Embedded Librarianship

Following up on Catherine’s great post from last week, I thought I would share a few more things about embedded librarianship.  When I graduated from library school I had a very narrow view of embedded librarianship. I imagined a librarian sitting in a dorm hall or in another part of the law school for several hours a day patiently waiting for a question. However, I have found that embedded librarianship means a number of different things. It can be anything from setting up a reference desk in a new location to actually being part of a class and every iteration in between. There are so many options for successful embedding and outreach if we are willing to stretch or alter are ideas about reference, and it can actually be a pretty easy thing to do.  It does not take many hours away from our offices or even the traditional reference desk to make an impact.

As a general rule we have an open office policy at our school so we are always available for reference, but from the comfort of our office.  This past fall we began adding reference hours for our clinics and created two roving reference desks. The desks are on wheels and can be easily relocated anywhere in the library or law school.  We also changed how we approached guest lecturing for LRW (see post from last fall). We found ourselves spending more time out of our offices and in front of students.  I will admit that when we first added the extra embedded reference hours it was difficult to balance the time away from our offices with our reference hours. Laptops and IPads are great, but in reality there are some projects you really need to be at your own desk for.  You also don’t want to seem too engrossed in work when you are doing reference hours or you lose your approachability.  But as time passed we all learned to shift our work around so that we could balance the time. We all have slightly different ways of doing this. I use the time to respond to email, go through slips, grade research assignments or work on LibGuides. These are all things that I can easily look up from as people walk by or approach the desk and go back to when all is quite. When I have reference hours in the clinics, I bring along the same kind of work. My goal is to never look busy while sitting at the reference desk. Students should not feel like they are interrupting me.

I really liked Catherine’s idea of adding reference hours somewhere outside of the library in coffee shops or student lounges.  I have already begun a plan for potentially adding an hour or two of roving reference time in our law school’s café’/student lounge. It is a good way just to engage students in conversation and connect without the intimidation of a reference desk, because no matter how friendly we are and how unimposing we try to make our reference spaces seem – students are still intimidated by them.  (They also hate admitting they need help, which I completely understand.  Law school seems to be the last place where you want to admit that you don’t understand.) This is also an easy way to market our services face to face. I see this more as an opportunity for relationship building and good PR than increasing our reference usage. I plan on taking our “Menu of Student Services” sheet with me as a handout.  In my ideal world, students would come to us before they are desperate and have a paper due in 48 hours. I want them to talk to us about their research projects early in the semester so that we can have a continued dialogue as their work progresses. Adding this informal reference time where we can just chat with students may allow us to engage in those conversations earlier in the semester in a more natural way.  I am also dreaming up a program for our seminar classes, also inspired by Catherine’s modules…but that is another post.

So as Catherine asked last week, please leave comments about successful or unsuccessful (we can all learn from those instances as well) embedding adventures.


Oklahoma City University’s roving reference desk

Wheel on the roving desk

This entry was posted in Legal Research Instruction, Marketing, Patron Services, Reference Services and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Embedded Librarianship

  1. Duane Strojny says:

    Can you post a link to your roving reference desks?

  2. Pingback: Paperless libraries, desk-less librarians « RIPS Law Librarian Blog

  3. Beth Johns says:

    I’m interested in the actual desks. We are also considering this type of roving reference–we’ve done it on a limited basis within the library with iPads and have mixed success (we are an undergrad library, not law school). I’d be interested in an actual mobile desk like you picture. Is it cumbersome to move around? It looks heavy, but maybe it’s not? Thanks for the post! This is an area that where I’m trying to become an expert at!

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