Half of my title is “Distance Services Librarian,” and while I had taken online courses while obtaining my library science degree, I wasn’t sure how to start integrating library resources into online courses, which have grown massively in number here at John Jay. I talked with a lot of librarians at other colleges who worked with online classes, and many said they’d been embedded librarians.
The literature about embedded librarianship is either about a librarian assigned to an in-person class who shows up in the classroom every week, which is not what we’re talking about and also sounds v. exhausting, or about a librarian who visits a Blackboard course and posts content. Looking into the latter, there are many articles about the topic, but not a lot of actual examples. So here are some from my own experience.
Workflow of our embedded librarian program
- Instructors request a librarian to be enrolled in their online-only course for a week. Librarians arrange who’s going to take on the course.
- The librarian and instructor discuss which needs should be addressed. The librarian runs tentative curriculum (bulleted list of items they’ll post) by the instructor, just to make sure all objectives are hit.
- The Blackboard admin enrolls the librarian in the course with the instructor’s permission. On our campus, there’s a dedicated Librarian role in Blackboard, which has all the power of an instructor role except accessing the grade center.
- The librarian posts a folder of content early on Monday or the Friday before. See below for examples.
- During the week, the librarian answers questions in a dedicated discussion forum. This often reaches into the weekend, with several questions coming in on Sunday night, so the librarian should set expectations, e.g., “will respond to your questions within one business day.”
- The Blackboard admin un-enrolls the librarian.
Examples of embedded librarianship in Blackboard
These are screenshots from courses (edited to anonymize everything but me).
Gif guide to choosing keywords based on an example topic already given in class
What I’ve posted in actual Blackboard courses as an embedded librarian
- Introductions: who I am & where the library is
- Discussion forum: ask a librarian! This is by far the most useful part of the whole shebang. I include examples of what to ask (“I’m looking for statistics on X, where should I look?”) and what not to ask (“Find me articles”).
- Video tutorials: general tutorial about using library databases (3 minutes), custom tutorial about choosing keywords from a research question, and searching in Jstor (6 minutes)
- Contact a librarian: chat box, plus links to email, phone, text, and reference desk
- List of recommended databases, including general databases (Academic Search Complete, our Primo instance, and Gale Virtual Reference Library) and specialized databases (e.g., Jstor and Artemis for humanities, SocIndex for sociology, Criminal Justice Periodicals for police science, etc.)
- APA/MLA citation guide PDF, examples, and link to Purdue OWL pages
- PDF guides to print out: choosing keywords and related words and a general guide to library research
- Custom animated gif about choosing keywords (above), with written-out text below for accessibility slash avoiding eye damage from starting at a gif for too long
- Guide on the Side (okay, haven’t actually posted one yet, but have been meaning to)
The above examples are from when I alone was trying out embedded librarianship. Based on the success in two courses, I led a training workshop for my colleagues, covering Blackboard basics (which aren’t so basic) and what to post in classes. We’re lined up for more embedded librarians in more courses! They will surely have a different teaching style and will post different things.
Note: I only ever say “embedded librarian” around other librarians, since we know what it is, but I dislike the term because it sounds either inappropriate or as though we’re a YouTube video. I say “online library instruction” to everyone else: more proactive and professional. We’re situating this service as a rough equivalent to our usual on-campus one-shots, since we’re committed to providing a level of service to online students that is equivalent to what we offer on-campus students. Our sign-up form for online library instruction is right next to the form for on-campus library instruction.
How I’ve promoted the service so far
- Workshops during Faculty Development Day
- Workshop & content sharing in collaboration with Pedagogy and Technology Training Program
- Emails to all graduate online faculty (since grad students are more likely to be entirely online)
- Online Teaching Toolbox newsletter, a monthly email through MailChimp
- Talking it up with every online instructor I meet IRL
Tips & tricks
- Ask your Blackboard admin to set you up with a sandbox course. Here, you can learn the ins and outs of Blackboard. You can also create generic content in a folder and just copy it over into the courses you’re embedded in before customizing it for the class.
- The instructor may invite you to look at assignments the students have already turned in, which you might have access to depending on your Blackboard permissions. You could also ask to look. This is extremely valuable, because you can see where students are already getting their info and problems they might be encountering. It’s not something you’d usually be able to see in a one-shot.
- I use Screencast-o-Matic for making custom video tutorials. It’s easy and free, if you don’t mind a watermark and giving the company your email address. I post them to Vimeo in a “Robin the Librarian” account, but I’m considering switching to YouTube for their caption alignment feature, for accessibility purposes.
- Take it easy with screenshots. Link to resource > screenshot of resource.
- Knowing a little bit about HTML/CSS is useful for making your content look nice. I put all my text into divs with max-width:1000px. No one likes having to read a paragraph that stretches allllll the way across the screen. I also spruce up link colors and make images float left/right.
From the feedback so far from instructors, this has been very successful, especially for students who are unsure about finding articles. I don’t really know what other librarians are posting, though — more examples from the community would be a huge boon!
- Embedded librarianship at FIT: basic, intermediate, and advanced levels of library support (see PDF linked on the left)
- Best practices for librarians embedded in Blackboard, from U. Cincinnati
- Workflow and tips/tricks for embedded librarians, from “Mr. Library Dude”
- Related: my 2015 co-presentation at Northeast Connect, The Library Outpost: Modules, Templates, and Outreach on Blackboard