Embedded Librarianship: A Collaboration That Improves Student Learning Outcomes

Elizabeth A. Thomas, Anne McIntosh
Innovation Showcase

Today's community college students need to know what research resources are available through their college's library, to learn how to efficiently access the information they need, and to be able to critically evaluate information. The term for this set of skills is information literacy.

Instructors who return to academia or work as adjunct professors have a learning curve to understand how information is now accessed. Full-time faculty with constant demands on their time to keep up with the developments in their field, perform community service, and be available to a larger number of students, find keeping up with the changing mix of databases and the various ways of accessing information to be difficult. As a result, librarians have become technologically savvy in order to provide better services to the academic community.

Research Instruction in K-12 School Environments

Today's college students are products of their high school education, which often includes a dearth of information literacy knowledge. Besides learning additional subject content in college, students need to learn information literacy skills, which will enable them to be contributing citizens in America's democratic society. They need to be able to find credible information and evaluate overwhelming amounts of information. In many instances, college students arrive on campus knowing only how to do a basic Google search. There are a number of reasons that students do not have research skills

Budget Cuts 

Budget cuts have resulted in fewer school libraries and fewer state certified school librarians. Pennsylvania is one recent example. Despite a study by the nonprofit Education Law Center of Pennsylvania that found, "regardless of race, class or disability, students with access to a full-time school librarian had higher state reading scores" (Vanaski, 2013), Pennsylvania's legislature has cut funding for librarians. As a result, many school districts, such as York City Schools, are cutting librarian positions. Abigail Critz, a college librarian and graduate of Manheim Township School District, warned that library cuts will leave students ill-prepared for the demands of college research (Wallace, 2013).

Charter Schools

Charter schools, most of which often do not receive capital funding to build library facilities, refer students to public libraries. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2007-2008), only 51% of charter schools had a school library (Traska, June, p. 27).


Students have access to desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other electronic devices that enable them to easily access the Internet; therefore, students may not be as motivated to seek out librarians when they need research assistance.

The Collaboration

With the constant changes in research instruction and the lack of information literacy skills of high school graduates, the collaboration between instructor and librarian addresses a critical need in the teaching and learning environment. The word collaboration comes from the Latin root to labor together. According to Jacobs and Jacobs (2009), "What is imperative for collaboration is the discovery of a common ground through conversation and dialogue. Collaboration, like research and writing, is a process that has to start somewhere" (p. 79).

Thomas and McIntosh started collaborating by applying the embedded librarian concept to an introductory online communication course in a pilot program. The goals and course requirements for research and written communication skills made this course a natural place to build a collaborative relationship. The instructor contributes expertise in course content, and knowledge of effective teaching and learning techniques. The librarian contributes information expertise. The end result is better student outcomes.

In a Special Library Association report, Shumaker and Talley (2009) define embedded librarianship as follows:

[Embedded librarianship] involves focusing 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. In effect, it involves shifting the basis of library services from the traditional, transactional, question-and-answer model of reference services to one in which there is high trust, close collaboration, and shared responsibility for outcomes. (p. 9)

Thomas and McIntosh's classroom experience paralleled Hall's (2008) findings that, "As a whole, students were using far too many poor quality Web sites (p. 28)," such as Wikipedia, as an authoritative source, and that overall student learning was negatively impacted by this practice. As a librarian, Hall attended the instructor's class sessions to learn more about the assignments and help students develop information literacy skills; Thomas followed Hall's example by attending the on-campus speeches required of the online communication students. Additionally, the embedded librarian had access to the Blackboard course where she was able to see the assignments and the instructions given by the instructor throughout the course. These activities gave Thomas a better understanding of the course, assignments, and students' skills in order to collaborate with the instructor.

The instructor

  • Created course content that required students to do research for each of four communication assignments.
  • Required students to post their initial speech outlines and draft papers, complete with bibliographies, in APA format in the Discussion Board. As a result, the instructor, embedded librarian, and fellow students were able to post constructive feedback on the work before the students submitted assignments for grading.
  • Provided written comments on students' final work, including feedback on resources and the bibliographic formatting of those resources.
  • Submitted the course to be reviewed by the College's e-learning team for Quality Course Review approval that provided further improvement and refinement.
  • Reviewed research articles on embedded librarianship integration into communication courses.

The embedded librarian

  • Gained access to the course as a Course Builder in the course management system (i.e., Blackboard).
  • Created a research guide with resources, search strategies, and citation guidance tailored specifically to the assignments of the course. The guide included contact information for the embedded librarian. (CPCC uses Springshare's LibGuides.)
  • Added Your Librarian to the navigation menu in Blackboard. The Your Librarian button links to the research guide mentioned above.
  • Posted periodic announcements through Blackboard that go directly to students' campus email. These announcements were timed to coincide with assignment due dates and included advice on research resources and other relevant information.
  • Commented on student discussion board postings in Blackboard, particularly when they posted draft speech outlines and papers. Usually, by commenting on the first postings, students would read the comments and revise their materials.

