‘Embedded librarian’ lends a hand to learning

Adela Talbot // Western News

Bill Irwin, left, who teaches Management and Organizational Studies at Huron University College, is working alongside Western librarian Colleen Burgess, right, in teaching Evidence-Based Management to students on main campus. The pair revised the course syllabus in order to tackle opportunities where a librarian’s assistance could help students the most.

When Bill Irwin originally created the syllabus for his Evidence-Based Management class, he didn’t anticipate needing assistance in the classroom.

“It’s a resource-intensive course and it’s a little different than some other MOS (Management and Organizational Studies) courses. We’re focusing on ­evidence­-based management and helping students define what evidence is, along some of the other research questions,” said the Huron University College professor, who is teaching this class on main campus this term.

“Students have to think about what is a good source of evidence and how to bring that good evidence to management decision-making. A lot of decision-making that occurs is not really evidence based – it’s a lot of hunches, or intuition on past practice, and even bad past practice, and we’re trying to get around that. I wasn’t sure, when I started this course, how I was going to get them to do some of the expectations I had in terms of the research, and some of the evidence aspects of it,” Irwin noted.

Before setting foot in the classroom, he was approached by Colleen Burgess, a librarian at the D. B. Weldon Library. She offered a hand in helping students get a grasp on research methods and evidence and the pair decided she would do this as an “embedded librarian,” Irwin said.

Burgess attends each class, offers occasional instruction and makes herself available to students for assistance. Only a few weeks in, Burgess already taught a class on evidence, how to find good evidence, how to discern the quality of sources and sound research method practices at the library.

“I think the Internet as a crutch has deteriorated some research skills that you would see traditionally in the academe. One of the things Colleen has already helped them ascertain is, what is a good source vs. what is a bad source. Sometimes students – not necessarily these students – will find five sources and use the first five they find as opposed to asking are these meaningful, or telling you something,” Irwin explained.

Burgess isn’t there as a teaching assistant, or a co-instructor. She is a constant resource for students to lean on. The two of them revised the course syllabus in order to tackle opportunities where a librarian’s assistance could help students the most. The collaborative partnership between the two, Irwin added, is an enhancement to both the class and the program.

“It’s very, very helpful. This is of tremendous assistance to me. I’m not sure to the degree students really know how to use the library as a resource and this is going to help them tremendously. The library isn’t a building; it’s the services and the people,” he said.

“I think the students would be struggling a bit without her because this course has a heavy component on critical thinking, a heavy component on research, on finding alternatives in terms of the way the students normally would go about the course work. I think they’re going to excel and do better with her as a resource,” Irwin continued.

“I really want to create an atmosphere of critical thinking in the classroom, of questioning, thinking and seeking evidence, seeking proof. Every time a decision is made, or someone makes a statement, I want a student to be able to say, ‘What is your evidence?’ That’s how this class, and the embedded librarian, will help.”

As far as the embedded librarian service, Burgess noted it is available to any faculty member or instructor on campus. It is an outreach initiative in Western Libraries, she explained, one that helps a handful of classes a year.

“All of the liaison librarians cover a number of subjects in each of the libraries, and we reach out to faculty when they are planning courses. It’s not an organized initiative or a mandate from our chief librarian that we do this – it’s an initiative that individual librarians take on so we can add more value to the classes,” Burgess said.

For Irwin’s class, she designed three research-based assignments to address systemic issues that pop up in regards to research skills, citation issues and to help increase awareness of resources available at the libraries. She will offer sessions during class on reviews, bibliographies and research strategies.

“Anything research focused – I’m there to lend a hand,” Burgess added.