The Embedded Librarian: Is it Enough?


Online courses are becoming very popular as life becomes more complicated. More and more online courses are being developed for academic programs to accommodate our fast-paced life style so that students can get through the courses quickly and move on to their next challenge. The library needs to play an integral role in the curriculum and instructional design process of online courses. Librarians must work side by side with faculty to design these successful online courses that emphasize the value of the library. Embedding librarians into online courses is not enough as the librarian should assist with content suggestions and course assignments. What better way to improve critical thinking skills than by showing students the wealth of information they can access and incorporate into their lives through the library? The librarian involved in course development can not only bring this wealth of information into each course, but they can incorporate highly needed information literacy skills as well.

The Librarian at Colorado State University-Global Campus (CSU-Global) has partnered with faculty to help develop courses and critical thinking assignments. She is also a part of the course development process at CSU-Global. CSU-Global is 100% online and offers degree completion bachelors along with graduate degree programs. It was the first statutorily independent fully online university in the country, and is part of the Colorado State University System.1

The Embedded Librarian

The term "embedded" is said to have come from embedding journalists into military units so they could get the story first hand, just as librarians need to be embedded into courses to ensure that students can access information at their "point of need."2 The embedded librarian not only teaches information literacy skills but also provides library instruction or tutorials on searching and finding resources through the library in support of course assignments.

But why embed a librarian into a course? If librarians help students at a "point of need," students are more likely to visit the library because they have developed a relationship with the librarian and feel more comfortable using the library. They will also ask for help when needed.3 Librarians and faculty have also discovered that embedding the librarian into a course can improve a student’s information literacy (IL) skills; however, this improvement depends on how the librarian is embedded into the course.4 "Research is needed to determine more specifically if student and/or instructor attitudes toward academic libraries are transformed by interacting with an embedded librarian. A particularly useful study would determine benefits that distance learners receive by forming a relationship with a librarian."5

The Internet has made librarians realize that sitting behind a desk or answering questions through virtual reference is no longer the only way to reach students. It is imperative that librarians are embedded into the courses not only to teach students how to search library databases, but also to teach information literacy. The literature supports the notion that there is a critical need for information literacy skills to be taught to students.6

Some of the ways that librarians are embedding themselves into courses include:

  • librarians' contact information on the syllabus within a course
  • create a discussion board topic for the librarian to answer specific questions related a particular assignment
  • establish a blog in a course to answer questions for the class as a whole, not just for an individual student7
  • provide a library course shell for library resources and questions8
  • conduct a library instruction session for a course through an online classroom
  • embed a tutorial on information literacy and/or other topics into course
  • embed tip sheets and handouts9

The Embedded Librarian Experience

The CSU-Global librarian experimented with several ways of embedding herself and resources into each course. Some methods were successful and some were not. One method that was not successful was embedding a video of the librarian introducing library resources in a system-wide announcement in Blackboard, an online learning system, for all courses. The idea was to send a new video each term with new information on how to use a particular resource. One drawback was the amount of time and resources it took to produce the video. The other drawback was that a few of the faculty were not pleased that this video had been inserted into their course without their permission. After the video was deleted from the course announcements, it was then placed on the Library website in Blackboard and has since then received positive comments from the administration, faculty, and students.

The most successful method of embedding the library into courses has been directly embedded the CSU-Global Library in Blackboard as a tab located at the top of the page, which stays constant on each page. Students do not need to go outside of their courses to access the library nor do they need a separate login to access databases. Students have a single login authentication at CSU-Global. Kesselman points out that "courseware products such as Blackboard, Moodle, and Sakai enable librarians to be embedded throughout an entire course providing ongoing instructional support and reference assistance. In these environment librarians are an integral participant in the class."10 One method of embedding the CSU-Global librarian was adding an "Ask-the-Librarian" link in each course. This link includes the contact information for the librarian such as phone, number to text, and email information, along with the link to the Ask-a-Librarian 24/7 chat service.

Another approach the CSU-Global librarian uses to embed herself into the course is to email faculty an update with new library resources, tutorials/handouts on how to search for specific resources in the library, how to cite sources using the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), the schedule of the library workshops, and advertisements for individual sessions for students that need help searching for material and/or citing in APA. The faculty are asked to put this information on their course announcement page and/or send it to their students via class email. This information is also placed in the library's blog and the CSU-Global Facebook page.

The librarian also works with faculty to create customized library instructions/tutorials for their respective courses. Tutorials are developed and embedded into the subject specific courses. If a customized instruction is created, a schedule is worked out with the faculty member for a time and day that the live session will be held for their class. Students at CSU-Global are not required to attend a live session and can view the archive recording of the instruction at their "point of need." Bowler and Street state that "the results of our experiments confirm these findings: when information literacy is embedded consciously and conspicuously, and emphasized as a specialized and specific component of the course, students’ performance improves in real terms."11

Supplemental Workshops

Along with embedding the librarian into courses, it is also a good idea to offer library workshops on various topics. Often times it is difficult to attract students to library workshops without making them mandatory or giving an incentive such as getting extra credit. However, it is good to offer a live session for students who want to ask questions in a synchronous online environment. This is especially important for online students. Live sessions can be conducted with web-conferencing tools such as Wimba, Adobe Connect, or Blackboard's Collaborate.

