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.