which earnest adjustments are made.  Many librarians have the responsive and reflective aptitude in spades.

But our pace is harried.  The time and staff commitments for deep analytical reflection seem swallowed up in the constant hubbub.  We are well into our next commitment before we can truly scrutinize the last.  Our outside data gathering stays informal.  We debrief, when we can, with some teachers and have passing conversations with students about the afterlife of our contribution.  But we are not yet energetically inquisitive about how our efforts play out.  We don’t pursue measurement methods and data that would illuminate the final learning outcomes and experiences of our users.

So our reflections take place within the “bounded rationality” to which Cahoy refers (p. 11).  It is from that safe space that we build our next approach on our intuition, best guesses, and perceived limitations.  Our adjustments to practice are often conservative tweaks to basically old approaches.  They are rarely the major alternations that would transform how we serve our users.

Magnifying Glass_Blog Wk 3

The lecture and readings point to a better way.   Outside data-gathering, rather than insular reflection, needs to be more central and integral to what we do.  We need to find ways to better understand the experiences and needs of our users and our interaction with them. Armed with the information gleaned from such inquiries, librarians can make wise and more transformative adjustments.

Among the readings so far, I’ve particularly appreciated Cahoy’s article, packed with practical information and marching orders.  Already, just part way in to my first user experience assessment ever, I have exercised new superpowers of boundary-blowing reflection.  My first attempt is far from grand.  I am merely making use of actual evidence and procedures that have been available to us all along but that we have never utilized.  Even with those small steps, I am managing to peek behind the curtain that hangs between us and an actual accounting of our practices in the lives of our students.

Some of what I am discovering in my assessment project is sobering, as I’ll share out more next week.  I have a hunch that environmental scans and needs assessments often expose very clearly where we are missing the mark.  Perhaps we will wish again for the days when we were blissfully ignorant of our failures. But, I look forward to the opportunities that environmental scanning and user needs assessments offer for evidence-based practice.  I think, too, it is this type of research-driven analysis that will capture the attention and cooperation of administration and faculty, whose collaboration will be vital to our true success.

Images used in this post:
Isengardt. (May 21, 2013). Blinded By the Light. Retrieved from
[used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license]

Mike Kline. (July 21, 2007). Using a Magnifying Glass and Driving. Retreived from 
[used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license]

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And The Trends Played on…..

No Ithaka-caliber study has been conducted for my work environment.  We do have statistics we can marshall forth but, like other libraries, we don’t have good measures for the things that matter.  Stats or no, it is just a fact that we wrestle daily with the trends examined in this week’s readings!  I note especially the trends that indicate a distinction between library usage and library usefulness.

Library Usage?  No problem…..on a certain level!
Our library is not a mausoleum to soon-to-be-deceased library services.  It is not a hushed citadel of quiet study either!  It is a packed, unquiet, crazy… borderline rowdy….community space.  During the 3 free periods in our daily schedule, we are routinely home to 160 high school students, almost 1/3rd of our enrollment! They are draped, knotted and nestled all over the library…..studying, collaborating, playing chess or World of Warcraft, socializing or attending an event.  This is a lovely situation. It means we do not need to worry about promoting the library as the place to be.

Deeper Usefulness?  Our challenge and our opportunity.
The popularity of our physical library doesn’t mean that our library, and what we have to offer, is fully integrated into learning at our school.  This is our challenge lest we be reduced to supplying charging cables for phones and laptops, solving printer woes and recommending yet another Orson Scott Card book and AP Exam study guide.

Oops, I think that sounded snarky.  Let me redirect.

Even our more pedestrian services are indeed useful and meaningful but it is the stuff that we deliver directly to instruction and learning that has us closest to the beating heart of our mission.

As the readings this week point out repeatedly:  We need to be in the work flow of students and faculty.  That is the sweet spot for librarians.  And, just as the Project Information Literacy Reports and Lindstrom & Shonrock suggest, where there is collaboration there is more likely to be integration. Unfortunately, it has always felt a bit like we were swimming in molasses on this in our high school.  I have spent quite a bit of time over the past four years musing on this.  Where are the fault lines on the road to library integration in learning for us?   Let’s play the blame game to highlight a few.

Let’s blame the curriculum.
A curriculum composed predominately of assignments that can be met through a reliance on course content (lecture notes, course readings and instructor-curated content) or Google searching leaves little need for the services of the library and its librarians.  Inquiry-based or project-based learning, on the other hand, pushes students beyond course materials.  Assignments like these cry out for library services.  And, if the assignment requirements and rubrics explicitly include benchmarks and evidence that ensure, say, a variety of sources including book and database sources then all the better.  At our high school, shifts toward inquiry-based learning have been golden opportunities for us to start the collaboration/integration trend ticking upward.

