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Reader’s Roundup: Monographic Musings & Reference Reviews

by | May 9, 2022 | 0 comments


Column Editor:  Corey Seeman  (Director, Kresge Library Services, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan)   Twitter @cseeman

Against the Grain V34#2

Column Editor’s Note:  I remember the first time I did a Sudoku puzzle.  I was at a Cub Scouts event with my young son and one of the other parents gave me a puzzle to try out.  It probably was an easy puzzle — as I remember doing it quickly.  It wasn’t too long before I picked up a Sudoku puzzle book and the rest is history.  For the last 16 years (or so) I started the practice of working on a puzzle or two every night.  In our world of great uncertainty, I find a tremendous joy in doing these puzzles.  One of the fun elements for me is that there is a definitive answer to each one.  And that is one of the reasons why I rarely go to bed without completing a puzzle.  

Every day, librarians work through a variety of problems.  Some of our problems have definitive answers, but far more do not.  As we consider library services, collections and personnel, we realize that almost few problems have an answer key.  This is definitely the case with our collections.  Librarians strive to match resources for our collections with the users that we serve.  The challenge here is striving to know about what our community needs and finding the right match in the marketplace.  

That is where our judgement comes in, especially in regards to collections.  Librarian reviews are so critical and useful in getting a practitioner’s view of how these resources may be used at our own libraries.  And that is the joy in editing the Reader’s Roundup.  We can help share thoughts on a number of new books covering librarianship as well as those used in our reference collections.  We have a nice collection of titles in this column covering information literacy, deficit thinking in academic libraries, online learning and digital resources.  In addition – reference books on higher education and Frederick Douglass.  

Special thanks to Ellie Dworak (Boise State University), Jessica Hagman (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Julie Huskey (Tennessee State University) and Jennifer Matthews (Rowan University) for the reviews that appear in this issue.  We have a much bigger column setup for the next issue with more works on librarianship and reference. 

If you would like to be a reviewer for Against the Grain, please write me at <[email protected]>.  If you are a publisher and have a book you would like to see reviewed in a future column, please also write me directly.  You can also find out more about the Reader’s Roundup here — https://sites.google.com/view/squirrelman/atg-readers-roundup.

Happy reading and be nutty! — Corey

David, Miriam E. & Marilyn J. Amey (Eds.).  The SAGE Encyclopedia of Higher Education.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, 2020. 9781529714395, Online encyclopedia.  $756.00

Reviewed by Jennifer Matthews  (Collection Strategy Librarian, Rowan University)   

Higher education is a wide-ranging topic that covers many areas and interests from the subjects taught to the fees charged to take those same courses.  It ranges from the students that attend the institutions to the individuals that teach the classes, how the institutions are governed and whether or not tenure should still be considered and granted.  Then, of course, there is the myriad of aspects related to the business side of the higher education institution that permeate the lives of those connected to the institution in some way.  The SAGE Encyclopedia of Higher Education is a reference resource that touches on all of these aspects and more with over 600 signed entries and contributors from across the globe. 

This online encyclopedia, which is also available in print, was compiled to address the “current state and practices of higher education around the world.”  The editors, Miriam E. David and Marilyn J. Amey, along with their team of associate editors and advisory board, have created an encyclopedia that looks to address issues in higher education such as academic capitalism, the marketization of the institution, sustainable development goals, rising student fees, performance indicators, open access, research output criteria, and many other topics pertinent to the higher education scholar and institution. 

The encyclopedia itself is divided into twelve sections that encompass the Reader’s Guide.  These sections incorporate the organizing principles of the editing team and include topics such as the analysis of higher education, curriculum, governance, and leadership.  Additionally, the editorial board compiled an appendix that contains key international organizations and associations of research, personnel, or professionals from across the globe for those that live, work, and research in higher education. 

The typical entry for the encyclopedia, in this case modeled by the entry “Participatory Leadership,” contains the articles written by authors Delores E. McNair and Jacalyn M. Griffen with a hyperlink back to the A to Z listing of topics.  It also provides a general subject entry, here General Education, Higher Education (general), and keywords (organization).  For citation purposes, one is able to click a link to get the print page numbers and there are also hyperlinks to jump to the various sections in the article which, in this case, are “Overview,” “Origins and benefits,” “Higher Education Contexts,” and “Final Thoughts.” 

