Book Reviews

Amanda Nichols Hess. Transforming Academic Library Instruction: Shifting Teaching Practices to Reflect Changed Perspectives. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018. 195p. Paper, $41.00 (ISBN 978-1-5381-1053-9). LCCN 2018-018795.

Book cover for Transforming Academic Library Instruction: Shifting Teaching Practices to Reflect Changed Perspectives

The academic librarian’s evolving teaching identity is the subject of exploration in Transforming Academic Library Instruction: Shifting Teaching Practices to Reflect Changed Perspectives. As a librarian and instructional design expert who also recently served as chair of ACRL’s Information Literacy Frameworks and Standards Committee, Dr. Nichols Hess has a uniquely broad view of the ways in which our expectations of academic librarian instruction are changing as long-held standards are rejected in favor of frameworks and the rigors of traditional standards and practices are exchanged in favor of more fluid information literacy–based learning objectives.

She asks us to consider the impact that shifting our teaching perspectives to fit the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education might have had on our identities as instructors within the larger structures of academic learning and instructional roles. Using Jack Mezirow’s transformative learning theory, she has interrogated the extent to which we may be allowing ourselves to change as we seek to change our methods and perspectives surrounding instruction. Her work on this topic includes the results from a survey of 500 academic librarians and the focused interviews of several responders to better illustrate the process of transformation and to gain insight into the sources that librarians are seeking to support themselves through that process.

Though the theory of transformative learning may be unfamiliar to those without a pedagogical background in adult education, the concept of using methods like reflection and discussion to internalize knowledge should be familiar enough to most to provide a basic understanding of the theory’s usefulness and uses in her general address. Other aspects of transformative learning such as the formal structure of the ten phases and the concept of a disorienting dilemma as a catalyst for transformation may not be so easily assimilated, but she is careful to focus on the practical applications more than the theoretical implications to reach her audience.

As Nichols Hess and indeed many of the survey responders acknowledge, the process of transformation and development is a more constant, accretionary, and iterative ordeal than the transformative learning theory could hope to fully address in this brief introduction. So, if the premise of her assertions feels forced in regard to the phase structure, or intentionally passing in its brief mention of dissents, the reader’s unfamiliarity may be only partially to blame for those perceived oversights. However, even if the nuances of learning theory are new territory for the reader, the author’s observations may still be appreciated through the applied examples of the survey’s interviews that she intersperses throughout the text.

Their lived experiences of transformation, along with the inclusion of a variety of simple but effective visual aids, help to frame her argument that as educators we are being transformed internally even as we purposefully transform our methods externally through our instruction practices. We respond, we reflect, we make ourselves better by striving to make our class experiences better. The periodic “key takeaways” sections in each chapter that summarize these concepts more familiarly in the context of the academic library and offer practical ideas for implementation serve to further assist the reader in the comprehension and application of the transformative learning theory.

The takeaways are also useful for addressing the different levels of academic librarianship that would benefit from engaging more fully with the text and broader learning theory. Interestingly, Nichols Hess separates the takeaway sections into those for librarians and those for leaders. While the advice for librarians is often meant to be implemented personally, the takeaways for leaders are more geared toward facilitating or supporting transformation in others, typically read as mentees or librarians under the leader’s supervision.

The questions included in the survey she draws from are particularly effective at probing the responder’s attitudes toward reflection and discourse in the learning process but also seek to identify the occasion and nature of transformation. Though the discussions we encounter at conferences, webinars, and perhaps even the interminable listservs are significant in the dilemma phase, the survey results revealed that most academic librarians are influenced more readily by their experiences and responses to the discourse they are engaging in with the students they teach. Adapting teaching methods and adopting new teaching identities in response to the needs of their students and the expectations of their faculty.

For many in academic libraries, ACRL’s adoption of the framework was seen as the long-awaited sea change that would transform library instruction and ensure its continued relevance for a new generation of librarians. Amanda Nichols Hess’s work with transformative learning theory reveals a more dynamic and diverse landscape of transformation taking place in the journeys of those same librarians that is far more likely to be initiated by a change in leadership or classroom experience than by the adoption of a theory or implementation of a framework. These shifts in mentality, professional views, and instructional practices are allowed to take hold in the identity of the librarian as an educator precisely because they so willingly engage in those activities such as reflection and independent research that, according to transformative learning theory, might encourage the mundane transformations of academic library life to reach the core and spur that growth from within.—Jenn Stayton, University of North Texas

Copyright Jenn Stayton

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