Let’s blame faculty next!
Honestly, my head jerked up with recognition when Meredith highlighted the following Ithaka finding so plainly in this week’s lecture.

“Even in the humanities, only just over 50% think that librarians contribute significantly to student learning, and yet, less than 50% think that its their responsibility to develop student research skills.” [from lecture slide entitled Ithaka Study]

This is indeed a problem!  It is an unfortunate natural outcome of learning communities where instruction is compartmentalized within traditional disciplines and IL is seen as something someone else is delivering somewhere else!  When IL is not owned by faculty members — as both a personal quest and a responsibility to teach — then it is not a core mission in action.  It is a core mission on paper only.

Our best chances for sparking collaboration comes with faculty who want to:

  • Bust out of their discipline silo
  • Own their own IL quest as well as that of their students
  • Share content discovery with students rather than retain full control over the content that is delivered
  • Devote course time to a student ramble into an inquiry of the student’s choosing.
  • Refashion assignments to truly integrate facets of IL, even those that go beyond what they have thought of as their discipline’s domain.

Most importantly, let’s blame librarians!
We must!  We must because libraries certainly contribute to the lack of collaboration between faculty and libraries.  We must because an honest appraisal of what we do is a more proactive path toward righting dismal trends than any amount of blame tossing.  Two contributions to the problem that libraries, including mine, should own…..and actively work to redress are:

  • one-shot and one-size-fits-all instruction which pose a major disincentive to collaboration and meaningful integration.   When we offer basically one thing on the IL menu — long library instruction sessions, absorbing entire class periods or even many periods in succession – it is simply quite deadening for students and faculty alike.  We single-handedly drive a stake through the heart of our own IL mission!   We also construct our own silo and give the impression that IL is our domain alone and not a shared endeavor.
  • online services that stand alone and apart from the work flow of students and faculty.  As Bowles-Terry, Hensley and Hinchliffe point out, librarians devote so much earnest effort to library websites and tutorials that never see the light of day in faculty or student learning.

Instead, as the redress, we need to offer a range of approaches for partnering with faculty and reaching students.  These approaches need to be

  • bite-sized
  • deftly customized to respond to particular course needs
  • enthusiastically marketed
  • well situated in the instruction/learning flow.

Embedded Librarians as Trend Menders!

The embedded librarian model suits this situation perfectly.  It is the cure.  It is a practice of examining what the user needs.   It is about fostering long-term, trend-altering partnerships with faculty that lead to long-term, trend altering IL aptitudes in everyone.  Embedded librarians continually ask: What do particular faculty members need for a particular projects or classes?  What do our students need to be successful?

The embedded library model offers differentiated service for differentiated teaching and learning.  It is a model with the best potential for a trend-busting, simultaneous increase in library usage and usefulness.

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Embedded? What is that exactly?

The term embedded….and its derivatives embeddedness and embedment….when applied to libraries,  librarians and library services felt trendy to me at first and a bit co-opted.  I don’t think I’m alone in that reaction.  When I toss this term about with people outside the profession, it often causes a snort of laughter or at least a bit of a raised eyebrow.  But these responses are almost always followed by either a skeptically or sincerely posed question: “What is that exactly?!”

The answer….the embedded library model and its practice….is anything but trendy and co-opted.  It is, in fact, important, positive, sustainable and a perfectly logical extension of the library profession’s core principle of service.  To me, while the term embedded is relatively new, the efforts it encapsulates — to customize services to our users and to be out there and in there with our users where ever and whenever they need help — are not new.  Back in the day, the bookmobile was an innovative embed.  Branch libraries that cropped up in strip malls in the 70s were an embed.   These are examples of libraries “taking it to the people” before we had a hip term, like embedded, to bandy about.

I believe that libraries have certainly earned the right to co-opt a shiny new term!  How we embed is now dramatically different in terms of the breadth and depth of the information and services that we can offer  and the myriad ways in which they can be delivered.  Embedded library services are a many faceted gemstone of possibilities.  The traditional desk-hugging librarian is now an increasingly rare specimen. The beauty of the trendy term embedded is that it is attention grabbing.  It makes people outside the profession –as well as any remaining desk-huggers within – wonder, inquire and then, hopefully, nod their heads in recognition at the logic of it all.