The librarian at CSU-Global currently uses Wimba for the synchronous library workshops. The workshops consist of screen captures placed on PowerPoint slides displayed in the live classroom. Students can use the chat box to communicate and ask questions. The librarian also has the option of sharing her desktop if needed. Because these sessions can be archived, they can also be mandatory for online courses, which is another great way of embedding the library/librarian. The workshops that are being offered at CSU-Global are:

  • Citing in APA for undergraduates
  • Citing in APA for graduates
  • Writing a Research Paper
  • Finding Resources in the Library

These workshops can also be made into tutorials using tools such as PowerPoint, which can include animation, audio, and then can be saved as a video. Many libraries are now creating tutorials with Adobe Captivate which can make a tutorial more interactive with click buttons, animated screen shots, and audio. These tutorials can then be sent to faculty to include in their announcements at the beginning of each course.

Librarians need to be mindful that one student may not access information the exact same way as another student. Each student may take a different route in finding the same information. Librarians also need to remember that students also have different learning styles. Providing the same information in various formats and in various places will provide better access to the information.

The Next Step - Collaborating with Faculty

While there is a definite need for the embedded librarian and even supplemental workshops, librarians need to explore how to partner with faculty to help design the content of courses. "As specialists in IL training, librarians are uniquely qualified to partner with faculty members to develop more holistic curricula."12 It seems unlikely that students are going to use the library unless it is required, so it is an absolute must that there is a required assignment that includes using the library. Matthew and Schroeder point out that just having a librarian's presence in the course is not enough, but having the students using the library and the assistance of the embedded librarian to do research needs to be a requirement.13

The added benefit of designing a course with information literacy skills is that the student will learn critical thinking skills as well. Information literacy teaches students how to select, evaluate, and apply information to their lives, therefore learning critical thinking and lifelong learning skills.

Building relationships with faculty is essential to integrating IL into their courses. Partnering with them may be easier than you think! McAddo suggests that librarians should teach faculty how to teach Information Literacy (IL). This not only involves teaching faculty the IL skills, but also how to search for resources in the library.14 When faculty learn how to search for resources in the library along with learning IL skills, they usually become the library’s biggest advocate and is more likely that they will partner with librarians in designing a course together. This is a great way to start building a relationship with faculty. Another way of building a relationship with faculty is to ask for their feedback on a particular tutorial or create a Library Advisory Committee to choose resources for the library. Create an opportunity to show faculty tutorials, workshops, handouts, etc. that have been developed and they may be more inclined to include these resources in their courses, which is one of the first steps in helping design the content of a course.

Faculty/Librarian Partnership

The CSU-Global librarian was asked to collaborate with faculty on developing a course for all undergraduates that would include information on how to use the library and how to cite in APA. The faculty had noticed that students were not producing research papers with credible sources nor citing in APA correctly. The faculty decided there needed to be a course that all undergraduates were required to take where they could learn how to use the library and correctly cite sources. Since CSU-Global does not make their Student Orientation mandatory, they decided that all undergraduates would be required to take the course ORG300 – Applying Leadership Principles. The key to this course was not only making it mandatory for undergraduates, but also adding an assignment that required students to search for an article in the library, summarize it and then cite it in APA format. After this course was offered in March 2011, the librarian noticed a drastic increase in the number of students using the library.

website usage statistics chart

Figure 1. Library website usage statistics from 2008-2012.

In January 2012, the graduate faculty felt there was a need for this type of information on the graduate level. They decided to create two mandatory courses, ORG502 – Effective Organizations: Theory and Practice and ORG530 – Business Ethics and Sustainability, that all students in the Master of Science in Management and the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership programs would need to take. However, the content would be organized a bit differently for these courses than it was for the undergraduate course, ORG300.

For the ORG502 course, the librarian created one page of content for each module (there are eight modules for each course with usually three-four pages of content per module) containing basic information on how to cite sources in APA format. At the end of the eighth module, the students would take a mastery exercise consisting of multiple choice or true/false questions on how to cite in APA format. Students can take this mastery exercise as many times as they want and their highest score will be recorded in the grade book in Blackboard. In addition to the mastery exercise, an assignment was created where a student has to correct a paper with incorrect APA citations.

For the ORG530 course, the librarian was asked to create the same one page of content per module, but for this course, the content was based on the basics of information literacy. For ORG530, there would also be a mastery exercise at the end of the eighth module to test what students have learned, an assignment that requires students to not only use the library to research materials but to also use their newly learned information literacy skills by evaluating this material and applying it to their work or personal lives.

In addition to the above courses, the librarian also has partnered with faculty to help create content in the Faculty Certification course. The content consists of the resources and services offered in the library and the CSU-Global APA policy. Each new faculty member is required to complete this course. New faculty are required to attend a live library session or view the archive version and complete a mastery exercise with questions based on the library session. The faculty also are required to take a tutorial and quiz on grading APA based on the APA Policy at CSU-Global.

