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.

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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.

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Mackey on Partnerships (dissertation)

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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.

Centers for Learning (Book Review)

Elmborg, James K, and Sheril Hook. Centers for Learning: Writing Centers and Libraries in Collaboration. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2005. Print.

Distributed over twelve chapters, Elmborg and Hook weave together a collection that essentially argues, as Elmborg point out in his first chapter, that “both writing centers and information literacy instruction have grown to a point where formal collaborative partnerships might be the best way to open new lines of development [leading to] . . . more powerful, more dynamic, and more effective instructional practice” (1).  At the get-go, two separate chapters outline the theoretical principles behind the demand for collaboration between librarians and compositionists (i.e., writing center personnel by extension). The first chapter by Elmborg delves into theory regarding the changes in education, summoning the work of J.F. Lyotard who realizes the requirements for students to understand new languages and technologies. Elmborg also describes the age as more collaborative, borrowing from Bruffee, and he avers that the approaches of librarians and compositionists are more pragmatic, meaning they help students solve real-world problems.  Hook follows up in the second chapter, connecting rhetorical theory—in particularly the rhetorical canons of invention and memory—to the work of compositionists and librarians, concluding with what seems a natural collaboration between the two.

The remaining ten chapters present multiple case studies, written by administrators and practitioners in libraries and writing centers across the US, about collaboration between librarians and compositionists.  The chapters cover space planning and design, faculty collaboration and course design, peer tutoring and training, programming and campus partnerships, archival collections, and student empowerment. The majority of the studies use narrative inquiry to deliver their research. None provides a greater historical narrative than Chapter Six, “Library and Learning Center Collaborations: Within and Outside Walls” by Judy Arzt, which details the long history of the writing-across-the-curriculum tutorial center at Saint Joseph College, established in 1988. Arzt thrusts the reader into the many partnerships, both formal and casual, created by the center being in the library; in fact, the story is almost heart-breaking when Arzt describes the loss of the writing center to another building because of enrollment growth in the mid-1990s, yet she offers hope, as they continue to collaborate through online tutorials, workshops, and referrals.

Not all case studies in the book follow a narrative approach, however.  For instance, Chapter Nine—titled “More Connected Student Learning: Research and Writing Project Clinics at Bowling Green State University” by Colleen Boff and Barbara Toth—present the results of an evaluation of a pilot survey regarding writing and research clinics.  Interestingly, these researchers performed surveys of those involved in the clinics, asking students and the writing consultants involved about their satisfaction with the clinic. While numbers related to the study are provided, the outcomes are merely descriptive, not inferential. Still, they demonstrate how to examine a local exigency.

Overall, this text mostly brings to light the power of narrative/historical research. Likewise, although thin, it doesn’t fully negate survey data and interviews.  While this monograph’s content doesn’t explicitly deepen the idea of librarians engaging in writing instruction, its methods are helpful to consider in extrapolation.

Article Review of “Librarians as Writing Instructors”

Bronshteyn, Karen, and Rita Baladad. “Librarians as Writing Instructors: Using Paraphrasing Exercises To Teach Beginning Information Literacy Students.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.5 (2006): 533-536. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Based on classroom assessments of graduating students within English composition and their low level of information literacy skills specific to source integration and citation at Rasmussen College (before its significant expansion), Bronshteyn and Baladad report their pedagogical and programmatic changes that lead to better results in students’ use of sources in their writing, mainly the development of a fifteen-minute paraphrasing workshop, performed by a librarian, that teaches students “summarizing and synthesizing the ideas of subject experts in their own voice, and with the convention of parenthetical citation” (533).

According to the authors, teaching citation within the realm of information literacy (i.e., by librarians) and in writing across the curriculum (WAC) efforts have historically been mostly about teaching anti-plagiarism strategies and not focused on “developing composition or critical thinking skills” (534).  The authors argue, however, that with the overlapping skills between librarians’ information literacy instruction and English faculty’s writing instruction, “it becomes necessary for librarians to either work in cooperation with composition instructors, or tailor their workshops to include some degree of composition instruction” (534).   While they provide other examples for teaching paraphrasing in and outside the English composition classroom, the authors rely on the fifteen-minute, five-part, interactive workshop, taught by librarians, because it can be applied across the curriculum with readings specific to the disciplines.  As an aid to future purveyors of such a strategy, the article provides the five-step paraphrasing exercise as well as assessment of the sources used.  It also offers results of student perceptions of their own ability to cite before and after the information literacy paraphrasing workshop.

