REVIEWS: Library and Information Science Research
Electronic Journal ISSN 1058-6768
2008 Volume 18 Issue 1; March

in this issue:

Bell, Stephen J., and Shank, John D. (2007) Academic Librarianship by Design: A Blended Librarian’s Guide to the Tools and Techniques.

Hardesty, Larry (Ed). (2007). The Role of the Library in the First College Year.

Wallace, Danny P. (2007).  Knowledge Management: Historical and Cross-Disciplinary Themes.

Usherwood, Bob. (2007).  Equity and Excellence in the Public Library: Why Ignorance is not Our Heritage.

Bell, Stephen J., and Shank, John D. (2007) Academic Librarianship by Design: A Blended Librarian’s Guide to the Tools and Techniques. Chicago: American Library Association.  181pp. ISBN: 0-8389-0939-6. $50.00

Academic Librarianship by Design: A Blended Librarian’s Guide to the Tools and Techniques challenges librarians to evolve by expanding our range of technology skills and incorporating techniques drawn from the world of instructional design into the creation of our products and services.  In doing so, authors Steven J. Bell and John D. Shank argue that we will improve our ability to collaborate with teaching faculty and provide new and better opportunities to integrate information literacy instruction into course curricula.   Central to this vision is the concept of the “blended librarian” who commands skills in traditional librarianship, technology, and instructional design and who seeks out opportunities to collaborate, connect, and share ideas with other individuals and groups who share the same teaching and learning goals.  Academic Librarianship by Design provides a compelling framework as well as a practical manual outlining specific tools, procedures, and products.

The book’s authors have practiced what they preach, and their credentials bear out the intersection between librarianship and technology that forms the basis of their discussion.  Steven J. Bell is an Associate Librarian at Temple University, a lecturer on instructional technology topics, and the author of the blog, The Kept-Up Academic Librarian.  John D. Shank is an Instructional Design Librarian and the Director of the Center for Learning Technologies at Pennsylvania State University.  The book grows out of a long-standing collaboration between authors Bell and Shank, whose “blended librarian” paradigm has evolved from a series of workshops, blog posts, and published papers into a design-based information literacy movement that now boasts its own online collaborative social network, The Blended Librarians Online Learning Community, where like-minded librarians can meet, chat, brainstorm, view webcasts, and share tools, techniques, and strategies.

The book’s nine chapters treat the subject of blended librarianship from three complementary perspectives: a foundation in concepts and principles, a practical account of specific technologies, and an appeal to collaborate and evolve as librarians.  The first four chapters introduce the concepts of blended librarianship and design thinking, as well as a clear-cut set of design principles that can be applied to the development of any new instructional product or service.  Chapters Five through Seven elaborate on this paradigm by presenting three specific applications of technology that have the potential to bring libraries closer to teaching faculty and their students: course management systems, bite-sized technology tutorials for faculty, and digital learning materials such as online information literacy tutorials.  The final two chapters seek to provide librarians who find the principles of blended librarianship compelling with opportunities to pursue these ideas and practices further, including an invitation to join The Blended Librarians Online Learning Community.  Each chapter is structured to include a series of learning objectives, a brief overview of the topic, followed by discussion, case studies or detailed practical examples, and questions for further discussion.  The authors supplement their text with illustrations and diagrams depicting the concepts they discuss, such as their modified version of ADDIE (Analyze, Design/Develop, Implement, Evaluate), a model drawn from instructional systems design, as well as storyboards and screenshots of online tutorials, course management systems, and other instructional modules.

The most valuable contribution of Academic Librarianship by Design is the model it provides for an introduction of new technology skills and tools into our repertoire that is rooted in our values as librarians.  Whereas many other recent technology titles appear to advocate the widespread adoption of social software or screencasting technologies simply because they are new, Academic Librarianship by Design provides a much needed reminder to tie the changes that we make to our core values as librarians.  One other potential audience for this book, technologically savvy librarians on the lookout for new tools, may not find the three primary technology applications covered to be innovative enough to suit their needs.  But other recent books fulfill this need, providing menus of the latest offerings, with little of the critical analysis.  The emphasis throughout Bell and Shank’s book is on finding the best ways to network and collaborate--with other librarians, with instructional designers and IT support groups, and with our own faculty and students. 