Each article provides the user with the opportunity to add to favorites, download the article, cite in their preferred citation style, share via a variety of social media or email, alter the text size, and share a permalink if desired.  The user is also able to search the text within the entry if necessary.  Accompanying the entry is a bibliography of resources and both at the top of the article and at the bottom one can find links to the preceding and following article.  Finally, there is also a subject index provided for users so that they can browse in that manner, if they are unsure of the topic that they are pursuing at first glance, though this index is not hyperlinked. 

The SAGE Encyclopedia of Higher Education is relatively easy to use and offers all of the normal tools one has come to expect of an online resource for an ebook and reference resource.  The one down side is that the subject index is not dynamic and interactive, making it less useful as a tool for the online version as it would be in print form.  The twelve guiding principles make it easy to determine at a broad level where a particular topic might be discovered.  Additionally, the search box works quite well for terms that cannot be found via the topic route.  Articles are well written and documented with a breadth of coverage internationally.  For programs with graduate level education departments, this would be a useful resource for students beginning the journey in higher education to determine what direction they may want to take their studies or focus. 

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if its not checked out). 

Goldstein, Stéphane (Ed.).  Informed Societies: Why Information Literacy Matters for Citizenship, Participation and Democracy.  London, UK: Facet Publishing, 2020.  9781783304226, 272 pages.  £74.95 ($101.99).

Reviewed by Jessica Hagman  (Social Sciences Research Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) 

This volume is an edited collection of works that advocate a stronger connection between information literacy and politically engaged citizenry in pursuit of stronger democratic societies.  Editor Stéphane Goldstein is Executive Director of InformALL, a UK-based consultancy firm and community interest company, that partners with organizations like IFLA, SCONUL, and Jisc as well as universities to develop research and policy around information and digital literacy. 

The book is divided into four sections, beginning with two chapters that examine political theory and the relationship to information literacy.  In the second section, authors focus on individual information practices.  Chapter author Andrea Baer proposes intellectual empathy as an additional element to information literacy instruction to help students identify how social identity influences the processing of information.   Chapter author Stephan Lewandowsky draws on cognitive science to examine the “post-truth” era and the consequences of misinformation saturated politics. 

In the third section, the authors explore the realm of international and national policy, with chapters written by  Reggie Raju, Glynnis Johnson, and Zanele Majebe who argue  for the importance of information literacy in the school and public library systems of developing democracies.  In this section, John Crawford also describes several efforts to develop national information literacy policies in the UK and Europe, but notes that such projects are continuously under-resourced, leaving them ill-equipped for the challenges of modern misinformation. 

The final chapters conclude with examples of information literacy among specific demographic groups.  In the final chapter, Bill Johnson turns our attention toward a group that has received relatively little attention in writing about information literacy, at least compared to their younger counterparts: older adults.  Johnson proposes the use of Freire’s critical pedagogy to identify and challenge cases of policy that is informed by “ageist misinformation” (p. 219).  Similarly, Konstantina Martzoukou recounts efforts in Scottish libraries to offer information and welcoming and safe space to new Syrian refugees.

This collection is a welcome reminder that the information literacy practices embedded in our day-to-day interactions in libraries are influenced by the policies and discourses of national politics, even though this connection may not always be obvious.  Goldstein positions information literacy as an explicitly political concept, and argues that information literacy is vital to the development of a “healthy, inclusive, participatory society” where decisions are informed and based in “judicious and discerning information behavior” (p. xxv).  This connection is reinforced  throughout the contributed chapters, making it a useful work for those who argue for information literacy work at organizational and local levels, and beyond. 

The collection is largely based on the assumption that with sufficient application of information literacy, citizens can be steered towards correct interpretations of political scenarios and to make “optimal decisions” (p. 76) once they are correctly informed.  This undercurrent leaves little room for addressing cases where there is unlikely to ever be shared understanding of what counts as evidence for the truth of a situation, as we see with the continued debates over the administration of COVID-19 vaccination and where evaluation of information sources is bound tightly with partisan politics and beliefs about science, autonomy, risk tolerance, and social responsibility. 

Exceptions to this tendency include Baer’s chapter on intellectual empathy that encourages a turning away from adversarial models of argument that prioritize winning over deepening understanding, and that ultimately reinforce existing power structures.  Similarly, Andrew Whitworth, in a chapter on the discourses of information literacy, cautions against our tendency to treat information literacy as a “fixed point” rather than as a concept that is itself wrapped up in structures of power and authority. 

Those who find themselves on different sides of debates about monumental issues like climate change, legacies of racism and colonization, or COVID-19 responses no doubt consider themselves well-informed.  Information literacy is one important strategy making a critical exploration of what it means to be informed and how those ideas are embedded in policy making and political discourses.  This work provides case studies and a timely exploration of the link between information literacy and politics, making it a valuable addition to the literature in the role of information literacy in addressing societal concerns. 