I read David Shumaker’s fine distinctions of embedded librarianship with interest.  He clearly sees advantages to a taxonomy that sets the virtual, the personal, the consulting, the roving and the embedded librarian apart from one another.   But I wonder whether these distinctions set up obstacles to adopting what works for individual libraries.  Do Shumaker’s fine parsings of the term hold up…or  even matter…in practice?

Perhaps I feel this way because I have already hijacked the term embedded for my high school library setting and I’m loath to part with it.  My self-described embedded experience is a daily reality.  It so absorbs my work  life and sloshes over to my after-hours that it can interfere with all else…..including writing this blog post in a timely way!    Our high school adopted a 1:1 Mac laptop program three years ago, enabling a shift toward a moveable feast of library services during the school day and virtual presence 24/7.   The shift has gotten some real traction recently.  Since our LIBR 220 course started  just over a week ago, I have delivered the following library services in an embedded-esque (new term….feel free to co-opt!) manner:

  • IL instruction for our 9th grade I-Search research project,  combining a flipped classroom series of tutorials with in-classroom instruction.
  • Introduction of a project-specific LibGuide for a long-term research project for AP Environmental Science course.
  • Design & introduction of a LibGuide for a weeklong exploration of revolutionary movements for World History, including providing in-classroom, targeted database search advice with each small group on their chosen revolutionary movement.
  • In-classroom targeted database search instruction for an upper level Japan Seminar course research project.
  • Design of a LibGuide for research projects in Psychology, to be unveiled in the classroom next week.

Our new high school library efforts don’t neatly fit Shumaker’s careful definition of embedded.  We are an untidy hybrid of virtual, roving, consulting, personal embeddedness with necessary remnants of the traditional practice still.  We are a work-in-progress. But I think we are re-imagining our services in line with the embedded model.  The activities I list briefly above are the product of much effort, including the wooing of faculty, proactive marketing of prototypes and collaborative discussion to refine them.  In turn, these embedded practices spin off a multitude of projects and the promise of longterm partnerships that are both supremely satisfying and daunting.  These efforts to embed at the heart of learning in our high school is reinvigorating our role in the lives of faculty and students.


Curb service 10,000 current books – convenient, free, time saving: Chicago Public Library, Randolph St. corridor [Poster]. (ca. 1936-1941). Chicago: Illinois WPA Arts Project. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington. Retrieved from

Shumaker, D. (2012). Defining embedded librarianship. In The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed. Medford, NJ: Information Today.




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Our New Best Learning Experience

Greetings from Ruth Larson Bender in Tokyo!   My husband and I have lived here for over 20 years.  We return to the States several times a year to visit our two children (both now in graduate school too) and extended family in Minnesota, Michigan, Arizona and New York.  Eventually, we’ll return “home” but we’ll stay international educators for a bit longer.

My library work experience has all been at The American School in Japan (ASIJ), a 112-year-old international school for preschoolers to high school seniors.  I spent my first 11 years happily immersed in the lively elementary school library. But, five years ago, I moved the the high school library and I have loved it!   My coursework through SLIS and my experiences working with high school students and faculty all dovetail nicely.  One enriching the other, I think!

Embedded librarianship didn’t pop up on my radar until Michelle Holschuh Simmon’s Information Literacy Seminar.  It so captured  my attention that I devoted my final seminar paper to the topic.   I applied findings from a literature review of the embedded library trend to our high school at a time when the launch of our new 1:1 laptop program promised fresh possibilities.  Although the embedded library model is not as often associated with high, middle and elementary school libraries, I believe that it works there too.  I am looking forward to digging deeply into this topic and shamelessly stealing ideas from academia for our high school!  In this week’s lecture, Meredith already mentioned initiatives at Portland State, like Library DIY and Train-the-Trainer, that sound right up our alley.

Best Learning Experience?  Wow!  That’s tough!  With a half century behind me, I have many “bests” from which to choose.  The SLIS program alone has been so uniformly rigorous and top-notch that I almost hate to graduate!  But, for today, I’ll cite these two learning experiences from SLIS that share essential ingredients.

  • Building a Library 2.0 site in Michael Stephen’s TransTech course
  • Being a LIBR 203 Peer Mentor under Debbie Faires

Three elements in common make these two experiences standout for me:

  • The course expectations were so ambitious it was scary!
  • But, thanks to expert scaffolding, the learning environment felt safe.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, the learning products were authentic.  In one, a Library 2.0 package was created and deployed for a school’s library staff and, in the other, 18 student successfully graduated from LIBR 203!

Good learning experiences transform us.  I look forward to collectively creating a new Best Learning Experience with all of you.

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