I’m not big on public speaking. Getting up in front of a group of undergraduate students and waxing poetic about the joys of library research and the natural high of constructing the perfect Boolean search is a daunting prospect for me. In my position as an academic librarian, however, providing these information literacy sessions is a necessary job requirement (with nearly 10,000 students and 11 librarians), but I’ve never felt a connection to the clearly glazed students who come in for a 50 minute class session “just for a library overview” and are never to be seen again.
Last fall, that all changed for me. With a colleague out on leave, I covered her embedded librarian duties. Instead of meeting with a class once, I was given the tremendous opportunity to meet with the class many times (a brief personal introduction, a 50 minute library instruction session, and two research days in a computer lab). I was also able to send them emails with information about library resources directly timed to be read at their point of need. I won’t lie, that first semester of being an embedded librarian I was pretty clueless. I followed my colleague’s game plan and just hoped I didn’t mess it up too badly. I didn’t really start to feel comfortable until the research days. I really love research days; class sessions when the students are set free to research their topics and ask questions when they needed help. This sort of just-in-time research help provided me with the satisfaction of knowing that I had helped students make connections about their research needs and library resources. In my humble opinion point of need instruction is the ultimate way to show students the value of librarians and library resources.
This semester, I’ve added more research days and asked students to send me their initial bibliographies so I can see both if and how they are using library resources. I didn’t grade these bibliographies, but I did take advantage of this connection to the students to steer them away from Google (even after library instruction some students stick with Google as the source of all their research), to highlight library resources specific to their topics, and to make recommendations to our collection development librarian on new purchases.
While I can see very concretely that some students have benefitted from this extra attention, I feel like I’m the one coming out ahead. I haven’t had these in-depth reference interactions with users for a long time at the reference desk (most questions I field at the reference desk revolve around printing). While being an embedded librarian is time intensive (especially while reviewing 70 bibliographies), I count my experience over the past two semesters as one of the highlights of my professional career.