David W. Wilson
Reference and Instruction Librarian
Eastern Washington University Libraries

Hardesty, Larry (Ed). (2007). The Role of the Library in the First College Year (Monograph No. 45).  Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. 296pp. ISBN: 978-1-889271-54-5 $40.00.

In the last three decades the higher education community has focused a great deal of effort on the academic and social lives of freshman students. A real “first year experience” movement has taken a true form gaining wide acceptance across academia.

At most colleges and universities orientation classes, seminars, and workshops are aggressively seeking to retain and integrate beginning students into collegiate life. First year experience programs have been an important proving ground for innovation in such areas as learning communities, assessment, and instructional technology. Many of these efforts have gone on to impact students and curriculum beyond the first year.

The emphasis on the first year is placing a sharper focus on the information literacy efforts of academic libraries. A convergence of sorts is beginning to evolve between the aims of the first year experience movement and the efforts to teach information literacy skills. The present state of practice in integrating information literacy with first year college programs is well summarized in the book The Role of the Library in the First College Year edited by Larry Hardesty. This collection of essays brings together a

distinguished group of librarians and educators to argue that the library needs to play

a more central role in the implementation of programs that focus on the beginning experiences of college students. 

Aimed at the practitioner, Hardesty teams up with Alan Guskin, John Gardner, and Andrew Koch to provide interesting introductory material about the first year experience

from both an historical and contemporary perspective.  The main organization of the book is divided into four sections with the first laying down some of the basics of information literacy and providing an informative look at student engagement and time management. The second section takes on issues that include instructional models, first year seminars, first year librarian positions, assignments, and co-curricular activities. Outcomes are examined in the third section with a particular focus on assessment and student retention. A set of 13 case studies make up the last section that review actual efforts to integrate information literacy with first year programs. The case studies represent a diversity of practice from institutions that include everything from small liberal arts colleges to large research universities.

A blend of theory and practical application characterize the essays providing a great deal of material for those wishing an extended introduction to the subject. Hardesty, in his selection of material, keeps things straight forward and level headed avoiding the heavy evangelical tone of much of the information literacy literature.  Certainly this book would be a welcome edition to any academic library, and may be something that’s essential for the personal collections of librarians that are working with first year programs. 

Joseph Straw
Reference Librarian
Marietta College

Wallace, Danny P. (2007).  Knowledge Management: Historical and Cross-Disciplinary Themes.  Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited. 235pp.  ISBN:  978-1-59158-502-2     $US60.    

How many more titles do we need on knowledge management (KM), I wondered as I received yet another to read?  It is an interesting field and not without its controversy and I have been looking for a “text” on the subject to recommend to students.  This title could be that book. 

Author Danny Wallace’s reason for the book is “to link current and historical works of importance to the development and understanding of knowledge management across domains and disciplines” (p. 2).  Thank you, Danny Wallace.  Up until now I have found that the only way to do this is to give students a long list of readings; readings from books that are expensive to purchase and for which there are never enough copies in the library,  and from numerous journal articles.   We now have a compendium of selected key pieces from the KM literature for students to appraise and use as they form their own views of what KM means to them and how they think it might impact on their work as future information professionals.

Wallace holds a PhD in library science and is a professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Oklahoma. His primary research and teaching interests lie in the areas of informetrics, informatics, information science, human-computer interaction, knowledge-based systems, and information storage and retrieval. This book is the second entry in a book series on knowledge management for which he is Consulting Editor.

His teaching and research experiences support his approach to the topic.  He uses seminal papers from the KM literature across a range of fields to aid his discussion on the matters they present: on the nature of knowledge, knowledge capital, learning in an organizational context, knowledge sharing and communities of practice, knowledge representation, content management, taxonomies and ontologies, and informatics and information technology.  Wallace has been quite methodological in choosing the papers to include. They were selected on the basis of citation frequency, assessment of historical precedent and uniqueness of viewpoint (pp. 6-7).  In his words: “the book is intended for all students of knowledge management …who wish to place the field in context” (p. 7).

This title is a welcome addition to the growing collection of titles on knowledge management.   My only misgiving is that my students will use it exclusively and not form their own views and pathways as we progress though this controversial topic.  But I am willing to take that risk.  After all, I will have read it too.