An Additional Role for Librarians - Course Development

Kesselman and Watstein state, "In academic settings, embedded librarians are in collaborative learning environments. They are on research teams. They are in academic departments. They are co-instructors in the classroom and in the online classroom. They play a major role in pushing an academic co-creator model for scholarship and scholarly communication."15 Another role that academic librarians can also participate in is being a part of a course development team. Participating in the development of an online course, allows the librarian the opportunity to make sure that content is properly cited, that the library is being used for the critical thinking assignments, that resources from the Library databases are being used, and that the material and images are copyright compliant. The CSU-Global course development process below describes the librarian's role in this progression.

At CSU-Global, each course is made up of eight modules which contain:

  • Readings
  • Content
  • Check Your Understanding (CYU) exercises
  • Mastery exercise
  • Discussion questions
  • Critical thinking assignments

Each course at CSU-Global is developed by a Content Expert (CE) who writes the course content. Then the content is sent to the Instructional Designer (ID) who supplies creative ways of teaching the content online. Once the course is developed by the CE and ID, it is then sent to the librarian to make sure the content is in proper APA format and is copyright compliant. The librarian also checks to make sure that the required readings are found in the Library databases.

The librarian will then look at each assignment to see if the student is instructed to use scholarly/peer reviewed material for the assignment. Depending on the assignment, the librarian will add a phrase such as, "The Library is a good place to start to find scholarly/peer reviewed sources." Some CEs will have already added that the student is to use the library for the assignment.

Before any course is developed, the librarian will meet with the CE, ID, the Manager of Instructional Development, and the Media Designer, to instruct the CE and ID about using resources from the CSU-Global library, along with making sure the modules are copyright compliant and correctly cited in APA format. This meeting is referred to as the "Kick-off meeting." Once the course is written, the librarian goes through each of the modules and works with CE and ID to fix any problems. The course is then sent to the editor and once approved by the Manager of Informational Development, it is sent to the media designers to be produced into a course in Blackboard.

screenshot of Basics of APA for ENG130 course

Figure 2. Basics of APA for ENG130.

After the course is produced, the librarian will enter each course and add any additional readings to the Article Reserve at this time. Throughout the eight-week term, the librarian will also fix any broken links or work with the CE, ID, or the faculty teaching the course to find a replacement link. As a part of the course development team, the librarian also attends weekly meeting to discuss issues, problems, and scheduling.

The CSU-Global course development team was awarded the 2012 Blackboard Catalyst Exemplary Course Award for courses that demonstrate best practices in the areas of course design, interaction and collaboration, assessment, and learner support. "The Blackboard Catalyst Awards honors those who push the boundaries of their educational programs and technology in order to deliver innovative and effective learning experiences."16 The CSU-Global course that won this award included an embedded library tutorial on how to cite


Numerous academic libraries offer supplemental workshops, library instructions for specific courses, and embed a librarian into online courses. However, librarians cannot force students to use the library whether the resources are embedded or not. Embedding the librarian in courses is not enough. Librarians need to start building relationships with faculty and collaborate with them to include information literacy skills in courses. A selling point for faculty is that students will learn valuable critical thinking skills through learning information literacy skills. Collaborating with faculty on course content and being involved with the course development process are highly effective methods of getting students to use the library and learning information literacy skills, therefore gaining lifelong learning skills.


1. "Committed to our Students, Committed to Education," Colorado State University-Global, last modified 2012, accessed June 15, 2012,

2. Martin A. Kesselman and Sarah Barbara Watstein, "Creating Opportunities: Embedded Librarians," Journal of Library Administration 49, (2009): 383-400.

3. Star Hoffman and Lilly Ramin, "Best Practices for Librarians Embedded in Online Courses," Public Services Quarterly 6, (2010): 292-305.

4. Megan Bowler and Kori Street, "Investigating the Efficacy of Embedment: Experiments in Information Literacy Integration," Reference Services Review 36 (2008): 438-449.

5. Hoffman and Ramin, "Best Practices for Librarians," 303.

6. Norma G. Kobzina, "A Faculty-Librarian Partnership: A Unique Opportunity for Course Integration," Journal of Library Administration 50 (2010): 293-314.

7. Hoffman and Ramin, "Best Practices for Librarians," 295.

8. Ibid.

9. Kesselman and Watstein, "Creating Opportunities," 388-389.

10. Kobzina, "A Faculty-Librarian Partnership," .

11. Kesselman and Watstein, "Creating Opportunities," 388.

12. Peggy A. Pritchard, "The Embedded Science Librarian: Partner in Curriculum Design and Delivery," Journal of Library Administration 50 (2010): 373-396.

13. Victoria Matthew and Ann Schroeder, "The Embedded Librarian Program," Educause Quarterly 29 (2006): 61-65.

14. Jeanne Armstrong, "Designing a Writing Intensive Course with Information Literacy and Critical Thinking Learning Outcomes," Reference Services Review 38 (2010): 445-457.

15. Kesselman and Watstein, "Creating Opportunities," 387.

16. "Celebrating Innovation - the Blackboard 2012 Catalyst Award Winners," Blackboard Blogs, posted on April 27, 2012, accessed June 15, 2012,