The collaborators

  • Met periodically to address specific questions or concerns from students.
  • Worked during lunch meetings, discussing class progress and making plans.
  • Communicated throughout the course and between semesters to continually improve the course based on student feedback and perceived need by the instructor and/or librarian.

Student Surveys

End-of-course surveys were conducted by both the library staff and the course instructor. Students were asked whether they contacted the embedded librarian and whether the embedded librarian feature should continue. Responses included:

"I did find the information the embedded librarian gave me on my papers helpful. She was very active in the course...using the academic-based electronic databases."

"Having an embedded librarian is...good...for the course. For me personally, [the embedded librarian] was especially helpful in the area of formatting references and citations for my papers."

"The Embedded Librarian feature taught me how to cite APA when most of the time I use MLA."

"The Embedded Librarian was great in reviewing my speech drafts and suggesting additional research...she helped me...by posting feedback through discussion-board postings and email. I did like the email communication that was sent as well. She did help broaden my understanding of researching through databases."

"I liked the convenience of the embedded librarian. She is very helpful in research and formatting. Taking an online course I like to communicate online. Having a librarian online vs. having to see her in person, I believe is a great direction for online learning."

"I enjoyed getting the feedback that was posted on the different student's papers and assignments as well as the emails..., as they provided...useful information regarding the research. I...like having the library link so close at hand and it was easy to use the embedded librarian link to access research materials."

"I liked being able to e-mail the librarian.... The librarian was very helpful and gave me good advice when needed. The librarian is a necessity for this course."

"I loved this feature and even found myself using [the Your Librarian button that connects to research guide] for other courses that didn't have the same feature."

"The research guide...helped narrow my search and have better more credible sources."

"I did find that knowing how to do research in the CPCC databases and create a bibliography in proper APA format was very useful to me.... I can now do up a 'References' page and in-text citations without needing to look them up!"


In the collaboration process, Thomas and McIntosh made several observations about students and how they learn online. Thomas found that students were predominately online working on their coursework on Friday evenings and during the weekends. Thus, providing assistance at those times helped students at their point of need. Another realization came as students would contact the librarian after posting their speech outlines asking for help with research. In other words, Thomas and McIntosh realized the need to add a research component in the early stages of assignments to get students to do research on their topics early in the process rather than just plugging in references in the their outlines. Finally, there was the realization that many students in this course did not know how to figure out keywords and use them in a database search or to evaluate the credibility of their sources. Thomas and McIntosh have collaborated in revising the course to take these observations into consideration. Furthermore, the grading rubrics of each assignment now incorporate evaluation of sources and citation formatting.

With the increasing number of classes going online, collaboration with an embedded librarian helps instructors improve students' information literacy skills. Students learn to evaluate information that will not only help them with coursework but also carry over to their work and personal lives. While various community colleges are implementing alternative models of collaboration, embedded librarianship meets the needs of 21st century instruction and learning. Thomas and McIntosh plan to continue to collaborate and anticipate even more pronounced improvements in student outcomes in the coming year.


Hall, R. A. (2008). The "embedded" librarian in a freshman speech class: Information literacy instruction in action. C&RL News, 69(1), 28-30. Retrieved from http://crln.acrl.org/content/69/1/28.full.pdf+html

Jacobs, H. L. M., & Jacobs, D. (2009). Transforming the one-shot library session into pedagogical collaboration: Information literacy and the English Composition class. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 49(1), 72-82. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

Shumaker, D., & Talley, M. (2009, June 30). Models of embedded librarianship final report. Retrieved from http://hq.sla.org/pdfs/EmbeddedLibrarianshipFinalRptRev.pdf

Traska, M. R. (2013). The void in charter schools. American Libraries Magazine, 44(6), 26-30. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

U. S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2007-2008). Schools and staffing survey (SASS). Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/tables/dt11_431.asp

Vanaski, N. (2013, March 14). Check out why we must fund libraries. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved from NewsBank database.

Wallace, B. (2013, June 15). 'Muzzled' MT parents keep fighting: Opposition's momentum grows in wake of cuts to art, music, gym and library programs in elementary schools. Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era. Retrieved from NewsBank database.

Additional Reading

Groce, H. (2008). Information-seeking habits and information literacy of community and junior college students: A review of literature. Community & Junior College Libraries, 14(3), 191-199.

Kvenild, C., & Calkins, K. (Eds.). (2011). Embedded librarians: Moving beyond one-shot instruction. Chicago, IL: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Shumaker, D. (2012). The embedded librarian: Innovative strategies for taking knowledge where it's needed. Medford, NJ: Information Today.

Tumbleson, B. E., & Burke, J. J. (2013). Embedding librarianship in learning management systems: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians. Chicago, IL: Neal-Schuman.

Wade, W., & Donner, J. (2013, April). Teaching speech online: It can be done. [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.league.org/blog/post.cfm/teaching-speech-online-it-can-be-done

Elizabeth A. (Betty) Thomas, MBA, MLIS, is a librarian at Central Piedmont Community College. Anne McIntosh, Ph.D., is a professor at Central Piedmont Community College and teaches communication courses.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.