Book Review LibParlor Contributor

Book Review: The Grounded Instruction Librarian

LibParlor Contributor Nancy Lovas reviews The Grounded Instruction Librarian: Participating in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

The Grounded Instruction Librarian: Participating in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is a volume edited by Melissa Mallon, Lauren Hays, Cara Bradley, Rhonda Huisman, and Jackie Belanger. Published in 2019, Margy McMillan writes in the preface “The book in your hand represents an exciting moment in academic librarianship.” Although librarians have been participating and publishing research in the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) for a while, this book is exciting because it gathers in one volume a variety of librarians’ SoTL work.

The book is organized into four sections with twenty-eight chapters: Pedagogical Content Knowledge/Signature Pedagogies, SoTL Theory, SoTL Research, and SoTL as Professional Development. Each section has a “foundational” chapter introducing readers to relevant theory and background knowledge. Remaining chapters are called case studies, defined as “examples demonstrating the application of SoTL principles.”

The introduction to this book is solid. Writing an effective introduction can be difficult, and the editors succeeded. The book’s structure and focus are set out clearly without being pedantic. SoTL is clearly defined, and the argument for why librarians should care includes a careful look at how SoTL fits with library instruction work.The editors also provide a summary of common SoTL principles and themes that are helpful to those new to SoTL or wanting a refresher.

There is a little something for everyone in this volume. The theory section satisfies curiosities about pedagogy and theory. The professional development section provides reasons for librarians’ participation in SoTL beyond satisfying promotion & tenure research requirements, which may prove useful to those needing to make a strong case for doing SoTL work. Case studies in the research section offer inspiration for embarking upon SoTL projects. At my first read, the section Pedagogical Content/Signature Pedagogies section did not seem to fit as there was already a SoTL theory section. Upon a closer look, its inclusion makes sense as the authors of chapters in this section make the case that questions raised by pedagogical content/signature pedagogies theory can inform SoTL research agendas.

I sat down to draft this review in June 2020, right as a special issue of Communications in Information Literacy was published on critical library instruction. As they did the original Critical Library Instruction volume ten years ago, Maria T. Accardi, Emily Drabinski, and Alana Kumbierof edited this issue. Their opening editorial is frank: “we, as the editors of Critical Library Instruction, failed to adequately address matters of race and racism in the collection.” Kumbierof continues, “Our whiteness has offered us the protection to take risks as we experiment with new pedagogical approaches; our failures or mistakes are not associated with our racial identity.” Reading this essay alongside The Grounded Instruction Librarian raised questions for me. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is all about seeing what works in the classroom and experimenting with new pedagogical approaches that challenge the status quo. The connection between critical pedagogy and SoTL work is natural in many cases. As Accardi, Drabinski, and Kumbierof assert, white supremacy, privilege, race, gender, and the power structures thus associated shape the kind of teaching that is or is not possible. Explicitly incorporating these questions into librarian SoTL work can only strengthen and expand the conversation. While potentially out of scope for this introductory volume, I hope that in the future there will be increased consideration of how race and racism shape what is possible in SoTL work.

Chapters that stuck out to me/deep dive and my practice

Of the foundation chapters, I found Chapter 1 of the section Pedagogical Content Knowledge/Signature Pedagogies to be the most theory-heavy and challenging to follow at times. However, it is a worthy challenge. Hays discusses the idea that information literacy is a discipline in an of itself, albeit one intersects with every other discipline. This chapter had me wondering if an information literacy exists divorced from a discipline. As information literacy instructors, we sit in the middle of all the disciplines. We must consider our teaching and pedagogical approaches within the context of the content we are teaching and the ways of teaching that are unique to the discipline. In other words, as a business librarian, I must marry the ways I teach business information literacy and research with the ways that business professors teach business students how to think. This will be different than how a history librarian teaches history information literacy and research to history students. Understanding and questioning signature pedagogies and pedagogical content knowledge creates “a research agenda for teaching and learning” (Ciccone, 2012). Personally, I can and have used SoTL to seek answers to the questions, “what do [business/entrepreneurship] students need to know, and what are the best strategies for teaching them what they need to know?”

Readers newer to literature on pedagogical theory may benefit from reading the foundation chapter both before and after reading the case studies. The case studies’ applications of the theory illustrate well the ideas Hays considers. The reader may return to the foundation chapter with a more tangible grasp of the theory Hays lays out.

The other chapter that resonated with me is “Mapping Information Literacy Skills of First-Year Business Students” by Althouse, Hedges, Premji, and Wheeler. As a business librarian, I provide research and information literacy instruction for many students who typically have little or no prior exposure to business research. There are few resources in the literature about business information literacy instruction, so I was very happy to see this chapter! Already their findings about students’ challenges are informing my own instructional design for fall classes.

Suggestions for reading

“…SoTL work by nature is contextualized to the librarian’s teaching, students, institution, and collaborators.”

This is a great volume for reading according to your interest in the moment. The structure allows readers to easily pick up a relevant case study. It is important to read the foundation chapter to each section as it provides context and definitions that illuminate the case studies. Then, consider spacing out reading chapters in a given section or on a similar theme. Here’s why: many authors reference similar themes and foundational SoTL scholarship in their chapters, which the editors acknowledge in the introduction. However, SoTL work by nature is contextualized to the librarian’s teaching, students, institution, and collaborators. Though several authors begin their research with O’Brien’s Compass, for example, seeing how they interpret and apply the model in their unique contexts allows the reader to gain more nuanced understanding. Spacing out the reading of these case studies offers the reader an opportunity to bring fresh eyes to the work and pay closer attention to nuances of differing interpretations and applications.

Concluding thought

SoTL is the marriage of theory and practice, and this volume demonstrates that well. There is something for almost everyone. The volume is well suited for dipping in and out, depending on the reader’s interest and needs. Case studies come from folks at many different types of institutions and different experiences.

In many ways, this volume is a last picture of how things were before the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly shifted much of librarians’ information literacy instruction to online remote teaching. SoTL work often includes active learning pedagogies and techniques other than traditional lectures, all of which can be difficult to replicate online. It seemed almost irrelevant to review this title now that everything has changed so drastically, but in many ways things haven’t changed as much as we think they have. Students are still learning, researching, and using library resources. Librarians are still trying to create meaningful learning interactions and wanting to know if and how they work. Since SoTL provides a mechanism to ask those questions, participating in SoTL is perhaps more important now than ever.

For more on SoTL at the Librarian Parlor, check out Lauren Hays’ 2017 post introducing SoTL and my 2019 post about my first SoTL project.

About the reviewer

Nancy Lovas is the entrepreneurship and business librarian at UNC Chapel Hill, where she explores her professional interests of instruction, inclusion and equity in libraries, and critical librarianship. Her best days include a walk outside and a strong cup of tea. Find Nancy writing about business librarianship at the BizLibratory blog and on Twitter @entrebuslibnc.


Featured image by Mahendra Kumar, via Unsplash


Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The expressions of the writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own

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