Kathleen Hanggi, Assistant Professor of English, Doane College
Alison Valk, Multimedia Instructional Librarian, Georgia Institute of Technology
WHEN you think about librarians partnering with faculty, traditionally what may come to mind are simple one-shot workshops, assistance in finding resources, or any number of brief interactions. Rarely are librarians involved in the development of class topics or assignments, nor might you imagine having one as a regular class participant or ongoing partner throughout the semester. However, for the 2012-13 academic year, Kathleen Hanggi and Alison Valk experimented with just that, a model of instruction known as Embedded Librarianship. They reflect on the opportunities, insights, and challenges of their year together in this article.
The term embedded librarian has its roots in the concept of embedded journalists, the two being somewhat analogous. Embedded librarianship involves taking a librarian out of her traditional environment and placing her in a situation that fosters closer collaboration with faculty involved in research and teaching. There are three avenues for developing embedded librarianships:
- Physical presence: The students in the class associate a face and a name with the library on a regular basis, and the librarian becomes someone the students are used to working with.
- Virtual presence: Because the time commitment of a physical presence is so great, and many librarians don’t have the time to commit to a semester-long course, having a presence on Blackboard or the class Learning Management System, offers another way for librarians to embed themselves in the class (Haycock and Howe, Cordell, Filgo). If this mode of instruction is used, we recommend the librarian be proactive in order to make students aware of her involvement in the course. Blogs, discussion boards, Facebook groups, and research guides are all potential vehicles for discussion. For example, requiring Google Hangout meetings or IM conversations to discuss research plans and ideas, would be a way to to require students to utilize the librarian’s availability.
- Hybrid presence: If possible, a blend of occasional class attendance and support online offers an alternative to the heavy time commitment of attending most or all class sessions. Students can still associate a face and name with the library, but have alternative ways to interact with the librarian.
The model of embedded librarianship is also being used in corporate and non-profit environments, where a librarian serves as a member of a research team (Shumaker and Makins, Dale and Kellam). However, no matter the environment, the method of delivery, or model for class involvement, embedded librarianship involves two major factors: integration and collaboration.
In some cases, librarians utilize this model of instruction as a way to overcome the unavoidable limitations of “one-shot” library instruction classes. Librarians are moving from what might be seen as a consultant-type role into more of a partnership with teaching faculty allowing them to build stronger connections with these colleagues, as well as improving the student learning experience and increasing student engagement. An example might be the librarian and teaching faculty working as co-instructors or collaborators on a course. This sustained involvement allows librarians to anticipate students’ needs because the librarians are a part of the planning and the preparation students receive before the class utilizes the library’s resources.
One reason this partnership worked was the roles both librarian and instructor filled. Valk’s role as Multimedia Instructional Librarian at the Georgia Tech library is a unique position nationwide in academic libraries. Her primary focus is instructional design and multimedia software. She regularly teaches workshops on design-related software and web development, with the intention of supplementing the academic curriculum. This unique role complemented Hanggi’s courses teaching multimodal composition, where projects often required students to work with new technology. Valk assisted in the development of class projects and attended nearly every class of select sections of Hanggi’s multimodal composition courses Technologies of Globalization and Dystopian Fiction. Throughout the collaboration, Valk offered feedback on student projects and presentations, as well as suggested appropriate resources and software to supplement the class assignments. The two shared responsibility for facilitating the classes, with Hanggi taking the lead on most classes and Valk heading up the classes centered on library resources, research, and technology. However, Valk’s input wasn’t limited to the classes she led. She also provided feedback on assignments, presentations, and in-class activities.
For one project, Hanggi and Valk worked with the library archivists to develop an assignment that utilizes the Georgia Tech Library’s Science Fiction Collection, which includes an extensive number of science fiction magazines dating as far back as the 1930s. With input from the archivists, they developed a project that asked students to peruse these magazines and create a digital magazine. Students were instructed to choose a theme featured in the magazines—technology, space travel, gender, artificial intelligence, aliens, among others—and to look for visual and textual representations of the theme in the magazines’ stories and illustrations. Some groups focused their project on a particular decade, while others examined how their theme changed over time, such as the group that examined the evolution of weapons. To accompany the images and stories they selected, students wrote a short analysis for each image, and each group composed a longer essay that elaborated on how the images and stories exemplify the theme. Once the projects were complete, students presented their websites to the instructors , librarians and archivists, as well as the rest of their class.