Dr. Kerry Smith
Information Studies
Curtin University of Technology
Perth, Western Australia

Usherwood, Bob. (2007)Equity and Excellence in the Public Library: Why Ignorance is not Our Heritage Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate.  220pp. ISBN:  978-0756-4806-2   approx. $US90.00

Bob Usherwood is well known to many public librarians for his long commitment to  researching the public library.  That he should celebrate his recent retirement with this title is testimony to the some 30 years he spent on this commitment as an academician and as a researcher at the University of Sheffield, and his earlier years as a public librarian.

In the preface to the book, Usherwood admits that “the text is more polemical than I had planned.  The tone is a result of a sense of frustration” (p. vii).  As a library educator myself, though slightly younger than Usherwood, I can identify with his feelings.  But as I read these words, I also thought: is this the price of being older and towards the end rather than at the beginning of one’s career in the library profession?

Usherwood has a deep and abiding commitment to being inspired and inspiring, to the provision of a democratic rather than a populist public library service, and to the role of the public library to serve the disadvantaged.  A recurring theme in the book is his belief that the public library should be counteracting ignorance and prejudice in our society.  Was it then just a coincidence that, as I read this book, I also read The Forum article by Paul Comrie Thomson in the Weekend Australian, February 9-10, 2008 On low blows to high art, where Thomson asked: “How do you think the Sydney Symphony Orchestra went backing Burt Bacharach and Glen Campbell?…are {Bacharach and Campbell] equivalent to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky?” (p. 2).  Thomson concluded his piece with “If the SSO and Opera Australia do these gigs for the money then we should pay them more to cease and desist” (p.2).  So Usherwood is not alone in bemoaning the blending of the commercial and the classical at, in this case, the expense of the classical.  Where have all the intellectuals gone, both as professionals and users, Comrie and Usherwood ask?

In order to draw his conclusions, Usherwood carried out an extensive survey by sending out a questionnaire titled Equity and excellence in the Public Library containing 36 questions, to “all the English public library authorities on the CEPLIS (Centre for Public Library and Information in Society) database. The same research instrument was also completed by Sheffield postgraduate students taking a dedicated public libraries module” (p. vii).  The results are augmented by an extensive review of the literature and are reported in chapters using headings which imply idealistic solutions, but give contents telling a different story.    Indeed the “evidence of wasted opportunities and limited horizons” of the respondents disappoints Usherwood.  He bemoans that the debate of value vs demand in the provision of public library services is not rigorous in the UK .  What has been rigorous in my reading of the international public library literature are articles like: “Public libraries told to innovate or die out” and it would seem that many public libraries, and not only in the UK , are reacting to calls like this from their elected members and communities.  So where does that leave the views of Usherwood?

Lest I felt that Usherwood was using the occasion to preach his view, I consulted the analysis of his extensive survey in the Appendices to the book.   Clear support for the idea of basic principles in the provision of public library services is reflected in the responses to a number of the questions.  Yet as happens with artful surveying, there also exists significant variation on how that should happen.  This is brought out in the accompanying comments.  As examples:

Usherwood believes that the perils of populism (a term he equates with “’an explosion in populism, with 10 copies of the latest blockbuster novel made at the expense of one useful but expensive reference book’” (p. 6) as well as with the notion of “dumbing down”), evident in his analysis of the many comments that accompanied the responses to the survey, sacrifices the integrity of the public library service and leads to losing sight of the library’s original purpose.  But what is the public library’s original purpose?  Is it as Usherwood believes, to provide access to learning, to enhance the individual and public life, to embrace excellence and differentiate between it and populism, and to employ professional librarians with the “appropriate knowledge and skills and personal qualities but also respect for professional values and the confidence to defend them” (p. 126)?   An increasing number of para- or non-professionals and volunteer assistants are being used in UK public libraries.  It also seems that something happens to the library graduate in the transition from library school to the public library workforce.  All of the ideals, professional values and purpose in library service, including that in public libraries, as taught in library school seem to be thrown out the window as far as Usherwood is concerned, once these graduates start working. 

This book is a wake up call.  Usherwood’s ideals might sound old fashioned at times, but they are well founded and easily translated into modern public library service.  The challenges issued to the public librarians of the past are alive today and include:

But if the public libraries are not always supported with professional librarians who, in Usherwood’s words, have respect for professional values and “the confidence to defend them” what chance do we have of providing a well-rounded and grounded professional public library service?

Dr Kerry Smith
Curtin University of Technology
Perth, Western Australia