The Embedded Librarian: Teaching Research and Building Relationships Across the College Campus

The Embedded Librarian: Teaching Research and Building Relationships Across the College Campus

I still remember my first year teaching a collegiate Research Methods course. My students treated the research process as if it were a foreign language that they had never been introduced to. They were overwhelmed by everything about the research process, and many shared they had never been introduced to conducting research in high school. This shocked me because I still remember my high school English teacher who made us write down our sources and quotes on index cards, along with the annotated bibliographies that we completed, and the many red marks I received because I failed to complete my in-text citations and/or works cited page correctly. 

I was always in awe when my students shared their high school English experiences, but I quickly learned after many more semesters of teaching this course that this was something many systems did not mandate for their students. Many students transitioned from their public schools, private schools, or charter schools without learning basic research skills or how to navigate the library. 

This made me realize the importance of high school educators and college educators being there to help bridge that gap. But since this was something that I also knew was not an easy task to fix, I focused my energy on ways to assist my current students. I formed a relationship with a librarian. The relationship that we built with each other was my first introduction to embedded librarianship. It was an effortless, uncomplicated relationship that grew each semester. I took the time to place myself back into the high school English classes that I taught prior to teaching on the collegiate level. I also took the time to consider research and writing courses that I took as an undergraduate and graduate student. Self-reflecting and building on such experiences assisted me with creating a simple plan to help my college students.

I realized that many of our college students have unrealistic expectations from their professors and were failed by their school systems and educators. To avoid blaming and to try to assist them in a much-needed area, I had to be creative. I began modeling for my students, and collaboratively, my students, the librarian that was my co-captain, and I made research fun and engaging—but most importantly, we taught the research.  Each year, I always have students share their success stories of how my research process assisted them with follow-up courses and obtaining graduate degrees.

Like this blog? Check out Kiera Vargas’s companion webinar for more on embedded librarians!

My process was simple:

1. Properly plan with your embedded librarian.

My embedded librarian and I planned prior to the beginning of each semester.  We reflected and evaluated what worked best and made any necessary changes to ensure our students were successful. They had access to my Blackboard shell, and they were introduced to my students at the beginning of the semester. My students and I took several “field trips” to the library to tour and to meet the embedded librarian and other librarians. The embedded librarian provided office hours for my students and periodically “popped up” during lessons so that students could become familiar with them. This is key to implementing embedded librarianship. 

When students provided their research topics, I gave the information to the librarian so they could begin planning for our students. This initial planning allowed the librarian to know how much time they would need for my courses without feeling overwhelmed. We also left room for flexibility because we realized that extra time might be needed.

2. Model each step for your student.

As a class, we collaboratively worked on a research paper. In addition to having students read the textbooks, I felt it was important for students to understand how to apply what they read. By working together daily as a class, they were able to see the importance of each step of the research process, from selecting a research topic to organizing their sources. This was key to helping students succeed.

3. Take the time to meet with each student individually.

This can be time consuming, but I met with each one of my students individually at least twice during the semester. The university where I was employed had a student union and a Starbucks, so I met students during class time at one of those locations so that they would feel comfortable. Personally, I felt it was less intimidating than meeting in my office.

Regardless of subject discipline, this simple approach works. As college professors and librarians, we must realize that while we want our college students to come prepared to conduct research, it’s important to take the time to slow down and meet them where they are. We must help our students to learn the basic skills and understand the process so that they can flourish not just in college, but in life.

Check out our Instructional Strategies Toolkit for effective teaching strategies and resources to help you better engage your students!

See also: