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Embedded Librarians: Building Relationships in a Massively Open Educational System


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Webinar presentation for the Amigos Library Council, Nov. 7, 2013.

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Embedded Librarians: Building Relationships in a Massively Open Educational System

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  2. 2. We’ll start with just a very short review of MOOCs. Then we’ll review some examples of what librarians have been doing and saying. Next I’ll offer my thoughts on a sustainable model for librarians to be engaged in MOOCs. We’ll continue with a consideration of why embedded librarianship is very relevant to our ability to sustain librarians’ engagement. Then we’ll conclude by looking at why our institutions need embedded librarians in MOOCs. 2
  3. 3. Poll on audience familiarity with MOOCs. 3
  4. 4. MOOCs have received a great deal of publicity just in the past year. We might even call it hype. It was Nov. 2, 2012 that the New York Times declared the Year of MOOCs. Last March, Clayton Christensen, who is famous for his book The Innovator’s Dilemma and the idea of disruption in markets and technology, predicted that higher education as we know it is “on the edge of the crevasse.” Just this past Sunday, on the anniversary of the New York Times article, the Times published another article in which Christensen in effect doubled down on his prediction that MOOCs will disrupt higher education. So it’s clear we need to take them seriously. 4
  5. 5. There’s a sense that MOOCs and librarians don’t mix well. Writing in Reference Services Review earlier this year, Kerry Wu said that “From a strictly ‘access’ point of view, modern academic libraries and MOOCs seem to stand on opposite sides.” Wu was referring to the problem that libraries license digital materials for enrolled students and other members of their academic community, and not for massive numbers of casual students who don’t pay fees or have any relationship with their institution. Wu, K. (2013). Academic libraries in the age of MOOCs. Reference Services Review, 41(3), 576-587. p. 577. 5
  6. 6. OCLC Research held a workshop on MOOCs at the University of Pennsylvania last March. Merrilee Proffitt of the OCLC Research staff prepared a review of librarians’ engagement for that occasion. Reinforcing Wu’s point, she noted that “… most libraries are engaged around clearing copyrighted materials for use in classes.” Proffitt, M. (2013). MOOCs and libraries: An overview of the (current) landscape. Retrieved 11/1/2013, 2013, slide 11. 6
  7. 7. But what about library services to MOOC students? Some writers have been extremely negative about the prospects for any kind of service engagement. In an article describing his own experience with MOOCs as a librarian at San Jose State University, Bernd Becker recommended in effect that librarians hide from MOOC participants. He said, “Avoid supplying a librarian’s direct contact information.” Becker, B. W. (2013). Connecting MOOCs and library services. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 32(2), 135-138. p. 137-138 7
  8. 8. In New Library World, Bruce Massis speculated about how librarians could possibly be engaged in MOOCs. He wondered, “…who would be assigned to provide reference, research and supplementary library instruction to tens of thousands of students enrolled in the MOOC?” Massis, B. (2013). MOOCs and the library. New Library World, 114(5/6), 267-270.p. 268. 8
  9. 9. In her Library Journal article about MOOCs, “Massive Open Opportunity”, Meredith Schwartz quotes Jeffrey Pomerantz, a library science faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as flatly dismissing the feasibility of having librarians embedded in MOOCs. The quotation goes like this, ““I haven’t heard anything about any of these platforms integrating libraries or librarians … if you’re talking about embedded librarians, you’d need thousands of them.” Schwartz, M. (2013). Massive Open Opportunity. Library Journal,138 (9), p. 3 of printout, quoting Jeffrey Pomerantz of the UNC-Chapel Hill SLIS. 9
  10. 10. 10. A Sustainable Model for Librarian Engagement The picture that emerges from these samples is pretty bleak. Fortunately, there’s another point of view, which leads us in a much more productive direction. In the Next Steps identified in final group discussions at the OCLC Research conference, that point of view was summarized as “Get the library involved.” That, to me, is the principle to guide us forward. MOOCs and Libraries Conference. (2013). MOOCs and libraries: Massive opportunity or overwhelming challenge? next steps identified in final group discussions. Retrieved 11/1/2013, 2013, from 10
  11. 11. The questions that are driving the initiatives that I quoted a few moments ago are summed up in these questions. But these are not the questions we should start with! They come later. There are two problems with them: • They are tactical • They are disconnected from institutional initiatives They are putting the cart before the horse. They are focusing on issues that come second, not first. 11
  12. 12. Instead, I propose we start with these two questions, before we dive right into renegotiating licenses, finding open access content, or setting up reference services in MOOCs: What’s our institution’s MOOC Strategy? And Are we involved in shaping it? Everything else will flow from those. 12
  13. 13. We need to keep in mind that we are very early in the adoption cycle here, and that we have been subjected to a great deal of hype. This means that MOOCs are going to have to evolve. In an Ithaka report released just a couple weeks ago, Rebecca Griffiths points that out. So, it doesn’t make sense for librarians to focus on tactical questions like the ones above. What we need to do instead is be part of the evolving strategy of MOOCs. We need to shape the decisions about what role MOOCs will play in our institutions. We need to align our participation in MOOCs with that strategy. And our own role in them will in turn be shaped – must be shaped – by the strategy. We should not be trying to make these decisions about licensing, or reference services, on our own. 13
