Information Services Today: Mobile and Available at the Moment of Need

April 15, 2015

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.

Information_Services_Today--CoverTodd 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.

Shumaker--Embedded_Librarian--CoverSimmons 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.

Kvenild--Embedded_Librarians--CoverNone 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.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Learning How to Make a Meeting

February 1, 2015

When as association like the American Library Association (ALA) sets out to empower its members by fostering collaboration, magic happens, as a few of us saw again yesterday while attending an open discussion about online learning in libraries at the ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting here in Chicago.

ALAMW15--LogoArriving early for a 90-minute session, seven of us who had not previously met engaged in brief, informal conversation for several minutes while waiting for the session facilitator to arrive. And when it became clear that the facilitator was not going to arrive, we quickly decided we weren’t going to take the typical tact of assuming we should leave because the session had been cancelled. ALA, after all, does many things very, very well—including creating opportunities where members interact informally, help shape the conversations we want to join, and extend conversations across onsite and online platforms to be sure no interested member is left behind.

Because most of the members in that room are involved in training-teaching-learning endeavors in university libraries, we’re familiar with how to design and facilitate effective learning opportunities, so we quickly agreed to start by introducing ourselves and the work we do. We then agreed that we wanted a couple of  clear-cut learning objectives: an exchange of ideas about the current state of online learning in libraries, and the possibility of initiating a conversation that would continue long after that initial 90-minute session came to an end. So we exchanged business cards, took a few minutes to describe what we hoped to learn from each other during our time together, and even, thanks to one participant’s action, created an online document to capture highlights from the conversation in the hope that the document would quickly evolve into an ongoing “learning space” where we could continue to learn with and from each other.

One of the most striking elements of this entire meeting created on the fly was how it reflected so much of what is happening in training-teaching-learning today: a recognition that learners gain by shaping their own learning experiences—as we did during those 90 minutes of conversation. And that collaborative or connected learning is most effective when there is no one dominant voice in a learning situation. If everyone contributes, everyone gains—which is what ALA so effectively nurtures by bringing colleagues together in ways that combine formal and informal learning while connecting onsite and offsite colleagues in engaging ways.

Community_College_Research_Center_LogoAs we created our own meeting/discussion within the overall Midwinter Meeting context, we found immediate payoffs. In sharing observations about what is happening among undergraduates engaged in online learning, we learned that the University of Arizona University Libraries has an open source program called Guide on the Side and that is has been successful enough to be adopted by others. We explored the challenge so many of us face in trying to define and support digital literacy and shared links to resources including Doug Belshaw’s online Ph.D. thesis on digital literacy: What Is Digital Literacy? A Pragmatic Investigation. We briefly explored the challenges of working with learners in online environments when those learners have been inadequately prepared to thrive in online learning environments, and heard a bit about the first-rate report Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas, by Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars, published through the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, at Columbia University.

Moving on to the topic of Open Educational Resources (OERs) in learning, we heard a colleague summarize what she had learned earlier in the day while attending an Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) OER session here at the Midwinter Meeting. OERs, she noted, are offering great benefits for international distance learners—including access to OERs in a timely fashion instead of making those learners wait weeks for standard printed textbooks to arrive via mail. We learned that Rice University is doing great work with OER textbooks through its OpenStax College and that more libraries are beginning to work in this area—actually appointing “OER librarians.” We heard about colleagues who are first-rate resources for us on the topic of OERs, e.g., Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition); David Wiley, Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University; and Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian Temple University, through his work on open textbooks.

We heard numerous examples of how colleagues are engaging learners by creating and embedding personal videos in online courses, facilitating online forums that include audio feedback to learners, and using Twitter, Facebook, and Google Hangouts for online office hours and other learning opportunities that are showing online learning can be every bit as personal and engaging as face-to-face learning can be.

A frequently-used tagline used by ALA to describe its conferences and large-scale meetings is “the conversation begins here.” Conversations certainly began in that small conference room yesterday afternoon, and may well continue through extended interactions in virtual “learning spaces” including live tweet chats, development of that shared online document, and even blog articles along the lines of this one. They key is that we are responsible for fostering our own learning, creating our own meetings, and taking full advantage of the learning opportunities that continue to come our way through the simple act of association.


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