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)

Heinbach, Chelsea, Rosan Mitola, and Erin Rinto.  Dismantling Deficit Thinking in Academic Libraries: Theory, Reflection, and Action. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2021.  (http://www.libraryjuicepress.com/) 9781634000956, 145 pages. $28.00.

Reviewed by Jennifer Matthews  (Collection Strategy Librarian, Rowan University) 

Academic libraries are routinely in the business of trying to prove their value to the academy.  In so doing, the library also risks perpetuating many of the harmful practices that we, as librarians, also wish to terminate.  These practices include the repression of marginalized groups, hidden curriculums, stereotypes, and deficit thinking.  Deficit thinking, itself, can contribute to each of these categories and can be defined as “an unintentionally harmful mindset that aims to support students by attempting to ‘fix’ their perceived shortcomings” (p. 1).  Libraries are not immune to this practice and, often, make claims of neutrality not realizing that this “further contributes to the marginalization of certain populations and maintain(s) the power of their oppressors” (p. 32). 

Dismantling Deficit Thinking in Academic Libraries: Theory, Reflection, and Action is written by a trio of academic librarians. Chelsea Heinbach and Rosan Mitola are both from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  Heinbach is the co-founder and editor of The Librarian Parlor and Misola oversees the Mason Undergraduate Peer Research Coach program which works with first-generation students and incorporates peer-learning around the research experience.  Erin Rinto is from the University of Cincinnati and is interested in peer-assisted learning and the integration of high impact practices into library services. 

Heinbach, Mitola, and Rinto have compiled a work that looks to aid libraries and librarians with dismantling deficit thinking through the use of educational theory.  They use the constructs of constructivism, funds of knowledge, open pedagogy, critical pedagogy, asset-based pedagogy, and culturally relevant pedagogy to demonstrate how libraries and individuals can examine both themselves and their environments to remove this way of thinking.  Additionally, Heinbach, Mitola, and Rosan have included sections from practitioners that incorporate these pedagogical methods in their teaching.  This demonstrates to the reader how it can be applied in practice — a demonstrable method of praxis rather than just suggestions that are untried and untested. 

Included in each section of the book are sections entitled “Reflections” that have also been combined into a “Reflective Inventory” in the back for easy consultation.  These reflections are so that the reader may assess their own praxis while considering the models and pedagogical theory presented in each section as ways to dismantle deficit thinking.  Some of these questions are more deeply personal than others and could be uncomfortable for the reader to consider, but as many of the practitioners, and authors, remind the reader, the questions lead to a more thoughtful and complete journey should one decide to undertake the process. 

Additionally, Heinbach, Mitola, and Rosan have included lists of practices in the various sections as a way to illustrate how one might enact the pedagogies they are recommending.  Some of these practices are from other scholars in the field while many are from the authors themselves.  Regardless, these examples help bring the dismantling aspect alive in a way that just advising the reader does not such as recommending peer-to-peer activities as a way to incorporate and illustrate that students have a rich foundation of knowledge. 

As the authors allude to early on in the book, libraries and librarians who wish to dismantle deficit thinking in their environment need to be willing to undertake the work both with themselves and in their environment.  This volume provides the reflective thinking and theory to allow one to begin such a journey along with a reading list to expand upon your knowledge of both the theories and deficit thinking.

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this on my desk.  (This book is so valuable, that I want my own copy at my desk that I will share with no one.)

Hess, Amanda Nichols. Modular Online Learning Design: A Flexible Approach for Diverse Learning Needs. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2021. xiii, 128 pages.  9780838948125.  $65.99 (ALA Member $59.39)

Reviewed by Julie Huskey  (Head of Cataloging, Tennessee State University, Brown-Daniel Library, Nashville) 

Amanda Nichols Hess has a PhD in educational leadership and is the e-learning, instructional technology, and education librarian at Oakland University in Rochester, Minnesota.  

Although online library instruction materials have existed for almost as long as there have been library webpages, they have received more attention since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  As librarians’ instruction duties increase, there is renewed focus on streamlining the development of instructional materials.  A modular approach, as Hess develops in this work, can save librarians time and allow a better-defined instructional mission. The author states:  “The central ideas [of the book]… were about how I could make whatever I had created — either independently or in a design team — simpler and straightforward to update when content changed, a learning need emerged, or another instructor or group of students could benefit from the resources (xi).”  The phrase “redesign, not reinvent, the wheel” appears several times throughout the book, and that could well have been its subtitle.