Valk supervised the students’ research in the library archives, but her primary role in this assignment was researching the online platform used for the digital magazines and instructing the class on how to use it. Rather than have the students request permission from the various copyright holders for the use of the magazines’ images, the instructors opted to investigate platforms that allowed students to create a private website that would not be publically accessible from the web. One such platform was Omeka.net, an open source web-publishing platform used for the display of digital collections. Most students used this platform to create their digital magazines. Valk then developed and led workshops introducing the class to the options Omeka offers. In subsequent class sessions, students worked on their Omeka sites, while Valk and Hanggi answered questions and offered feedback. Having two sessions, one for instruction and one for students to practice working in the platform, gave them more confidence to work on their sites outside of class. In a survey about the digital magazine project, one student commented: “Another resource we found valuable for this project was omeka.net, which was a convenient website builder. It allowed for easy-to-use interface and simplistic website building.”
One aspect of their partnership that distinguishes it from other classes that include librarian involvement as an integrated component is the presence of librarians at every stage in the class. Valk assisted throughout the project with research and instruction related to the selected web-publishing platforms, and the archivists introduced students to the often under-utilized historical artifacts housed in special collections. The archivists were also responsible for leading several workshops within the class and assisted students in locating appropriate content for their magazines. The librarians stayed involved for the duration of the project, even offering feedback on the final presentations. The students, in turn, appreciated the opportunity to show the archivists how the science fiction resources had been incorporated into the final product, as one student reflected in a survey:“I like that the archivists came to watch our presentations. Way to give back to them that I enjoyed.”
Overall, the assignment was successful. Students engaged in research, image and textual analysis, online design, small group communication, and presentation skills to create and present their finished websites to instructors, fellow classmates, and librarians. Students were interested in the physical materials they encountered and were excited to transform them into digital versions. Many groups were surprised by how the scientific, military, and medical advances of the twentieth century were echoed throughout the magazines.
Were the authors to assign this project again, they would make small changes. Although Omeka.net served the students’ needs, other platforms also offer user friendly website design options and should be considered; the full version of Omeka, which is installed on personal server space, also gives users more customization options. Hanggi and Valk would spend a few additional class sessions devoted to Omeka installation if they chose the latter option.
Hanggi and Valk have written this final section in their separate voices because their different roles in the classroom and at the university influenced their responses to the digital magazine assignment and to their year-long partnership.
This project had multiple elements that came together for it to be successful: the archive, the online platform, the collaboration, the technology, and the recording of the presentations. The project’s success, however, first depended on the collaboration between Valk and myself. Having Valk shape the project and take ownership of determining the online platform students would use and training them in its functionality allowed me to focus on the research and analytical aspects of the assignment.
The partnerships also had tangible benefits for the students. Together, we could offer feedback more often to students, both formative feedback during the drafting and revision stages, as well as summative feedback on the final version. Not only did they receive written feedback on the presentations from me, but also from Valk, who observed all of the presentations. Often, Valk and I (unintentionally) commented on different aspects, which offered students a better understanding of their grades.
Beyond this project, the partnership allowed me to develop assignments that utilized technology with which I am unfamiliar. For example, Valk took responsibility for instructing students in the technology side of a podcast assignment we developed. For another project, Valk instructed the students in research skills and infographic creation for their major research projects. Having a second person bring her expertise into the classroom allowed me to develop assignments new assignments that utilize students’ familiarity with technology.
I often make the analogy that being an instructional librarian is a lot like being a pinch hitter in baseball. When called upon for course integrated instructional activities, I usually run a one-time workshop to assist with a project on which I have limited information and little time to connect with the students or observe their particular learning styles and personalities. I have one time to get it right, so there isn’t much room for error. Instructional librarians find themselves having to get very creative to make up for the lack of extended time with the students.
