Book Reviews

Peer-Assisted Learning in Academic Libraries. Erin Rinto, John Watts, and Rosan Mitola, eds. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited, an Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2017. 220p. Paper, $65.00 (ISBN 978-1440846885).

Peer-Assisted Learning in Academic Libraries attempts to survey the variety of forms that peer-assisted learning can take within academic libraries. Librarians involved in reference, instruction, and outreach within academic libraries and who are looking to make an impact on undergraduate student learning will be interested in this text. Specifically, this title is recommended for those librarians who are interested in building or improving peer-to-peer learning in their libraries. The authors have broken the examples and institutions’ programs into three separate categories: information literacy instruction, cocurricular outreach, and reference services, even though many peer programs in the text do not fit neatly into these categories. The value in this book is the breadth of examples; simply by scanning the pages, readers can generate ideas for their own peer programs, similar to reading a literature review on this topic. Some chapters include materials for recruitment and training within the programs; while this is not a large part of the book, it can help guide librarians in developing their own programs.

Book cover for Peer-Assisted Learning in Academic Libraries

The editors of this book all work within outreach or instructional services at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which has its own Undergraduate Peer Research Coach Program. In the introduction, the editors offer both an explanation of peer learning and education and an argument for its inclusion in academic libraries. They first define peer-assisted learning and then review the literature related to this topic. The editors also examine the learning theory behind peer-assisted learning and focus on peer-assistance within the three types of services that the chapters are organized by—instruction, outreach, and reference—as well as the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges that are faced in starting and continuing such programs. The remainder of the introduction argues that peer-assisted learning in libraries benefits students and librarians. While peer-assistance is not listed as a high-impact practice, the editors relate it to the six characteristics of high-impact practices by using quotes from their own peer coaches and making connections to the chapters that follow.

The remainder of the book is made up of chapters that describe different ways in which peer-assisted learning can happen in academic libraries. Just as the programs for peer learning are different, so are the methods of recruiting, training, mentoring, and continuing to educate students. The majority of the programs occurred in libraries and were facilitated by librarians, though there are a few examples of librarians mentoring peer educators who were outside the library or employed by a different unit. In the cases where peer-assisted learning was happening in student spaces, such as dormitories or academic centers on campus, authors implied that peer educators had greater acceptance within the space than a librarian would. Even within the library walls, most authors noted that the presence of a peer educator often lessens anxiety or reluctance for students to seek help.

Other interesting themes emerged in the examples, such as the importance librarians placed on the learning that peer educators or leaders were doing while helping other students (their peers). It was interesting to note that some librarians placed as much or sometimes more emphasis on the education that peer leaders were receiving, so it can be presumed that these programs were not just about offering services to students. Education obviously took place in training, but it is also interesting to note that librarians reported student workers were learning from teaching the material to others as well. Peer educators were learning about libraries and research, but also how to be an effective teacher, work with others, communicate, and function in a workplace, all skills that are transferrable to other environments and valuable to employers. Many librarians reflected that they were also able to learn from the peer educators by observing firsthand how students approached research and library tools, then explaining library and research skills to their peers. In most cases, librarians assessed what the peer educators learned as well as the effectiveness of the services peer educators were offering students.

While the examples of peer-assisted learning in this text are helpful, there is no clear path for a librarian to follow to develop his or her own program, mostly because, as one can see throughout the book, there is no one path to follow. Librarians can easily draw inspiration from Peer-Assisted Learning in Academic Libraries, but it is up to them to create programs that will be good fits for their campus environments. As a librarian who is interested in creating a program for peer-assistance, this book was exactly what I needed to begin to consider how to create this type of program at my university.—Elise Ferer, Drexel University

Copyright Elise Ferer

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