Book Reviews

The Grounded Instruction Librarian: Participating in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Melissa Mallon, Lauren Hays, Cara Bradley, Rhonda Huisman, and Jackie Belanger, eds. Chicago, IL: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2019. 378p. $76.00 (ISBN 0-8389-4621-3). LC 2019943314.


Although there is not one official definition for the scholarship of teaching and learning, a basic definition is that it is the multidisciplinary study of teaching and student learning in specific contexts within higher education. The Grounded Instruction Librarian: Participating in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, edited by Melissa Mallon, Lauren Hayes, Cara Bradley, Rhonda Huisman, and Jackie Belanger, collects writings from academic librarians in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland on SoTL (as it is abbreviated in the book). The editors have research interests in teaching, learning, instruction design, and assessment, and Mallon has previously written another book on library instruction, The Pivotal Role of Academic Librarians in Digital Learning (2017).

The Grounded Instruction Librarian’s format captures the challenge and promise of this field by demonstrating its simultaneous variety and overlap and by providing a textual metric of what kind and how much of this work is being done within academic libraries. As the editors noted in their introduction, some sections have more material than others: “it is clear that many librarians have fully embraced SoTL Research and its attendant professional development opportunities, there is still much for the profession to explore in terms of signature pedagogies” (xv).

The book consists of 28 chapters organized into four sections (Pedagogical Content Knowledge/Signature Pedagogy, SoTL Theory, SoTL Research, and SoTL as Professional Development). Each section begins with a foundational chapter that provides an overview of that section’s contents and aims. The introduction to the book lays out the authors’ intentions for readers, noting in particular that, while the book is made up of many small parts, the work is meant to be taken as a whole to provide “a much richer and holistic definition and understanding of SoTL” (xiii). The chapters within each section are “in-practice” SoTL and are referred to as “case studies,” but many do not fit the template or content of actual case studies. Instead, they read more as theory or reflection. As such, there is no fixed format to the chapters themselves, a choice that makes some of the more theoretical chapters unwieldy reads.

The first and shortest section, “Pedagogical Content Knowledge/Signature Pedagogy,” discusses how different disciplines have created teaching and learning practices that mimic the work students will be expected to perform as professionals in that field and observes that a signature pedagogy has yet to emerge for information literacy. The chapters discuss how librarians have incorporated signature pedagogies from other disciplines into their library instruction to better align their teaching to the skills and expectations of different fields, as well as demonstrating how librarians have matched their methods of instruction to their content. Next, the “SoTL Theory” section highlights librarians’ efforts to explore the theoretical underpinnings of pedagogy and to understand how SoTL theory intersects with and encompasses the theories of other disciplines. The chapters pull from theories in a number of different fields to critically reflect on teaching and learning and to demonstrate the impact such reflections can have on activities, outcomes, and assessment.

The third section, “SoTL Research,” demonstrates alternative methods of assessment and study for library instruction and information literacy, seeking to encourage critical thinking rather than quantification. This section and the one that follows it offer the more practically applicable chapters of the book, presenting mostly case studies that describe collaborations, interventions, and assessment techniques arising from SoTL theory and highlighting methodologies that have allowed these librarians to gain new insights into how both they and their students conceptualize the act of learning. The recurring element of the final section, “SoTL as Professional Development,” is collaboration, as many chapters describe how this professional development is achieved outside the library and through a greater engagement with higher education in general. Many feature librarians participating in campuswide SoTL communities and taking a more active role in SoTL conversations in their libraries and at their institutions. This section is an appropriate sendoff for the book, offering readers strategies and ideas for how to incorporate SoTL into their professional life as well as demonstrating the benefits this process can have for individuals and institutions.

For better and for worse, the book is truly a textual representation of SoTL in academic libraries. Readers who are frustrated by SoTL’s lack of concrete definition and tendency toward the ponderous will find this book a challenging read. It provides few concrete answers or solutions, and it resists easy practical application. Neither the broad overlapping structure of the sections nor even the chapter titles (which are sometimes opaque) lend themselves to a pick-and-choose reading. The theories and methodologies span disciplines and fields, and one true definition of SoTL for academic librarians is never reached. However, the book does what SoTL sets out to do: it prompts critical reflection on practice, it encourages new ways of considering the act of teaching and the process of learning, and it exposes the reader to pedagogies and theories beyond their immediate field while urging them to question their assumptions and philosophies. The Grounded Instruction Librarian serves as both an introduction to SoTL for academic librarians new to the concept and as a snapshot of SoTL in academic libraries today that captures both its achievements and its opportunities.—Susan Vandagriff, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

Copyright Susan Vandagriff

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