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Book Reviews

Disciplinary Applications of Information Literacy Threshold Concepts. Samantha Godbey, Susan Beth Wainscott, and Xan Goodman, eds., for the Association of Research Libraries. Chicago: American Library Association, 2017. 368p. Paper, $72.00 (ISBN 978-0-8389-8970-8).

Book cover for Disciplinary Applications of Information Literacy Threshold Concepts

Approaches to student learning and information literacy continue to evolve. Threshold concepts in information literacy (IL) are a relatively new way of critically considering the learning that students do. The editors note in their introduction that “threshold concepts are currently defined by the following characteristics: transformative, integrative, irreversible, bounded, and troublesome” and include a discussion of what each defining characteristic means. The ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, introduced in 2015, is based in part on the idea of threshold concepts, and each frame was developed with threshold concepts in mind. The discussion of what constitutes an information literacy threshold concept has been an important part of a larger conversation of how to approach the use of the ACRL Framework. This book strives to address some of the questions surrounding information literacy threshold concepts within specific disciplines with the ultimate goal of improving student-learning experiences in impactful ways.

Edited by Samantha Godbey, Susan Beth Wainscott, and Xan Goodman, Disciplinary Applications of Information Literacy Threshold Concepts presents short essays written by academic liaison librarians. These essays include a brief background on the discipline and a discussion of how the authors have come to approach IL instruction within each discipline using various identified threshold concepts. All essays include some theoretical background on the emergence of threshold concepts, and a discussion of the authors’ decision to use particular frames from ACRL Framework as IL threshold concepts. Importantly, the book includes a wide range of disciplines with chapters covering the humanities, physical and social sciences, and the health sciences. Chapters offer detailed looks at librarians’ work with IL instruction in academic settings and thoughtfully discuss each authors’ experience with incorporating IL threshold concepts in their instruction. Descriptions of learning activities are provided within the text of each chapter. However, only a few include example worksheets or other in-class material. All chapters include robust reference lists for further reading.

Disciplinary Applications of Information Literacy Threshold Concepts is a longer volume, at 368 pages, and is split across six sections and 25 chapters. Interestingly, the six sections of the book are aligned with the six frames from the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education even though the title of the book refers to threshold concepts as a whole. The editors note that this was a deliberate act on their part to encourage both chapter authors and readers to focus on threshold concepts themselves rather than defined frames or concepts prescribed by ACRL. It should be noted, however, that most chapters use a specific Frame as an information literacy threshold concept that they address with some form of library instruction. Moreover, the book itself is split into sections based on the six frames of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. While some chapter authors identify threshold concepts within specific disciplines that the authors are trying to address with IL instruction, most explore the concept of using the frames from the ACRL Framework as threshold concepts, an application that is not in line with the identified intentions of both this book and the ACRL Framework.

One flaw with this book is the lack of worksheets, in-class material, or other example documents that librarians have used in their work. Chapters are very text-heavy and refer to materials or worksheets used in class; yet, in most chapters, these materials are not available for readers to reference. However, each chapter is very descriptive of both the instructional context and in-classroom work, so readers will still be able to understand how each threshold concept is being used in that discipline. For example, one chapter covers the use of the frame, Research as Inquiry, as a threshold concept for information literacy in an education classroom by aligning that threshold concept with action and practitioner research assignments.

This book does provide great examples of discipline-specific applications of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education in various information literacy instruction settings across a wide variety of institutions and disciplines. It will be a helpful resource for academic library liaisons to read as they work through discipline-specific instruction using the ACRL Framework. Because of the disciplinary nature of this book’s content, each chapter reads like a standalone essay, including a discussion of underlying theory and rationale for instruction choices, making it ideal for subject liaisons to read a single chapter of this edited volume and still come away with useful material. The experiences within each chapter will be of benefit to librarians conducting liaison work that includes information literacy instruction whether they have been working in this area for some time or just beginning to approach IL instruction.—Alexandra Hauser, Michigan State University

Copyright Alexandra Hauser


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