Home » Distance Library Instruction Virtual Poster Session (Spring 2019) » Balancing Act: How Librarians Play a Key Role in Triangulating the Course Design Process


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Balancing Act: How Librarians Play a Key Role in Triangulating the Course Design Process

This poster is part of the Distance Library Instruction Virtual Poster Session hosted by the ACRL DLS Instruction Committee. We encourage you to ask questions and engage in discussion on this poster! Authors will respond to comments between April 1-5.


Victoria Raish and Kat Phillips, Penn State University

Poster Description:

Online library instruction has the potential to foster a critical approach for students. This approach depends highly on the relationships that the librarian has with the instructor and instructional designer. This poster will highlight how the combined expertise of librarians, instructors, and instructional designers creates a stronger overall course.


(Click image for poster narration in a new tab)

Image of Balancing Act poster. Click to hear recorded narration.


Victoria Raish is the Online Learning Librarian for Penn State University. She connects with all of the instructional designers at Penn State and coordinates the library’s efforts in online learning. She provides expertise for other librarians and increases services for online students.

Kat Phillips is the Nursing & Allied Health Liaison Librarian at Penn State University. She works closely with and is embedded in several distance education courses in Nursing and Health Policy and Administration. She collaborates with librarians, instructors, and instructional designers to bring information literacy concepts to online classes.


  1. Hello – and thanks for this! Just wondering if this slide is part of what you use to make the argument to departments and faculty directly to get your foot in the development door (or is it already established process)? That is the big barrier we have – getting departments and faculty (and instructional designers) to allow us in the door to be involved in the design (esp. assignment design) process from the start. Thanks again.

    • Hi Dana,

      Torrie can chime in on this, too, but the short answer is yes, this is part of what she uses when she works with departments, and I also use this when I work with individual instructors or new faculty.

      In my experience, for some of the groups I work with this is already an established process, but for others it has also been hard for me to get my foot in the door. Discuss assignment design in this light has opened some of those doors for me.


    • Hi Dana,
      Thanks for leaving us a comment! so, in short, yes just like Kat said. We actually have about 3 different iterations of this basic poster. We are fortunate at Penn State to have the expectation already that faculty have to work with instructional designers to create their online course so they are used to the team-based environment. You might already do this but having concrete examples, finding a champion, etc. can help a lot to getting your foot in the door. Our feet are fully inside the house in some departments and still standing on the doormat at others :). But we are doing the best we can. The theory behind this slide is activity theory if you want to learn more about that.

      • I also love this graphic, and may need to use it or something like it when trying to do outreach to faculty designing courses! I haven’t heard of activity theory, so I’ll need to look into that more. But can you talk even just briefly about the connections you draw between activity theory and your work? I didn’t hear you mention that in your poster. Thanks!

        • Hey Jennifer,
          Sure thing. Activity theory is a systems theory that looks at all of the interacting components of a system rather than just one part. In particular, Cultural-Historical activity theory is used frequently in education and learning theories research. It does not consider behavior or actions in isolation of other parts of the system that produce those actions. Rather, everything is interconnected and explored. So for example, a faculty has not willingly opened their course to your involvement – it is probably not you or even their perception of library instruction by itself. Rather, there are a bunch of mediating factors at play driving that decision. Hopefully that helps.

          • Thanks for sharing this theory! This was new to me but helps better explain point I’ve been trying to express about individuals not working in isolation with mediating factors from the social environment. I tended to draw more on the idea of social psychology, but this details out more of those factors.

  2. Thank you for this poster! This is a actually a good representation of what we’ve been doing at my institution. Some background: we have a centralized curriculum and, in the past, we’ve worked mostly at the end phase of the course design process—generally recommending IL activities, instruction, etc. on the back-end of course creation or letting the course designer know what is and is not doable using the information available–that sort of thing. Lately, however, we’ve been working with instructional designers and course managers at the beginning of the design phase and throughout. Which has been great—but also *incredibly* time consuming and not feasible for every new class being created (we only have four reference and instruction librarians for the entire school). My main questions are:

    How do you manage your current work load (online instruction) with this new work load (course design)? Do you have a dedicated ID librarian? Do you see this relationship being sustainable with your current library staffing? I look forward to your response!

    • Hi, Elizabeth! I’m not at Penn State, but like you, am trying to get more embedded from the beginning of a centralized curriculum design process instead of at the end!

      I am also interested in hearing how Torrie and Kat handle this, but from my perspective, one of many reasons I’m trying to focus on course design is staffing concerns. I’m a solo librarian, and there’s absolutely no way I can be in every class at once. However, if I can embed library instruction directly into the course through the course design process, students can still get the instruction even if it’s not delivered by me personally. This frees me up to focus on delivering instruction and reference more personally to the research-intensive courses.

      • This is a really good point! How long have you been working this way?

        We’re moving towards this a bit, as well (especially with regards to having instructors implement IL instruction directly). I’m trying to figure out at what point in the design process I/the library should get involved. Currently, I’m added to ALL the design meetings—which is a little overwhelming, and I don’t necessarily think the best use of my time. Maybe it is time to work with the course managers and ID team to figure out the best “point of entry” for the library in the design process? I think we could benefit from something more standardized.

        I’m also interested to see how this shakes down long-term with regards to maintenance of learning modules, activities, units, etc.

        • I’ve been involved at the end of the process for the last 7 years. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been working on getting involved with course design from the beginning. So far, that’s only been with individual instructional designers/faculty members.