Of the nine chapters in the book, six could apply to all instructional materials, not just modular ones.  The more foundational topics — such as instructional design, the use of feedback for evaluation and assessment, identifying collaborators and other stakeholders, and making materials accessible — are discussed succinctly and competently.  The remaining chapters (“Modifying and Adapting Existing Content,” “Flexibility in Action,” and “Forward Thinking for Future Modularity”) are specific to the modular design advocated by the author.  Modular instructional materials require more documentation than materials that are not meant to be reused.  For instance, the developer must record usage rights, connections to professional, course-level, and institutional goals, and technical requirements.  Hess includes checklists and charts to help the reader through the steps of creating new content, identifying existing content, and combining modules as necessary.

Each chapter returns to three scenarios that differ in the extent of the resource and the number of people involved in their development:  one “smaller-scale” project (conducted by a solo librarian), one “medium-scale” project (with three librarians), and one “larger scale” (requiring several committees and other subgroups).

The ten-page bibliography includes the most prominent works on library instruction from the past fifteen years.

Although Modular Online Learning Design covers virtually every aspect of developing and adapting learning material, it is heavier on theory than on practice.  The lack of detail in the examples limits the book’s usefulness for casual users.  For the librarian who is serious about developing and using modular content, however, it is an excellent starting point.  We may well see other books inspired by Dr. Hess’s short volume.

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)

Tanner, Simon. Delivering Impact with Digital Resources: Planning Strategy in the Attention Economy.  London: Facet Publishing, 2020.  978-1-85604-932-0, 244 pages, $84.99.

Reviewed by Ellie Dworak  (Research Data Librarian, Albertsons Library, Boise State University) 

Memory institutions are organizations that exist, in part, to manage and maintain public knowledge.  These days, these institutions are under considerable pressure to assess and demonstrate impact to funders and other stakeholders.  Strategies that these establishments use to measure the impact of physical offerings are not easily translated to digital environments.  For example, with multiple devices becoming the norm for these institutions, visitation statistics become difficult to interpret.  At the same time, the digital environment offers new opportunities for audiences to engage with content that can be harnessed to demonstrate engagement.  In Delivering Impact with Digital Resources, Simon Tanner seeks to offer a framework that can be used in a variety of contexts to evaluate ways that digital offerings impact communities and individuals. 

Simon Tanner is a Professor of Digital Cultural Heritage and Vice Dean at King’s College London.  His research over the past twenty years focuses on strategy and impact measurement for digital collections.  As an open access and open research advocate, Tanner founded the Art for All campaign (artforall.org.uk), which advocates for GLAM organizations (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) in the UK to offer free and unfettered public use of digital collections.  He also maintains an active professional blog, When the Data Hits the Fan! (simon-tanner.blogspot.com), which receives upwards of 75,000 hits per year.

This book is roughly divided into two sections, with the first four chapters dedicated to discussions and analysis of topics surrounding digital resource development, assessment, and strategy.  These chapters provide a relatively deep survey of the landscape within which the BVI (Balanced Value Impact) Model operates, with topics such as the origins of impact models, challenges posed by the attention economy, and lenses from which value can be framed.  The writing in these chapters is remarkably clear and concise, making it excellent introductory material.  At the same time, the author writes with a breadth and depth of perspective that makes the work of value to even seasoned practitioners.  Of note is that while this book is written from a United Kingdom and European perspective, the author considers and presents the material in a way that translates across contexts and cultures. 

The second half of the book is dedicated to practical explication and illustrations of the BVI Model, a framework developed and honed by Tanner over the past twenty years.  These chapters are, the author tells us, “an attempt to fuse deep theory, experience and practice” (p. xxix).  This presents as a step-by-step guide to the BVI Model interspersed with brief guidance on foundational proficiencies such as identifying useful SMART indicators.  The content in this half of the book is rich and deep, but those unfamiliar with at least some of the techniques used as a basis for the BVI Model may find it difficult to apply the material the first time around.  That said, the author presents learners with many opportunities to expand their knowledge of the topic.  The text is supplemented with a rich set of additional tools and resources, made freely available on the website associated with the book (www.bvimodel.org) or the Europeana Impact Playbook (pro.europeana.eu/page/europeana-impact-playbook), an online publication created as a result of the Europeana Foundation’s implementation of the BVI Model. 

Tanner does an excellent job of structuring the material so that it can be used as both learning text and reference material.  A generous number of figures and tables illustrate the content, and tables of contents are provided for figures, tables, and the case studies embedded in the book.  Definitions for key terminology are located at the start of chapters and chapter sections.  Finally, brief historical summaries of concepts are rife with references for further reading. 

