November 17, 2017

University of Kansas Librarians Embedded in New Journalism Program

University_of_Kansas_Jayhawk_logo.svgThe newest online master’s degree program at the University of Kansas (KU) opened its doors under the auspices of the school’s journalism department. But when it officially launches in June 2016, the new program, which focuses on teaching veteran and aspiring journalists alike how best to present and share digital content, will also owe a lot to the school’s librarians. KU’s information specialists have helped to consult on the structure of the program and the content it will cover, and will be embedded in the program’s digital classrooms from day one.

Consisting of eight classes, the new master’s program will offer a degree in digital content strategy. Students interested in the content but not necessarily looking to commit to a master’s degree are also free to take selected classes from the program to achieve certificates in data interpretation and communication and social media strategy. This à la carte nature, said Doug Ward, an associate professor at KU’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications and the driving force behind the new program, lets the new program appeal to a growing demand for smaller credentials.

Whether for a certificate or a degree, the program will begin with one broad class, designed to build rapport in the online classroom and help students get to know one another, as well as the teachers and librarians who will be working with them.

“We’ve done a lot of work with librarians in my time here, from having them visit students to embedding them in classrooms,” Ward told LJ.

The collaboration is one that makes a lot of sense to Ward, who points out that librarians and journalists are both in the information business—a business that has changed drastically in the last decade or so. Both professions have been trying to find ways to deal with those changes, and since they use information in different ways, they’ve had different sets of priorities. For students studying journalism today, it can be very helpful to have access to the two related, but distinct, ways of interacting with information.

“Journalists have to work fast, while librarians have a broader, long term view of these issues,” said Ward. “Together, they can create something much more substantial.”

In each of the classes focused on data interpretation and communication, an embedded librarian will be on hand to help students find and navigate databases that may be helpful in their research, parse metadata, and more.

Julie Petr, a KU librarian who has been involved in the planning of the new program, told LJ that library staff with a wide variety of specializations—from finding government data to conducting web analytics to assisting in data visualization—will ensure that every class has direct access the most appropriate library resources available.

Embedding librarians can be an especially helpful tool for students who have already spent some time in the workforce, said Petr.

“For students who may have been out of school for a while, we’ll be helping them relearn how to gather and assess information,” she told LJ.

On the social media side, it’s less clear how closely librarians will be involved in the classroom, but conversations are ongoing and all parties are looking for ways librarians can get involved there as well, said Ward.

“We’re excited by this close collaboration between librarians and a program that is just getting started on campus,” said Petr. “We will be listening for new ways to work together.”

Embedding librarians in virtual classes like these is becoming more common, said Michelle Reale, an outreach librarian and associate professor at Arcadia University and the author of Becoming an Embedded Librarian (American Library Association, 2015). But librarians who take on these online classes face a set of challenges due to the sometimes impersonal environment.

“I feel as though there may be more responsibility in the virtual environment: students who are already taking online classes are inundated with discussion boards, blogs, readings to download, papers to upload,” Reale told LJ. “It entails that the embedded librarian be clearer about his or her mission…and devise a way to be very, very visible in an online class.”

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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