The topic of embedded librarians receives no more than a few pages of direct attention in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction, but it’s one that librarians and other trainer-teacher-learners would do well to explore, for it suggests an interesting twist on the concept of mobile learning—one in which the learning facilitator is physically or virtually mobile.
Todd Gilman, in his Information Services Today chapter on “The Learning and Research Institution: Academic Libraries,” suggests that “[e]mbedded librarians seek to reach students where they are rather than wait for students to come to them”—something that I see our best training-teaching-learning colleagues also striving to achieve with learners of all ages. “They might serve as a co-teacher by means of a virtual presence in an online course offered to their institution’s students or to students enrolled in a faculty member’s MOOC (Massive Open Online Course); hold office hours in an academic department, student union, cafeteria, or writing center; or offer brief introductory visits to face-to-face classrooms at the invitation of teaching faculty” (p. 65).
Michelle Holschuh Simmons, in her chapter “Finding Information: Information Intermediation and Reference Services,” carries the theme much further, beginning with a brief summary of how the term developed: “Coined in 2004 by Barbara Dewey, the term ‘embedded librarian’ has come to mean an information professional who is focused ‘on the needs of one or more specific groups, building relationships with these groups, developing a deep understanding of their work, and providing information services that are highly customized and targeted to their greatest needs.’” And this is the point at which any trainer-teacher-learner begins to see parallels between that embedding concept and what we strive to achieve: building relationships with our learners so we can determine, understand, and facilitate the process of meeting their learning needs.
Simmons leads us to David Shumaker’s book The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed as a resource for anyone wanting to see how embedded librarianship works in action, and we can also find Shumaker’s latest embedded-librarian reflections on the blog he started in 2007. Simmons further brings the topic to life by providing examples: an embedded librarian conducting weekly office hours in a campus computer lab, and an embedded librarian who “took his role…to an unprecedented level by participating in the Faculty-in-Residence program and living with students in a residence hall.” She also gives us a glimpse of public-library embedded-librarian practices by quoting from an American Libraries article by Colbe Galston, Elizabeth Kelsen Huber, Katherine Johnson, and Amy Long: “The DCL [Douglas County Libraries] staff are embedded ‘throughout the county in local schools, city councils, metro districts, economic development councils, and even a local women’s crisis center.’”
It’s not at all difficult to make the leap from the embedded-librarian model to a broader embedded-trainer-teacher-learner model. Working with a group of colleagues delivering a series of tech trainings for hospice workers a few years ago, for example, provided me with a wonderful post-classroom/workshop opportunity: we took turns staffing an onsite help desk next to the hospice workers’ offices for up to two weeks per series so those learners could stop by for additional one-on-one support during the final phase of their transition from familiar to unfamiliar technology. I’ve also been involved in online variations on the theme by offering virtual office hours via Facebook and Google Hangouts for learners who otherwise were limited to asynchronous interactions in an online course; an encouraging aspect of those ongoing experiments is how easy it is to travel virtually to the learners’ moments and points of need—and how quickly the learners (particularly in a hangout) come to realize that our expanding set of tech tools go a long way in eradicating the distances and other barriers that previously limited our ability to become embedded in a variety of ways.
None of this is big news to the librarians who have been exploring opportunities to become embedded virtually with an eye toward engaging learners and meeting their learning needs. Ann Schroeder, in her “Replacing Face-to-Face Literacy Instruction: Offering the Embedded Librarian Program to All Courses” chapter (pp 63-75) from the anthology Embedded Librarians: Moving Beyond One-Shot Instruction [edited by Cassandra Kvenild and Kaijsa Calkins] provides plenty of documentation for how any trainer-teacher-learner approaches the challenge. Laura Skinner’s “Librarians in Your Midst: The Embedded Librarian Program at PVCC [Piedmont Virginia Community College]” provides a first-rate case study of how to effectively design, promote, and deliver embedded services in online-learning environments. And Steven Bell’s “Being Present with Learners in the Library” takes us beyond the embedded-learning-facilitator discussion to remind us that our best efforts are grounded in a commitment to “develop a presence that leads to connections and relationships.” With these and many more resources available to us, we’re well on the way to creatively and effectively finding ways to go where our learners most need us.