Although the book addresses strategy, the title itself is somewhat misleading, as the bulk of the book is dedicated to the identification and assessment of impact, not the strategies required to deliver impactful digital resources.  This is unfortunate not because it points to a deficit in the text itself, but in that some readers who may potentially find value in Tanner’s work may not discover its utility. 

Academic libraries with programs related to information science, archival science, museum curation, and related fields will want to have this title in their collection.  Practitioners and administrators for GLAM organizations will find value here, but this book also makes excellent professional development reading for librarians from a variety of backgrounds, many if not most of whom have cause to demonstrate impact in a digital environment.  Any library professional engaged in assessment, strategic planning, or administering library services will benefit from the background material presented in the first four chapters. 

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this on my desk.  (This book is so valuable, that I want my own copy at my desk that I will share with no one.)

Williams, Jericho, editor.  Critical Insights: Frederick Douglass. Armenia, NY: Grey House Publishing, Inc, 2020.  9781642656657, 273 pages.  $105.00

Reviewed by Julie Huskey  (Head of Cataloging, Tennessee State University, Brown-Daniel Library) 

Almost everyone who has taken a course in American history or American literature in recent decades has been introduced to Frederick Douglas, the African-American social reformer who was a national leader of the abolitionist movement to rid the United States of the institution of slavery.  While students will have at least some familiarity with the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, his later writings are not as well-known. Not only did Douglass publish two more autobiographies, one of which was later re-released in revised form, but he was prominent on the lecture circuit, he was active in both the anti-slavery and the women’s rights movements, and he served as a diplomat.  Douglass also published one novel, The Heroic Slave (1855).

This volume of Critical Insights does not ignore the Narrative, but it aims to place it in the context of Douglass’ life, as well as within American history and literatureJust as importantly, Williams and his co-authors call attention to Douglass’ other works, often stressing how astutely Douglass managed his career. 

Dr. Jericho Williams, professor of English at Spartanburg Methodist College, edits and contributes the introduction, as well as the first of seventeen essays on the works of Frederick Douglass.

In “Canonization and Its Discontents: Narrative of the Life in the Context of Douglass’ Intellectual Development, David Lawrimore argues that “the prominence of the Narrative of the Life, which Douglass wrote when he was ‘all of twenty-seven years old and a member of an anti-slavery organization he would soon renounce’ (quoting Robert S. Levine) has the potential not only to overshadow his other important works but to compress his dynamic career into a single moment.” (62) 

Several essays compare Douglass’ autobiography with that of Benjamin Franklin, as they explore the persuasive strategies used by autobiographers.  Most writers have a clear audience in mind, and Douglass, as a Black man writing for a primarily White audience, was required to be especially cognizant of his readers.  Other contributors help place Douglass in the American canon by discussing his works alongside the prominent voices of Emerson, Thoreau, and Melville.  Since slave narratives were not considered “literature” until well into the twentieth century, these essays recast Douglass’ work as a legitimate aspect of the American canon, rather than simply a novelty.

Lori Leavell’s “The Anticipatory Life of Frederick Douglass’ July Fourth Speech” describes the milieu of Douglass’ 1852 “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?,” which he presented at an event hosted by the Rochester Ladies Antislavery Society.  The irony of slavery in a nation supposedly founded on the principle of “freedom” is a recurrent theme throughout the volume.

Especially welcome are several essays on the recent interpretation of Douglass’ works. Robert C. Evans analyzes the reaction to James McBride’s unflattering portrayal of Douglass in the 2013 novel, The Good Lord Bird.  The controversies over how history, especially the history of racism in the United States, make Laura Dubek’s “Black Writers Matter: Frederick Douglass in the Literary Present” discussion of children’s and young adult literature on Douglass particularly relevant.

The “Resources” section consists of a chronology of Douglass’ life, a bibliography of approximately sixty sources (almost all of which were published between 1982 and 2020), and a list of Douglass’ works.

That the essays are consistently well-researched, with frequent references to leading scholars, makes this volume an especially welcome addition to the existing literature.  Despite the editor’s goal of focusing more attention on Douglass’ lesser-known writing, the Narrative is nevertheless the most frequently mentioned book, but one hopes that this volume will encourage more scholarship on other aspects of Douglass’ career.  It would be most helpful to upper-division undergraduates and beginning masters-level students, so it is a highly recommended purchase for academic libraries.

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)  


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