“Embedded librarian” might sound like something out of a battlefield scenario, but this position in UCF’s library system is becoming more and more essential as online classes are increasingly more common.

The term came about from the “embedded journalists” who cover news stories with troops, and is indicative of the librarians who are right in the middle of online learning, having become totally immersed in assisting students whenever and wherever help is needed. The term developed a few years ago because the librarians have transitioned from just being a service provider to becoming part of their customers’ community.

UCF has about 40 faculty librarians at the main and 10 regional campuses, many of whom are involved in online-instruction modes, but a majority of the fully embedded duties are handled by regional librarians.

There currently are five full-time regional librarians who are assigned to specific online classes, along with another one at UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. At the main-campus library, two librarians are embedded in classes. Most of the other main-campus librarians are more active meeting the needs of face-to-face help for students.

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, Regional Campus librarians provided help to 68 face-to-face classes compared with 80 online classes. In terms of students, that is 1,550 face-to-face, and 2,272 online. One reason for those online numbers is the convenience and growth of those classes.

“Regional librarians were the early adapters and started serving online faculty and students as soon as the need was recognized,” said Cynthia M. Kisby, head of Regional Campus libraries. “Of course, we could only do that because all of the regional and Orlando [main campus] librarians and IT staff together had already created a virtual library with access to online resources and services…We provide assistance via phone, chat and now Skype.”

Kisby said UCF’s embedded librarians are assigned to completely online classes and those that are mixed-mode or hybrid courses that require some face-to-face class time. They also have privileges as teaching assistants.

“They are virtual librarians embedded in the class who post to a discussion board or answer questions at any time,” she said. “In some classes, embedded librarians also create and grade quizzes that measure subject-specific information-literacy skills. Also, being embedded is usually very discipline-specific.”

Kisby credits Barbara Alderman at the Cocoa and Palm Bay campuses as being UCF’s first embedded librarian.

Alderman said that while working online from home for her master’s degree at Florida State University she discovered many times she wasn’t able to find research help at the library.

“You had to call someone and hope they would call back,” she said. “I thought that librarians ought to be in the research classes students take to help and teach them how to use the many resources.

“We all understand the need to help students on their degree paths and to minimize the frustration when it’s possible. The online library is rich in resources and we all like to share that information.

In recent years the number of online students served by the regional librarians has exceeded face-to-face assistance, Kisby said.

“With UCF Online coming into the foreground, it shows how libraries continue to adapt as student needs change,” she said.

Kelvin Thompson, director of online design and development strategy for UCF’s Center for Distributed Learning, welcomes the embedded librarians bringing the skills and knowledge of professional librarians right into the midst of online courses.

“Embedded librarians can be ‘present’ in the online course to assist students with preparations for papers or other course assignments that draw on scholarly literature,” Thompson said. “This is a powerful service offered by the UCF Libraries that provides value for students.”