Book Reviews

Michelle Reale. Becoming a Reflective Librarian and Teacher: Strategies for Mindful Academic Practice. Chicago, Ill.: ALA Editions, 2017. 144p. Paper, $57.00 (ISBN-13: 978-0-8389-1529-5).

The purpose of Michelle Reale’s book is to “serve as a friendly and informative guide, which is not intended to be exhaustive but instead to start the journey toward reflection” (xiv). Reale is an associate professor at Arcadia University. She has published books on other topics including mentoring and managing students in academic libraries and embedded librarianship. In her recent publication, Reale acknowledges that there is an abundance of detailed books describing reflective practice; however, her work is unique because it is tailored specifically to college librarians. Reale’s book is a pragmatic, well-written and accessible addition to the literature on reflection. It will serve as a practical starting point for librarians who are interested in learning about and practicing reflection.

Book cover: Becoming a Reflective Librarian and Teacher: Strategies for Mindful Academic Practice

The arrangement of the volume is logical. It contains an introduction and ten informative chapters. The book covers a range of topics including understanding the fundamentals of reflective practice, initiating reflective practice, using a journal in reflective practices, reflecting with colleagues, and reflecting in the classroom. The chapters are structured in a consistent manner. Reale begins each chapter with an overview and discussion of that section’s main theme. A section entitled “Final Thoughts” follows the main part of the chapter. In this segment, the author summarizes and presents additional ideas on the chapter’s theme. Each chapter concludes with a section entitled “Strategies.” In this section, Reale progresses from theoretical aspects to practical applications of reflection. She includes concrete steps and advice as to how to apply and implement the topic of the chapter. In addition, there is a list of references to theoretical works on reflection at the end of each chapter. These works are from a range of disciplines including education, psychology, philosophy, nursing, and management. There are also references to personal journals such as the works of Frida Kahlo and Virginia Woolf. Finally, the book contains an adequate index.

Reale’s book is comprehensible. For example, she avoids jargon and defines abstract terms. In chapter 1, she provides a useful definition of reflection in a section aptly entitled “What Is Reflection?” According to Reale, reflection “is at its very base, thinking, plain and simple.” (2) Another good example of her ability to explain terms clearly and concisely occurs in chapter 2. In this section of the book, she refers to the three types of metacognitive awareness that librarians who use reflective techniques in their classrooms need to know: declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, and conditional knowledge. Real’s ability to write clearly about the theoretical aspects of reflection makes this book a very useful launching point for librarians who are interested in learning about and practicing reflection.

In addition to being comprehensible, Reale’s book is highly informative. She packs her book with practical strategies and tips. For instance, in chapter 3, she discusses the importance of “intentionality” in reflective practice with “transformation as the goal” (22). She further contends that it is important for librarians to keep a reflective journal to understand “one’s stance and one’s own professional and pedagogical practice” (26). Subsequently, Reale recommends how to achieve these goals. For example, she counsels that potential practitioners begin the process of reflection by finding a regular time to reflect, reflecting initially on a problem, and writing down details of events immediately. Additionally, in chapter 4, she discusses how to begin keeping a reflective journal. For instance, she recommends that librarians begin the reflective writing process with a question or a problem; however, for the reflection to be transformative, the writer must “question, probe, reflect, interrogate, and respond to our thoughts, feelings, and dilemmas” (32). Furthermore, she offers further guidance by listing seven different types of journal entries that librarians can use. She also strongly recommends writing in a physical journal instead of an electronic one because the “very action of moving pen across paper encourages the excavation of thoughts” (37). Chapter 6 outlines journaling techniques including freewriting, dialogue, lists, drawing, poetry, and narrative. Finally, chapter 9 provides examples of techniques that students in information literacy classes can use for reflective writing. Reale suggests tools such as writing, searching and research logs, concept maps, in-class writing, and blogs for use in the classroom. There are many other excellent strategies and tips in the book to provide guidance to beginner practitioners.

Including the useful tips and strategies, the author’s use of personal examples to illustrate reflective practice is also one of the book’s strengths. For example, in a revealing entry from her own personal journal, Reale describes one of her unsuccessful one-shot library sessions. Students were inattentive to her instruction while she “stuttered and sputtered” and she felt she was “a waste of time” (5). She asserts that this experience forced her to examine herself and her teaching critically. As a result, she transformed her teaching methods. In another instructive personal experience, she drives home a major argument of her book that it is essential for educators to practice and understand reflection themselves if they want to give reflective assignments to students. In this example, Reale conducted a workshop for faculty who were interested in using reflective practice in their classroom. During the workshop, she asked the faculty “to take out a piece of paper” and “the room was suddenly filled with the sound of tortured groans” (14). She then asked participants to describe “a difficult teaching moment in the classroom: what happened, how they felt, what they learned from it” (14). Once the faculty had completed the assignment, she asked them how they felt about it. The faculty affirmed that “it filled them with dread” (15). When she “wondered at the practice of asking students to engage in a practice” the instructors themselves were not familiar with, the faculty agreed with her point (15). Finally, in another instance, she declares that she used the words reflection and reflective too frequently in one of her information literacy classes, which resulted in “audible sighs” and “more than a few eye rolls” from her students (96). The inclusion of her own personal experiences and journal entries gives readers a glimpse into her successes and failures, thus enhancing the authenticity of this work.

Reale’s book is full of other pragmatic information and observations. For example, she discusses the benefits of reflecting with one’s colleagues. She argues that reflecting with colleagues is a means “to improve our practice” and “discuss and challenge our own and our colleagues’ beliefs; we can stay at the level of theory; we can share our practices and experiences; …we can support one another” (83). Furthermore, Reale recognizes that not all librarians will be able to use reflective practices in their classrooms. She remarks: “I have been fortunate as an embedded librarian in a senior English thesis class each fall semester, in which I am present in every class, allowing me to be able to be able to integrate reflection as seamlessly as possible both in the class and in assignments” (94). The author accurately acknowledges that not all librarians are in a similar situation. She further recognizes that reflective practices may need to be customized for a single instruction session or they may not work at all. Finally, Reale observes that librarians must persist with professors that librarians can become more involved in the classroom, collaborate with teaching faculty to implement reflective teaching methods, and clearly explain learning strategies for reflection in information literacy classes to be successful.

Reale’s volume succeeds as an accessible and informative introduction to reflective practice. The author aptly balances theoretical foundation with practical applications. She readily shares her own experiences, both positive and negative, with readers, which makes the book both honest and genuine. She conveys her ideas with humor and humility. This book is a very good launching point for librarians eager to learn about and begin to practice reflection.—Michelle Hendley, SUNY Oneonta

Copyright Michelle Hendley

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