  14. 14. Now, the next question is, so how do we get involved with the strategic decisionmaking? That’s where embedded librarianship comes in. Embedded librarians are in the best position to get involved. And to get involved, you’ll want to adopt the principles of embedded librarianship. As Jezmynne Dene has written, the embedded librarian is “an integrated part to the whole”. That’s what you’ll need to become, if you want to play an important role in the evolution of MOOCs. Dene, J. (2011) “Embedded librarianship at the Claremont Colleges.” in Calkins, K. and Kvenild, C., eds. Embedded librarians: Moving beyond one-shot instruction. Chicago: ACRL, p. 225. 14
  15. 15. Poll on audience familiarity with embedded librarianship. 15
  16. 16. Ok, well it looks like we have a lot of embedded librarians. You all are in a great position to affect how your institutions implement MOOCs. Everyone else, you have some work to do. So, since many of you are experienced embedded librarians, I’ll very briefly review the characteristics. There are 5 factors: • Relationship • Mutual understanding • Shared goals • Customized, high-value contributions • Team membership When we relate this to MOOCs, it means that librarians need to have strong working relationships with the people who are developing the strategy for MOOCs. We need to understand the forces driving our institutional strategies – and we need to convince the leaders that we have something to contribute. We need to share the institution’s goals: in other words, it’s not about the library; it’s about fulfilling the institution’s mission. We need to then deliver on our promise and make a difference. Ultimately, then, we need to get on board and be part of the team, and not act in isolation. 16
  17. 17. Embedded librarianship is NOT about: • Space or co-location • Technology (but must use the prevailing technology of the institution) • A specific type of service. Instead, embedded librarianship is a different relationship between the librarian and others in the institution. I’m saying that fundamentally if we are going to affect the future of MOOCs, we need a different relationship with our institutions and the key decision-makers. 17
  18. 18. In my work on embedded librarianship, I’ve identified five factors that summarize the changes. These are the differences between traditional librarianship and embedded librarianship. Here are five important differences. 1. First, the embedded model focuses on relationships, not transactions. Traditional reference is a transactional operation. The reference desk is a place where transactions happen. Somebody asks a question, the librarian gives them an answer. The interaction has a beginning, a middle, an end. Similarly, traditional “one-shot” library instruction is transactional. Students come to the library, they get a lecture about doing library research, and it’s over. End of transaction. Embedded librarianship is relational. One interaction leads to the next, and it just keeps going and going, with increased mutual understanding and collaboration as the interactions accumulate. This might mean a librarian embedded in a market research team, or it might mean a librarian embedded with a first-year English class. The principle is the same. 2. Second, the embedded model requires librarians to specialize, not to try to be all things to all people. We librarians like to think of ourselves as generalists. We’ve evolved sophisticated reference interviewing techniques to get us from a state of zero knowledge of what somebody is looking for to at least a basic grasp so we can 18
  19. 19. provide them with basic help. But isn’t it better if we start from a position of understanding? It’s sure going to be a lot better for the people we are trying to help if they don’t have to explain everything to us, and better for us as well. Just to cite an academic library example: how many times across the decades have academic librarians had students come up to the reference desk and ask for help with an assignment – and the librarian had no background information about that assignment beforehand? It’s standard practice! How much better would it be if the librarian was embedded in the class, so the librarian knew all about that assignment – maybe even helped to design it? 3. Third, the traditional librarian stood apart from the organization, ruling over the domain of the library. People came to the library – the librarians didn’t go to them. In the embedded model, the embedded librarian is out of the library and fully engaged with the other employees and groups of the enterprise. This engagement, by the way, can be virtual as well as physical. Moving your office outside the library so you can hang out with the information user group you’re working with is a great idea and it can be very helpful. But if you’re embedded in a distance education course or a virtual work group – as some librarians are – you can still be successful even if you never get to meet the people you’re embedded with face to face. 4. Fourth, the traditional librarian focused on being a service provider. Service is in our professional DNA. And that’s not all bad. But service providers aren’t fully aligned. Their goals are to provide the service, and their responsibilities are just to do that – and no more. Embedded librarians aren’t just service providers. They’re team partners. That means they define their role more broadly. They do whatever their skills and competencies enable them to do that helps the organization to succeed. 5. Last, traditional library services have become a commodity. They’re taken for granted. Embedded librarianship finds new value in new roles. There are two important points that we shouldn’t lose sight of, though. The first is that the commodity services are still needed – they’re just not enough by themselves. The second is that this means we need to continue to evolving and finding still newer sources of value in new roles. 18