Through my partnership with Dr. Hanggi, I gained valuable insight into student learning. Being involved in the design of the student projects opened the door to expanded librarian involvement and the development of innovative, larger-scope projects. Additionally, the shared responsibility for class projects gave us more latitude in what we could each do with the class. For instance, as technical problems with student websites arose throughout the semester as they inevitably do once implementation gets underway, I was present in class and available to assist when needed, rather than simply being a distant unfamiliar resource the students would later have to track down. Ongoing librarian involvement allowed us to run several class research sessions in the library archives where students prepared their materials for the digital magazine project. Not only were students using library resources, but they spent several classes physically in the library archives learning about the purpose and goals of the department on a larger scale. As I observed it, physically being in the library, getting to touch and see all the resources, while browsing a fun collection from many decades ago was a very enjoyable and at times amusing experience for the students that ultimately kept them engaged with class projects.
The students, in general, gained from having feedback in the form of multiple perspectives on their class work.This was the case for all projects that required class presentations. Dr. Hanggi and I usually merged our feedback and returned it to the students. One advantage of Dr. Hanggi and I working together was the students benefited from not just one, but two perspectives on their presentations.
Being so integrated into Dr. Hanggi’s class allowed me to see the students throughout their planning and research process, not just a snapshot of time. Working as an embedded librarian gave me the chance to see the middle stages of the process as students began to actually use and synthesize the information being presented to them. The overall experience allowed me to address student needs more effectively, as well as make personal connections with the students I might not otherwise have been able to do.
A partnership between an embedded librarian and an instructor opens the door to more opportunities for the development of innovative class projects. Librarians bring in added skill sets such as research techniques, competency with software, multimedia, and presentation skills. Although the time commitment is often large, the experience can be beneficial for all involved. When developing an embedded librarian partnership, we recommend the instructor and librarian keep some of these ideas in mind:
- Plan and design projects together with specific library resources in mind.
- Schedule weekly meetings (either virtual or in person) between instructor and librarian. Weekly meetings present an opportunity to reflect on how students are progressing, where class topics could be adjusted and expectations for instructor and librarian participation levels.
- Offer joint feedback to the students on projects. Students appreciate multiple perspectives.
- Utilize new technologies and resources through the library.
- Librarians should be very proactive in commenting on student work and participating in class and on discussion boards.
- Write individual reflections throughout the semester that allow both instructor and librarian to reflect on the partnership at the end of the course.
- Emphasize the partnership to the students through the course syllabus, introducing the librarian on the first day of class, while explaining the benefits and goals of the partnership.
Cordell, Diane. “Skype and the Embedded Librarian.” Library Technology Reports. 48.2 (2012): 8-11.
Dale and Kellam. “The Incredible Embeddable Librarian.” Library Media Connection. Jan/Feb 2012. (30-1, 51).
Filgo, Ellen Hampton. “#Hashtag Embedding Myself into a Class Via Twitter and Blogs.” Computers in Libraries. Jul/Aug 2011 (78-80).
Haycock, Laurel and Andy Howe. “Collaborating with Library Course Pages and Facebook: Exploring New Opportunities.” Collaborative Librarianship. 3.3 (2011): 157-62.
Makins, Alison, and David Shumaker. “Lessons from successful embedded librarians: the most recent phase of an SLA-funded research project on embedded librarianship offers some new insights and five ‘bottom line’ recommendations for success.” Information Outlook May-June 2012: 10+. Business Insights: Global. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
Alison Valk is the Multimedia Instruction Librarian for the Georgia Tech Library. She has worked in a variety of capacities on campus since 1998. Valk received her Master’s in Library & Information Science from Florida State University and a BBA from Georgia State University in Computer Information Systems. She also has a background in fine arts from the University of Georgia where her area of focus was Drawing & Painting. She coordinates all the course- integrated multimedia software workshops offered through the Georgia Tech library and has been researching the benefits of embedded librarians in college-level courses. She was recently published by the Association of College and Research Libraries spotlighting her efforts in this area.
Kathleen Hanggi is an Assistant Professor of English at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska. She earned her PhD in English from Emory University and held a Brittain Postdoctoral Fellowship at Georgia Tech from 2011-2013. She can be reached at email@example.com.