Embedded Librarianship

Are there hard and fast rules for establishing a culture of collaboration?  Well, not really.  Collaboration occurs on many levels, depending on circumstances and goals, but embedded librarianship takes collaboration in new and innovative directions.  Embedded librarians, like embedded journalists are on the front lines.  While embedded journalists report from first-hand experience, embedded librarians are directly involved in planning, supporting, and co-teaching within a variety of learning communities, not just the library.  Physical classrooms or other learning spaces, virtual classrooms or spaces, social media platforms, cloud computing, you name it, the creative embedded librarian knows no bounds!  Customization is the norm and relationships with co-teachers, other learning community members, and participants are prized.   Embedded librarians seek out opportunities to expand their services and expertise. They don’t wait to be asked!

Tips for getting started as an embedded librarian:

Sara Kelley-Mudie, Librarian/ Ed Tech Facilitator at the Forman School in Litchfield, CT presented at the Nebraska Educational Media Association Conference on October 17, 2012.  Take a look at her slideshare titled: Like a splinter or a journalist? Embedded School Librarianship.  She shares experiences about her path to active learning and teaching, and relates how an effective embedded librarian is both a thorn and a journalist, certainly an interesting metaphor.  Be sure to read the notes for each slide to catch the humor and the insights.

Looking for more models of embedded librarianship in schools and higher education?   I highly recommend, “Embedded Librarianship: Tools and Practices,” in Library Technology Reports (February/March 2012) edited by Buffy Hamilton. There are several case profiles that feature “boots on the ground” examples of librarians who have used Skype, Twitter, blogs, and Google applications to enhance learning through partnerships with teachers and community members.  In each case, the librarian demonstrates how technology tools enable integration of the content and process of learning for both educators and learners.   There are great ideas that serve as inspiration for all of us who desire to be “deep in the weeds.”

As we continue to think of our roles as information specialists, and how we can better serve the populations in our schools, think about how you might embed your special talents and knowledge in your own situation.  Are you embedded already, or how would you get started?  Share your ideas here!


Hamilton, B. ed. (2012). Embedded Librarianship: Tools and Practices.  Library Technology Reports. 48: (2). http://www.alatechsource.org/taxonomy/term/106/embedded-librarianship-tools-and-practices (Accessed Jan. 28, 2013)    (Also available through  academic databases such as Academic Search Premier.)

Kelley-Mudie, S. October 17, 2012.  Like a splinter or a journalist? Embedded School Librarianship. [Slideshare] http://www.slideshare.net/formanlibrary/embedded-school-librarianship-nema (Accessed Jan. 28, 2013)



Working with the Reluctant

One issue that often arises in discussions about collaboration and instructional partnerships are those teachers who simply don’t want to “step out of the box,” as Judi puts it.  Often our advice to school librarians is to move on and work with the willing.  I’ve never been comfortable with that advice because it’s their students who will suffer.  Particularly in an elementary school, I recognized that students with a teacher who didn’t want to collaborate with the librarian might potentially go through an entire school year with little opportunity to use the resources of the library in the deep, meaningful ways enabled through collaboratively planned learning activities.  We have to be careful not to box ourselves in with teachers won’t come in to work with us.  Here’s a few ways I have tried.
Plan with other members of that teacher’s team and simply offer to do similar lessons or activities with the reluctant teacher. “Hi, I know you’re getting ready to teach genres to your students, could I share the lesson and rubric Mrs. M. and I developed?” I did find that a pitfall of this approach was that the reluctant teacher did not have the same sense of ownership of this lesson and did not provide the same level of preparation or follow-up.
Plan with other staff members who work with the same students.  Maybe you can do an integrated lesson with the art or physical education teacher.  Or perhaps, the same students go to another teacher for science and you can plan a lesson with that teacher.  At least, the students will have some meaningful lessons integrated with 21st Century Standards and enriched through the resources and teaching of the school librarian.  Student teachers are often enthusiastic instructional partners and you may be able to draw them in even without the full participation of the cooperating teacher.
Offer extension activities for students before or after school, or during lunch.  These might include competitive activities like Battle of the Books or clubs to share and discuss books or graphic novels or the availability of technology and library resources for media productions.  Ask for a few minutes in the teacher’s classroom to introduce and promote these activities; these students may be particularly eager to spend choice time in the library.
Continue to offer services that are lower on the collaborative ladder such as providing resources or even providing stand-alone lessons on occasion.  While we strive to promote instructional partnerships and to protect our time for those teachers willing to plan with us, we need to maintain connections with all of our students.
Be involved and take initiative in school-wide activities.  Plan a poetry day, author visit, or assembly that engages the entire school.  The more ubiquitous the library is throughout the school, the more likely that all students, even those with reluctant teachers will glean some benefit from your perspective and will maintain a relationship with the library and librarian that will carry them through the “lean” years.
I realized there were a few teachers who were never going to “step out of the box” with me, but I also realized the ones who were really punished in those cases were the students.

Advocating for the Instructional Partner Role

In LS5633: The Art of Storytelling, Spring ’13 Texas Woman’s University graduate students will identify a personally-meaningful library or education value and create a digital story to advocate for it with specific library stakeholders.

Coteaching is central to my practice of school librarianship. In my experience, supported by research in the field, coteaching is the best strategy for making the greatest contribution to students’ learning and teachers’ teaching. Coplanning, coteaching, and coassessing lessons and units of instruction are essential activities of 21st-century school librarians. For card-carrying school librarian instructional partners, reaching out to classroom teachers and specialists requires on-going advocacy work.

For the storytelling class last spring, I created “Coteachers: Step Out of the Box,” an Animoto video targeted to classroom teachers and school librarians who may not have experienced the astounding benefits of coteaching. This spring I am asking grad students to draft their digital advocacy stories, use social networking and participatory culture tools to seek feedback from their target audience(s), revise and publish their stories, and reflect on the assignment.

So, I am seeking feedback from Building a Culture of Collaboration Blog readers as well as my Twitter followers and Facebook friends.

  1. Do the photographs in the video communicate the benefits of coteaching to educators and students?
  2. Do the design, images, and music reinforce the idea that “stepping out of the box” for effective and fun(!) coteaching is a worthwhile strategy?
  3. Does the video capitalize on the meme “out of the box” as an expression that describes nonconformal, creative thinking?
  4. Other ideas for improvement?

Please post your feedback here or email it to me at: jmoreillon@twu.edu

Thank you for making time to help me improve my digital advocacy story.