Book Reviews

Andrea Baer. Information Literacy and Writing Studies in Conversation: Reenvisioning Library-Writing Program Connections. Sacramento, Calif.: Library Juice Press, 2016. 202p. Paper, $28.00 (ISBN 978-1-63400-021-5). LC 2016031944.

Book cover for Information Literacy and Writing Studies in Conversation: Reenvisioning Library-Writing Program Connections.

Information literacy and composition are two areas of intensifying instructional focus in higher education today, especially since the adoption of the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing by the Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA) in 2011 and the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education by the ACRL in 2015. Information Literacy and Writing Studies in Conversation presents a thoughtful and concise discussion of the history and institutional structures that have shaped how both composition and information literacy are taught at the university level with particular focus on the opportunities for collaboration presented by the similarly theorized frameworks. Currently Instructional Services Librarian at the University of West Georgia, Andrea Baer’s perspective on these two disciplines is also informed by her doctoral studies in comparative literature and her experience teaching English and composition. Baer’s numerous publications and presentations on the pedagogy of information literacy, the intersection of composition and information literacy, and the instructional implications of the ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education make her voice an important one in the growing body of work on the potential for partnerships between librarians and writing program faculty. With its succinct analysis of both opportunities and obstacles to collaboration, and its plentiful references suggesting areas for further exploration, the book is particularly useful for instruction librarians and writing program faculty currently looking for ways to enrich current instructional offerings and expand beyond traditional one-shot library sessions.

Much of Baer’s slim volume presents a discussion of the literature on student learning, pedagogy, and institutional structures that one could claim has strongly influenced the development of the Frameworks of both the WPA and the ACRL. Aside from the introduction and brief conclusion, the book is divided into four chapters examining studies of students as writers and researchers, on the WPA and ACRL Frameworks, on current collaborations between librarians and writing program instructors, and on the interpersonal and institutional contexts that shape collaborations. Drawing on decades of pedagogical theory and studies, Baer argues convincingly that the acquisition of mechanical skills that has been the focus of instruction in both information literacy and composition programs does students a disservice and also exacerbates power dynamics in academia that can render true collaboration between librarians and faculty difficult.

Given Baer’s already notable history teaching and writing about the ACRL Framework, it is hardly surprising that it would play an important role in her book. The third chapter is devoted to a discussion of the ways that the WPA and ACRL Frameworks align, and both documents come up frequently in earlier chapters as well. Since the ACRL Framework is still a contentious topic among instruction librarians, this discussion is both timely and useful. Baer focuses on the interconnections between the two frameworks and demonstrates how the language of the documents themselves opens up both theoretical and practical possibilities for cooperation. The book’s focus on the historico-structural contexts of the Frameworks, and of information literacy and writing instruction more generally, could benefit newer librarians and instructors by explaining concisely how we have gotten to where we are in the teaching of these subjects. Library school students, particularly those interested in instructional design, could also derive value from Baer’s analysis of the Frameworks and of current practices of and expectations for information literacy instruction. Of particular interest are Baer’s discussions of the literature on skills transfer, learning dispositions, and knowledge construction, since these are areas of much current scholarly focus.

The fourth chapter of the book, “Composition-Library Collaborations: Notes from the Fields,” is based on Baer’s interviews with librarians and writing program faculty who have developed successful partnerships at their institutions. This chapter does provide concrete examples of different ways that collaboration between libraries and writing programs can work, but it is nevertheless somewhat light on practical suggestions. Instead, Baer focuses more on the evolution of these librarian-compositionist partnerships and on an analysis of the institutional contexts in which they came to fruition. The fact that much of the book deals with theory rather than practice does not detract from its usefulness, however. On the contrary, Baer’s thoughtful investigation of the assumptions and perspectives that have shaped writing and information literacy instruction highlights the work still necessary if we want to transform instructional programs. The conceptual approach Baer uses to examine information literacy and writing studies also adds complexity and nuance to areas of instruction that are often seen as mechanical and procedural. In addition, the sections discussing actual collaborative programs show the variety of approaches possible, emphasizing the fact that no one specific set of institutional circumstances is required. Instead, the common factors in most successful partnerships are, unsurprisingly, a desire for collaboration on the part of librarians and compositionists and institutional support for that collaboration.

Baer’s penultimate chapter tackles the more sensitive topic of the marginalization of both writing and information literacy instruction in higher education. With a growing interest in the deficits many adults have in various areas of literacy—digital literacy, data literacy, and media literacy, to name only a few currently discussed—we can hope that this marginalization is in the process of changing. As many universities adopt information literacy initiatives, work such as Baer’s drawing attention to the ways that institutional cultures and structures create impediments to cross-disciplinary and cross-campus collaboration becomes important, giving weight to arguments for better institutional support of new teaching practices. Baer’s references to older works make it clear that both librarians and compositionists have been aware of these obstacles and have been interested in overcoming them for quite a while. Nevertheless, she seems to suggest that, with the increased interest in various literacies and the adoption of the WPA and ACRL Frameworks, the circumstances may finally be right for changing some of the “paradigmatic assumptions” and power dynamics that have dogged partnerships over the years (155).

One of the most important features of Baer’s book is not really that it brings information literacy and writing studies into conversation with each other, but rather that it demonstrates that, by their very nature, these disciplines are already dialogic and inextricable. In her conclusion, Baer encourages discussions and collaborations that have the potential to truly transform the way information literacy and writing are taught in universities by recognizing their dialogic character. She also suggests multiple approaches to building partnerships that take advantage of the intertwined nature of these disciplines. Finally, the bibliography provides a comprehensive list for further reading and could inform the design of professional development courses on collaborative teaching. Well-organized, compact, and informative, Information Literacy and Writing Studies in Conversation offers much of value to teaching librarians, writing instructors, and instructional designers.—Melissa Anderson, Southern Oregon University

Copyright Melissa Anderson

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