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.