Moving from Idea to Innovation: Live Librarian Instruction in a First-Year Online Course

By: Dr. Angela M. Gibson, Professor, School of Arts and Humanities, American Public University System
Priscilla Coulter, Senior Online Librarian, American Public University System
Susan Sartory, Senior Online Librarian, American Public University System

At the recent 2014 Online Learning Consortium International Conference in Orlando, we had the honor of presenting,Bringing the Library to Life: Live Librarian Instruction in a First-Year Online Course.” The primary goals of our collaborative research were to increase student connection to the APUS Online Library, to enhance academic research skills, and foster student success in a first-year online course.

The initiative began as a quest to promote quality library usage among first-year students and to reinforce crucial information literacy skills. Students new to APUS take College 100: Foundations of Online Learning, where they must identify, locate and evaluate appropriate reference sources.  Their inquiries to faculty, librarians, and technical staff often reflected frustration or anxiety about navigating the library, indicating a need for basic library orientation and research skills training. Our research showed that their apparent lack of familiarity with the library, undeveloped information literacy skills, and varying learning preferences may impede successful achievement of course objectives.

Online Library

We developed a pilot program in spring 2013 to offer synchronous Adobe Connect sessions to students hosted by an APUS online librarian at designated times during the eight-week course. While these sessions were not integrated with specific assignments, participating students received additional credit. We subsequently developed a second pilot to support 28 select class sections, which included a short five-stop video library tour focusing on orientation and navigation skills as well as areas deemed critical to first-year student success and development of basic information literacy skills. We also created a pre- and post-session quiz to assess student attitudes and knowledge acquisition from the live library sessions.

Results from the expanded pilot again indicated student skill development, higher levels of confidence, and better rates of success in library and research-associated assignments. In April 2014, additional sections were added to validate prior results, comprising a total of 35 sections and 19 faculty members. Sessions were offered on weekdays and weekends as well as at day and evening times, and enabled real-time interaction with librarians through audio or via chat.

What began as a seed of an idea soon became a change agent for the College 100 curriculum and catalyst for first-year student success. This disruption in the status quo continues to create waves of positive innovation and improvement in the student experience and outcomes at APUS, most recently culminating in a 2014 Online Learning Consortium Effective Practice Award, the fourth time in the last six years APUS has received the prestigious industry recognition.

The following is a brief recap on the program, and the award.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence