I’ve just been reading the most recent report from Project Information Literacy. Released just a couple weeks ago, it’s entitled “Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once They Enter College.” It’s of particular interest to me, because together with my faculty colleague Dr. Sung Un Kim, I’m working on a study of the role of librarians in the First Year Experience (FYE) program here at Catholic University of America.
There were many observations in the report that were consistent with my impressions; I found myself nodding in agreement continously. There weren’t any big surprises; just many clear and compelling insights that I sort-of knew, but needed to focus on more clearly. There were echoes of time-tested models and principles of information behavior at work: concepts like the Principle of Least Effort, Mooers’ Law, the human tendency to ask other people we know for help with information needs, and elements of Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process. These are fundamentals that every librarian ought to learn by heart and apply every day anyway.
What I found most arresting was the study’s insight into just how jarring the transition from high school to college is. When it comes to information literacy, the students in the study enter college very poorly prepared for the research environment that awaits them: the resources are much more complex, the expectations are much different, and the skills needed are nothing like what they have learned in their secondary education.
Enter the embedded librarian. As I read, I found passages that just cried out for embedded librarians — observations like “freshmen had little idea about who to ask for help” and didn’t know whom to ask on the library staff — or even that there was anyone on the library staff that would help them (p. 14); or “most students don’t need to ask for help,” “Reference librarians are available only to students who have gotten stuck on their research,” and “A scholarly database(s) recommended by a librarian is the only source worth checking.” (Myths 1, 3, and 4 of 5, p. 19)
Imagine, then, how glad I was to see that in the concluding section, recommendation 2 is “An integrated approach to teaching information competencies”, and the embedded model is cited as a way to achieving that integration. I agree, of course.
So if you’re an academic librarian — especially if you’re involved in reference, instruction, and outreach, I highly recommend that you read this report. It contains great insights, and may help you in developing your own embedded role.