  20. 20. MOOC initiatives need librarians because the need for information skills isn’t going away. In fact, it’s more acute than ever. In her book, Information Literacy As a Student Learning Outcome, which is based on her dissertation at Simmons College, Laura Saunders documents the widespread recognition of how important information literacy is. Saunders, L. (2011). Information Literacy As a Student Learning Outcome : The Perspective of Institutional Accreditation. Santa Barbara, Calif: Libraries Unlimited. 19
  21. 21. What’s more important is, we’ve actually done a pretty good job of convincing educational leaders, including accrediting bodies, of the centrality of information skills in education. Saunders documents the fact that in the United States, every regional higher education accrediting body includes information skills in their standards. The case is pretty clear that not only are skills in working with information essential for citizens and professionals in modern society, but that there’s a big gap between what society needs and what the educational system has been delivering. Saunders, L. (2011). Information Literacy As a Student Learning Outcome : The Perspective of Institutional Accreditation. Santa Barbara, Calif: Libraries Unlimited. 20
  22. 22. For academic librarians, this has led to widespread opportunities to incorporate instruction in information skills into the curriculum. We have forged partnerships with academic officers, deans, department heads, and instructors to incorporate information skills in curriculum planning and learning goals, and to embed information instruction in a variety of forms into courses throughout the levels and subjects of higher education. So, it’s hard for me to imagine that we are going to abandon all that as we begin to deploy MOOCs and MOOC-like educational methods. Already we know that MOOCs suffer tremendously high dropout rates. Further, there are indications that the people most likely to drop out are the same people who are weakest in information skills. If MOOCs are going to truly revolutionize education, aren’t they going to address this issue? It seems to me that this is one area that MOOCs have to evolve into. And as they do, we librarians have to be part of that strategic process. And to be in that process, we have to embed ourselves at the institutional level. 21
  23. 23. So, what can you do tomorrow? Here are my suggestions for getting started: Form relationships with key individuals involved in institutional MOOC strategy and implementation. Get a seat at the table when these issues are being worked on. Help identify impacts and dependencies in the MOOC initiative; help shape strategy and implementation. Advocate for consideration of information literacy / information fluency in the strategy – as a matter of institutional necessity. Propose solutions that are creative and harmonious with the strategy. • Partner with subject instructors who are deploying MOOCs or MOOClike courseware. Help them formulate their approach and integrate information skills instruction with it. • If the subject faculty cannot provide individualized attention, then neither can the librarians • If the subject faculty receive accommodation from other work for MOOC initiatives, so should librarians, as appropriate • If paid collections cannot be opened to MOOC students due to cost / vendor restrictions / licensing terms – or if it’s prohibitive in terms of time and cost to address this problem, then consider increasing reliance on open access resources. 22
  24. 24. Assess your progress. Remember this is a strategic process. Adjust as you and your institution learn. Remember, as an embedded librarian, your mission is NOT to advocate for the library. It’s to contribute to accomplishing the institution’s strategic goals for MOOCs. So also be ready to take on “stretch” “out of the box” assignments – don’t be limited by traditional ideas of a librarian’s role. 22
  25. 25. So, as Katy Mahraj points out in her article in Public Services Quarterly, there are many roles we can play. However, I’d add that they all hinge on our being embedded participants in the strategic evolution of MOOCs, and not trying to figure out our role in isolation. Mahraj, K. (2012) Using information expertise to enhance massive open online courses. Public Services Quarterly, p. 365. 23
  26. 26. To conclude, I can’t predict what role librarians will take in the MOOCs of the future. I do suspect that if we focus on the tactical issues of licensing and reference services, we’ll be at a great disadvantage, and both our institutions and the participants in MOOCs will also suffer as a result. Instead, we need to embed ourselves in the strategic development of MOOCs, and take responsibility for inventing the future. As Alan Kay said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” I hope this presentation has triggered some ideas and energized you to take action and invent your embedded future with the MOOC strategy – and for that matter, other strategic initiatives – in your institution. I wish you the best! 24
  27. 27. As you invent your future, please stay in touch. Email me. Check out the Embedded librarian blog for an occasional update on embedded librarianship. Get the full picture and a detailed map for inventing your future from the book. I wish you the very best success, and hope to hear from you! 25
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