The common stereotype that a university library is merely a place that houses books, computers, and other research materials is simply a highly inaccurate description, especially in the 21st century.

Since its inception, the Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library at Saint Leo University has supported students in many ways. A few years ago, the library launched a new initiative to help students even more through its embedded librarian program.

The Genesis of the Embedded Librarian Program

According to Doris Van Kampen-Breit, the university librarian, the Saint Leo library started the program in the fall of 2019.

“We had heard of how other college and university libraries were being successful at using similar programs,” Van Kampen-Breit says. “That’s a big reason we wanted to offer something similar. We also have a lot of online learners and thought we weren’t always connecting with them like we could.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic came into full swing in the spring of 2020, it was a perfect opportunity to expand it.

“We really ramped it up during the pandemic as a way to keep connected with our students and to reach them in their ‘new’ classrooms,” she adds.

Essentially, the program embeds certain librarians in specific Saint Leo courses. The goal is to provide more targeted support in terms of research and writing for the assignments in those courses.

Choosing the Right Courses to Maximize the Benefits for Students

And how have certain courses been identified for this program?

“We started this program in the classes where the students might struggle writing a paper or if it is their first research-intensive class in college,” Van Kampen-Breit explains. “Many of our adult learners have not written a research paper in a few years or decades in some cases.”

There are three librarians who have taken on the role of an embedded librarian. These include Amy Harris, Christine Woods, and Michelle Joy. In a given term, they will cover upwards of 25 or 30 total classes across undergraduate and graduate programs. They have worked with classes in English, religion, social work, business, sociology, and even music.

Partnering with Faculty

Harris, an instruction and assessment librarian, has collaborated with numerous faculty members as part of the program. This includes Dr. Maridelys Detres, an assistant professor of interprofessional programs in the College of Health Professions.

“I have worked with her on some of her sociology classes,” Harris recalls. “I kind of know the questions her students will ask and what she expects of them.”

She has also worked on many English classes with Prof. Agnieszka Leesch, an instructor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Results of the Program

The library has been encouraged by the impact of the embedded librarian program.

“We have seen more individual appointments come out of the classes with embedded librarians,” Van Kampen-Breit says.

She and her team have also collaborated with the Assessment and Institutional Research department to determine the effectiveness of the program. Overall, the data has been positive.

“Students have reported higher satisfaction and connectedness with our university,” Van Kampen-Breit shares.

Anecdotally, Harris has received lots of positive feedback from individual students.

“I’ve had students say this support has totally changed their understanding, and now they know where to find information and how to cite sources,” she says. “They say it has taken so much stress off their shoulders. Some students have even told us the support from our library is the reason they graduated.”

Additional Support

Outside of the embedded librarian program, the Saint Leo library offers one-on-one support to all students. They can interact with a librarian through a live chat feature, phone, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or even in person. Appointments can be scheduled in advance as well.

“If a student comes through the live chat and has an easy question to answer, I can respond via chat,” Harris explains. “If they need a little more assistance, I encourage them to do a live session with me. I will walk them through the databases and show them how to use the various search options, the timeframes of when articles were published, and other features. I will also record the sessions so the student can refer back to them. Oftentimes, it becomes a collaborative effort.”

She has learned how one initial contact from a student can lead to a lengthy, yet highly productive, discussion.

“It’s amazing to me how many times they say they need 30 minutes, but then it ends up being an hourlong conversation,” Harris says. “Oftentimes, I feel like I’ve taught a whole library session to a student on their specific research topic. Big universities simply can’t give you the time of day like that.”

She and her colleagues also record videos on frequently asked questions, such as what empirical articles are and the step-by-step process involved in navigating certain library databases. She also records introductory videos for each new class, allowing students to connect with these librarians on a more personal level.

In addition, the library has created over 600 LibGuides to help students navigate the research and writing requirements of specific courses.

“These guides are specific to certain classes,” Van Kampen-Breit explains. “Some are even specific to assignments within these classes. We show them which databases to use, how to conduct research within those databases, and how to cite their sources.”

A Truly Supportive Academic Community

Whether it’s through the embedded librarian program or in general, Harris believes the Saint Leo library has worked hard to offer top-notch support to all students.

“The library is able to provide personalized help for students because we already know their professors, the specific assignments they are working on, the resources they need, and where they’re likely to get stuck. All of this information gives us and the students an extra edge in helping them be successful in their academic careers.”