Review of “An Analysis of Academic Library” (dissertation)

Virgil, Candance L. “An Analysis of the Academic Library and the Changing Role of the Academic Librarian in Higher Education: 1975-2012.” ProQuest LLC (2013). ERIC. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.


The role of librarians has greatly changed since Arcimboldo’s 16th century depiction. Candance Virgil’s research covers at least some of the changes since 1975. Source: WikiCommons

Virgil’s dissertation affords readers a historical look at academic libraries and their changes from 1975-2012.  The crux of her historical exploration centers on the work of librarian-scholar, Evan Ira Farber.  As her baseline, Virgil uses Farber’s 1999 cornerstone article, “College Libraries and the Teaching/Learning Process: A 25-Year Reflection.”  Based on Farber’s work, Virgil makes her primary research question the following: “What are the similarities and differences between the academic issues discussed by Farber in each decade of his review of the years 1975 to 1999 and those same identified issues from 2000 to 2012” (24)?

As her approach, Virgil uses document analysis to compare Farber’s observations up to 1999 to her own research on the first decade and the first couple years of the second decade of the 21st century.  Not fully aware of document analysis’ place in research, I sought clarification, which lead to an article that states,“[D]ocument analysis is particularly applicable to qualitative case studies—intensive studies producing rich descriptions of a single phenomenon, event, organization, or program” (Bowen 29).  Based on this clarification, Virgil’s deployment of this method seems reasonable, as she takes on academic libraries as a phenomenon.  Interestingly, however, Bowen says that document analysis is often used in a mixed-methods approach to carry out triangulation (28), but this is not Virgil’s approach.

Justification for her methods aside, Virgil carries out her document analysis by reviewing Farber’s article, in chapter three, laying out his top five issues for libraries from 1975-1999, including access to knowledge, bibliographic instruction, electronic information and technological development, computers in libraries, and faculty culture and attitudes.  Then, in chapter four, Virgil reviews library literature in the twenty-first century for similar issues to Farber’s and includes additional concerns or trends, mostly with access and technology.  Finally, in chapter five, Virgil compares the current state of libraries to those indicated in Farber’s article. Virgil discusses activities, philosophies, and issues “that have almost totally disappeared” and “issues present today which have changed immensely since Farber’s time” (123).

Collectively, Virgil’s dissertation takes a broader view, but I felt that my research needed to go beyond library-related collaborations to find justification for librarians’ greater work — or at least greater labeling of their work — with writing instruction in the librarians’ changing roles over the years. While not explicit, documentation of the change in faculty reception to instruction, starting in the 1990s (117), provides some support to my claim; that is, the push for strong instructional services has been part of libraries for twenty years, and, likewise, those services overlap, at least through information literacy and related heuristics, with writing instruction.  In addition, the recent trend of libraries’ linking to improved student retention, graduation rates, and student achievement (127) plays to the need for librarians to be more relevant and flexible than ever, including expansion of services.  Overall, the dissertation would have benefited my case more if it had greater focus on instruction, but it does give example of a new method heretofore unexplored in my research.

Works Cited

Bowen, Glenn A. “Document Analysis as a Qualitative Research Method.” Qualitative Research Journal 9.2 (209): 27-40. Emerald Insight. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.


Mackey on Partnerships (dissertation)


Tonja Mackey: Photo courtesy of Texarkana College 

Mackey, Tonja R. Academic Libraries and Writing Programs: Partnering for Student Success, Diss. Texas A&M University. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2013. Web. 28 February 2016.

Using her unique blend of credentials, Tonja Mackey approaches her dissertation as both a librarian and composition instructor at a medium-sized community college in Texas (13), and she argues that writing departments and academic libraries, working in collaboration (she cites theories of Dewey, Bruffee, and Vygotsky, among others, here) could serve as “the portal through which students achieve twenty-first century communication and lifelong learning skills” (4).  To that end, she posits that first-year composition should focus on information literacy as content and provide “seamless integration of research methods into the composition course, not unlike a graduate research methods course, albeit on a lower level” (8).  With that in mind, Mackey carries out her mixed-methods study to garner evidence about information literacy practices and challenges within a population that has been relatively ignored on this subject: community college students, which “pose unique situations because of [their] widespread differences” (58).

Mackey’s methods include the deployment and analysis of student pre-and-post-course surveys and three-to-four-page information literacy narrative essays from Composition I students.  Her study also establishes and analyzes comparison groups of Composition I students, where the experimental group received six separate mini-lessons in information literacy instruction in twenty-to-thirty-minute intervals at predetermined times during the semester, while those in the control group received one, fifty-minute session. To measure the two groups’ successes, Mackey performed a content analysis of sixty-one citation pages, requiring five sources, as part of the research project for which the information literacy instruction aimed to benefit.

To speak directly to the measurement of these tests and tools, interestingly Mackey initially reports measurement on the surveys of only four questions, although the instrument totals thirteen in number.  These four questions, geared toward attitudinal shifts from before instruction to afterwards, are either multiple choice or polar in nature, making them more quantifiable, and she provides statistics to show the calculations.  On the contrary, Mackey does not attempt to code and quantify the remaining nine, short-answer questions, but she weaves some responses throughout her qualitative descriptions. In addition to the survey, Mackey formed a rubric for the information literacy narratives, which can be viewed here.  The rubric for the narratives consists of three levels: beginning, developing, or achieving.  The criteria are fivefold and based on the guidelines of ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards.   Finally with regards to measurement, she measures the citation pages based on type and quality of source.

Collectively, Mackey’s work compares to Shields’ (reviewed earlier this term) with regards to the integration of information literacy instruction modules at High Point University.  The difference, of course, is the population: one being mostly traditional students while Mackey’s population varies from digital natives, to laid-off fifty-year-olds looking to update their skills.  Coming from the community college model myself, Mackey’s study resonates with me; however, while it encourages librarians to move away from tool-based, one-shot instructional sessions and toward iterative and collaborative pedagogy, it does not re-invent the role as much as it could toward writing partner, rather than solely research partner.