          Our institution is currently completely redesigning both its centralized curriculum and its curriculum design process, which presents a wonderful opportunity for me to become a standard part of the process! I’m still trying to figure out what this means in concrete terms, but I don’t think it means participating in every design meeting. I think it means that I am involved in instructional designer trainings, that there are a few designated meetings that I attend for every course, and that I pick and choose the courses that I am more heavily involved in designing.

          I should note that my role in the course design process is not just about information literacy instruction. I also help address things like copyright/fair use considerations and finding course readings/learning objects.

          I’m interested to hear what standardized process you end up with!

          • You’re in a very similar place as us! We also provide support in the ways you note (course resources, copyright, etc). I love the idea of being involved in curriculum design training—though that may be far down the road as we’re also implementing a new curriculum design process over the next year. Ideally, I would love to get something official added to the course creation/design workflow that would require the SME and ID to engage with the library—far in advance of course approval.

          • Hi Jennifer-

            As Elizabeth, my work colleague, mentioned, we seem to be following similar paths to you and Penn State.

            I’ve worked in my position for about 7 years also, and have struggled finding other librarians who work in the way we do. Often times, I felt as if I was working on a remote island and was discouraged about finding librarian connections outside of our institution. Meeting you, the Penn State librarians, and others in the DLS activities has been so, so encouraging. Yeah!

            Best, Jenni

    • Good afternoon Elizabeth & Jennifer,

      Thank you for such a great conversation and fabulous questions!

      How do you manage your current work load (online instruction) with this new work load (course design)?
      – Currently I’m trying to pace out the course design aspect of my job. I have not made promises to have relatively quick turn arounds (when possible), so I’ve been able to tackle projects at a less stressful pace. I focus on projects that will ultimately reduce my instruction and continual student interactions load (creating or updating modules and content that will streamline some of the instruction), which, in theory, should create more time to focus on other aspects of online instruction and course design, student interactions, reference, etc.

      Do you have a dedicated ID librarian?
      – We do have a dedicated Instructional Designer who works with the library, and Torrie coordinates with and works with many of our campus IDs, too.

      Do you see this relationship being sustainable with your current library staffing?
      – Yes and no. I think that we will eventually have to make the case to grow our staffing, but for now it is sustainable because there are times where “No” or “Not right now, but please keep me in mind for future projects” is an acceptable answer. Nobody really enjoys saying no to projects, but we cannot do all the things all the time!

      – I also think that, over time, as we become stronger front-end partners, it will lessen the time and burden of the back end work we’re doing now. The transitional periods will likely be the most work intensive, but that will reduce as our roles shift.

      – Jennifer brings up an excellent point that being involved from the course design process allows her to be in more places at once, even if she’s not necessarily “there” in that you can create asynchronous learning to cover a variety of different needs, and then have more time to devote to other needs.

      Elizabeth, you said, “Maybe it is time to work with the course managers and ID team to figure out the best “point of entry” for the library in the design process?” and I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. That may take some time, but establishing the relationships with ID and instructors is crucial to us balancing our time accordingly, while still delivering the same quality of information and instruction both we and our patrons expect.

      Like you both stated, we also provide support (copyright, fair use, learning objects, etc.) outside of library instruction. There are so many avenues and potential opportunities. Getting your foot in the door is always the hardest step, because after that we can just let our selves and our knowledge shine!

      I know Torrie will also have follow-up for this conversation from her perspective, too.

      • Hi Jennifer and Elizabeth,
        Kat answered your questions really well but I wanted to add my perspective as well. I want to start by saying that in some programs we have made much less inroads to this than others. Penn State is very decentralized and people are constantly moving into new positions. So even when we get a good process going if a new manager comes in, that might change. For example, I got the library conversation added to the beginning of a program launch or course design for one unit here at PSU and then that stopped when new management cycled in and they did not feel the library was needed in those conversations. So, we are still working on this as well!

        Now to answer your questions:

        How do you manage your current work load (online instruction) with this new work load (course design)?
        At Penn State even for myself we also have physical workload including F2F teaching and consulting. I view the two you mentioned in the question as one in the same – if we can be more involve din the design then it can either deepen or replace our instruction depending on the context and many variables. For us the bigger challenge is how do we manage online learning with all of our other liaison responsibilities.

        Do you have a dedicated ID librarian?
        We also have one librarian with the title learning design librarian but she does not really get involved in this aspect of course design and her job as morphed over the years. We have a 50 percent dedicated learning designer but even this is a challenge because we also have other design shops where I have to work with their instructional designers.

        Do you see this relationship being sustainable with your current library staffing?
        Ah yes, that staffing question is important. One of the challenges we have is that we have 100,000 students and they are all over PA and online. So, sometimes the online students are forgotten about or after the residential courses there is just not enough time to think about online courses. We do what we can and try to offer alternatives where we can. Sometimes, we already have something created for another class and I am building up a repository that faculty feel empowered to use and take ownership of.

  3. Just wanted to add…another valuable role that the subject librarian can bring to the course design process is recommending open educational resources (OER) that align with course topics.

    • Dorinne,

      You’re absolutely correct. We have a bit of a different structure at PSU – we have an Open Education Resources Librarian who works in a similar capacity as Torrie in that she works both with the departments and with the subject librarians. But it is an all hands on deck process, no matter what the system is, and recommending any resources, including OER, which align with a course or assignment is definitely part of the strategic role.

      Thank you for your insight!


  4. How could I obtain a copy of this poster, to share with colleagues after the poster period — other than a screen capture? Could you send me a copy? Or, will the URL be active after the poster period?

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