Florida College Librarian Shares Best Practices at State Libraries Conference

October 12, 2023 | 3 min read

Engaging students can be a challenge in today’s virtual world of learning, but one Florida College librarian has redefined the industry standard. Malachai Darling, Technical Services Librarian at Florida College, recently presented a session based on his FC experience at the 2023 Panhandle Academic Libraries Conference. His presentation, “Unconventional Embedded Librarianship: Finding Opportunities for Student Engagement in Small Liberal Arts Colleges,” was designed to encourage students to explore an often underutilized resource.

“This year’s theme was ‘Engaging our Communities,’ and the Panhandle Library Access Network put out a call for proposals,” said Darling, who received his bachelor’s degree from Florida College in 2016. “Their request related to the information literacy and research sessions I’d been holding for students.”

Darling said it’s not uncommon for students to enter college with the assumption that all research can be performed independently online.

“They often don’t see the value of asking someone else about research or a topic for a paper, so it’s a challenge to not only prove the value of a library but to show kids that it’s ok to ask for help,” he said. “Many of them don’t want to burden someone with questions they think they should already know the answers to.”

Darling arrived on campus shortly before the renovation of the Chatlos Library, now home to The Coffey House and ample social and study space. Within its first year, the impressive remodel increased library traffic more than 500 percent.

Darling set out to create year-round information literacy sessions to review core library competencies, allowing for increased interaction with students, often encouraged by professors to attend. Darling found that there was a barrier to entry for students with anxiety or concerns of inconveniencing a librarian. To address those fears, Darling created pop-up research desks to be more accessible to students who might be hesitant to visit an office.

“I wanted students to see me as someone who wants to help them, and who they’re not nervous to interact with,” he said.

He hopes his concept of embedded librarianship – engaging students where they are physically and academically – will help negate some of the outdated stereotypes surrounding libraries. He said FC has already proven the added value of a library’s social space.

“Sometimes people don’t see how we consider The Learning Commons or The Coffey House as part of a library, but our goal as librarians has always been to interact and connect with people,” he said. “Whether it’s books or peers, we want students to have access to the information they need.”

Darling’s 45-minute session was well received, particularly because conversations about these challenges typically are started by larger universities with more resources.

“My hope was to show other librarians that there’s a way to think outside the box and engage students like we have done at FC,” he said.