Sustained and versatile support through embedded librarianship

Sustained and Versatile Support Through Embedded Librarianship

Streamlining information literacy and other online support methods pre-, mid-, and post-pandemic 

Forget everything you thought you knew about librarians – specifically, the idea that they only exist inside a library. These days, librarians are emerging from their libraries, bringing their essential support services outside a physical space and actively engaging with students and instructors – wherever they happen to be. 

Constance Sheriff and Ina Baczuk, veteran Information Service Specialists at the Buchanan Library, are heading the charge beyond the physical library at Lethbridge College. Through their hard work and passion, they are expanding the role of librarians to offer increased online support to students and instructors alike. 

Their method is what’s known as embedded librarianship, or, in Ina’s words, “a reliable and virtual library presence.” 


What is an embedded librarian?

An embedded librarian is a virtually integrated information expert offering sustained support, guidance and resources within a course. 

Designed to serve both instructors and students, embedded librarianship can include: 

  • An extra support-presence in an online classroom environment 
  • Online tutorials and guidance on where to find quality resources  
  • Video calls on how to properly utilize databases and evaluate information 
  • Virtual (one-on-one or group) information literacy sessions 

Perfectly positioned to deal with COVID-19 constraints

When COVID-19 hit and the traditional classroom began to dissolve, instructors and students were left scrambling – and searching for support from any direction. 

Because Ina and Constance had already been focusing on library outreach and offering embedded librarianship in distance courses since 2008, they were poised to step into the void. Instead of bringing the library and all its information to classrooms, they brought it to instructors’ offices, students’ living rooms, and anywhere else they were needed through an online format. 

“The library isn’t a physical space,” Ina said. “We’re turning the perception of libraries and librarianship to more of a digital platform, making our help more widely available.” 

And their offer to aid was well-received. Through countless hours, Constance and Ina went from assisting around 20 classes to 90 during just one year. 

The pair was not only able to maintain the integrity of what libraries have always offered but actually able to compound the value. By making their support available to a wider audience online, embedded librarianship gives students, staff and faculty seamless access to extensive resources and specialists’ expertise. 

Merging information literacy with embedded librarianship

Part of Constance and Ina’s expansion meant streamlining the current system and bringing information literacy – an essential tool that teaches students how to evaluate information – online.  

Amalgamating information literacy into the embedded librarian program created the opportunity for a more tailored approach to helping students prepare for upcoming assignments. 

“It’s made a huge difference in [students’] understanding the research process and getting started,” Constance said. 

Benefits to students 

The goal of embedded librarians for students is to ensure they have reliable, on-demand access to personalized research help (and other library services) when they need it. 

This promotes: 

  • Greater understanding of the research process (and better grades as a result) 
  • More focused work through concrete guidance on specific assignments 
  • Happier, less-stressed students because they know an extra support system is always accessible 

“[Embedded Librarianship] provides us a real opportunity for outreach to students who might not have come to a library in person,” Ina said. 

Benefits to instructors 

The mission of embedded librarians for instructors is to alleviate teaching pressure and field research-related questions both inside and outside classroom sessions. 

This promotes: 

  • Properly completed assignments (which are also more enjoyable to grade) 
  • Increased mental energy as they are not the only person able to answer questions 
  • Happier instructors who feel more supported in their vital role of teaching 

The future of embedded librarianship

Libraries are support systems, meant to guide, alleviate stress – and promote greater understanding. They’re an integral and valued part of the college experience, and so, it is imperative that libraries and librarians be accessible in an online format, especially with the recent pivot to more online, blended, and HyFlex courses. 

Along with recognizing the realistic limits on what they can provide, Ina and Constance believe that the key to the success of the embedded librarian program lies in the correct strategy. 


Strategic targeting in embedded librarianship

This could include: 

  • Determining which classes would benefit most, then targeting them with timely, relevant information 
  • Optimizing more tailored approaches to specific classes and their respective assignments 
  • Offering more focused availability through key moments in the semester (such as during end-of-year assignments) 
  • Creating set ‘office hours’ and encouraging the use of an appointment system 

With a more strategic approach, Constance and Ina feel that the embedded librarian program can extend their support reach, from assisting our instructors here at home to guiding students within Canada – and across the world. 

Versatile support beyond the pandemic

Ina and Constance plan to continue to offer their valuable services beyond the immediate needs brought on by the pandemic. There’s a special warmth and humanity when students know they can reach someone when they need it most, and instructors feel completely supported in their roles. After all, connection is at the heart of every embedded librarian. 

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