To critique, this article describes assessment techniques and provides their results, but it does not spell out all of its methods. Its real strength is in its approach that pushes the argument that librarians’ work overlaps with that of the English instructor, and because of that notion, the article coincides with my own research question about the expansion of writing instruction outside the realm of the composition classroom.  That said, the nature of teaching paraphrasing, especially as described here, seems more like a technical act, similar to demonstrating search techniques or citation generation often taught by librarians. Therefore, I have to ask if a type of dichotomy forms here in the delivery of writing instruction: are English faculty more deft at teaching cohesion and coherence and librarians more skilled at teaching source discovery and integration? Does a relegation exist here, or does the article’s undertone just move English faculty and librarians toward a particular specialty? Either way, this article, in my review, is one of the only that moves into the territory of librarians stepping further into the aspects of teaching composition, and for that reason, it is worth the read, but it could benefit from less implication of its methods.

Article Review of “Research Partners, Teaching Partners”

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Librarian Kathy Shields is this article’s author and head of reference and instruction at High Point University.

Shields, Kathy. “Research Partners, Teaching Partners: A Collaboration Between FYC Faculty And Librarians To Study Students’ Research And Writing Habits.” Internet Reference Services Quarterly 19.3/4 (2014): 207-218. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

Shields presents here a small study performed at High Point University, a liberal arts institution in North Carolina, on collaborative efforts between faculty teaching first-year-composition (FYC) and instruction librarians.  The goal of the study is to explore and analyze the effect of integrating research modules, along with deeper instruction from librarians, into the FYC courses at the university. Shields notes that this study is motivated by the concept of “writing information literacy,” averred by Norgaard,  as a skill “shaped by writing” and not a “neutral, technological skill” applied to writing.  As such, the approach behind the study aims to counter the pedagogically light one-shot library instruction often utilized in FYC courses, and instead, it seeks to make research a part of the writing process.

The study itself follows the effect of five newly created research-related modules, designed with WPA Standards and ACRL standards in mind, featuring auto-graded assessments in Blackboard.  These modules were implemented in thirteen sections of FYC, creating an experiment group. The other sections of FYC did not receive the modules, creating the control group.  In addition to the modules, all students in FYC (both control and experiment groups) were required to complete a pre-and-post-course information literacy process narrative, asking them to explain how they would go about developing a 1500-word social issues paper requiring three outside sources.  Based on a random sample of thirty from the control group and thirty from the experiment group, the researchers coded the narratives on two levels: Level 1 described research-related actions, such as organizing and gathering sources and finding a topic and Level 2 described higher-level thinking, especially two core concepts of “writing information literacy”: inquiry and invention. Shields concludes that the findings were statistically insignificant because of too many variables in the study; however, she notes shifts in an increase in the use of terminology related to research from pre-to-post narrative, such as keywords, databases, credibility, scholarly, and citations.  One term that did not appear in the narratives as often, but had been given deep emphasis is relevance. 

To offer a critique of this article, I do not necessarily see it as groundbreaking, so I am relatively noncommittal about recommending it to fellow peers and scholars.  Contextually, however, it works for me.  This article proves useful, not necessarily so much for its study, but for the goal of librarians and FYC faculty attempting to unite research and writing processes into one. Norgaard’s concept on “writing information literacy” proves interesting and hopeful for encouraging writing faculty to take a more serious look at the deep connections between the writing and the research process and acting on them.  Moreover, the librarians’ work indicated in the article demonstrates a stronger level of attempting to situate their roles in the writing process, as not just information gatekeepers but as active participants in the writing process.  The fact that the study looked for rhetorical activities, such as inquiry and invention, proves hopeful toward greater discussion of librarians being more intentional about bolstering rhetorical strategies, which is usually not their bailiwick.  Overall, the article offers some solid theories and concepts. The unremarkable results, however, stemming from the implementation of those ideas may make others hesitant to spend much time with this article.

Introduction to ENGL840 Micro-Study

Academic librarians hold a unique position; they, at once, help students become better researchers and serve as an integral part in the writing process. To flesh out that latter claim, I would argue that most of the research librarians perform, or teach students to perform, is applied directly to writing assignments. Despite such benefit in the writing process, librarians’ work is often treated as an add-on function.  Faculty frequently request a library instruction only at one “magical” point in a course, and students oftentimes select their topics and even write their essays before consulting with a librarian.  In addition, Todorinova (2010) reports that 26% of libraries collaborate with writing centers, and 74% express a willingness to do so in the future, meaning librarians are gaining greater opportunities to participate in the writing process.  For instance, at my current institution, a Florida community college, librarians and writing tutors share a public work space, providing writing and research assistance across the disciplines.

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Librarians and writing tutors share a public work space together called Writing Studio.

Couple this new way of collaboration with their traditional teaching methods, and librarians are positioned at the center of the writing process, but questions loom about librarians’ self-perceptions of their roles as (pre)writing instructors of sorts: How much do they know about or feel part of the process? How much do they knowingly work with rhetorical strategies? And in what aspects of writing do librarians feel comfortable in assisting students? These questions, among others, I wish to explore in my micro-study for ENGL840.