Book Reviews

Information Literacy and Theological Librarianship: Theory and Praxis. Bobby Smiley, ed. Chicago, IL: Atla Open Press, an imprint of the American Theological Library Association, 2019. 189p. Paper, $35.00 (ISBN: 978-1-949800-01-2).

Book cover: Information Literacy and Theological Librarianship: Theory and Praxis

It is easy to think that, since a book may focus on a particular topic, it means that it is not useful beyond those in that field. That is not the case when it comes to American Theological Library Association’s new edited publication Information Literacy and Theological Librarianship. Bobby Smiley, editor and librarian at Vanderbilt University’s Divinity Library, has pulled together authors whose chapters can easily serve both theological librarians and information literacy and instruction librarians. The latter group will find useful information that can be tailored to their needs. The subject-level perspective also provides a lens that can help in approaching other fields. All of the chapter authors are affiliated with a range of different theological libraries at colleges, universities, and seminaries.

The book is divided into two parts. The first four chapters comprise the theory section, and the other five chapters cover praxis. Each section can stand alone if the reader prefers just theory or praxis. Of the two, the theory chapters can be a little more challenging to read, yet they can also be the most rewarding. They do a very good job of approaching the concept of information literacy and its application to theological education and information. Each chapter takes a different angle including looking at unique target populations. Reading all four of them will provide the reader with a complete picture. Even though the first chapter may feel like it is more praxis oriented, the reading and writing approach to the chapter seems to be the best way to set up the next chapter, which looks at the sources of theological information.

The praxis chapters, like the theory chapters, work well together. Authors in each of these chapters relay to the reader their experiences around information literacy and course creation. Chapter 5, which starts this section, starts out feeling like it is more theory, as the author explores the information around curriculum mapping. It is this journey of discovery and the application of curriculum mapping to information literacy to support research and instruction that makes the chapter very dynamic. Two more chapters look at course and lab construction. These are honest writings of the authors’ experiences. Within them, the reader will find out what worked and where the challenges were. This will feel like familiar ground especially as it is presented in chapter 7. The book ends with chapters covering other appropriate topics. One looks at applying information literacy to the importance of primary source material that can be found in archives and special collections. The last chapter takes assessment into consideration as the authors seek to build out a policy that will help build information literacy habits within the curriculum. The book began with an introduction that helped to frame the book and pull the information together. Some readers may find at the end that a concluding chapter by the editor could have been useful to talk about future challenges or the way forward, although this would be less important if the reader is interested in just a few of these well-written chapters.

At the end of each chapter, the reader will find both a bibliography and a set of end notes. Since the reader may want to follow up on a point, this format will require the reader to first go to the note, and then to the bibliography. It can seem redundant until you find those notes that add something extra. Two of the praxis chapters (and one of the theory chapters) also provide appendices that showcase different syllabi, policies, and rubrics related to the corresponding chapters. Other chapters’ authors chose to incorporate useful tables and images into the text.

I think that it is very important to mention that this book was published as an open press title via Atla. That means you can download the open access book as a pdf or epub. You can download single chapters as well. The chapter page numbers are identical to what is in the whole book. You can also support the organization by paying $35 to get a print on demand version through Amazon. This is advantageous, as it allows a reader who may be interested only in the theory part or the praxis part to use just what they need. The reader will find that some of the images in the chapters can be difficult to read unless you go to the open access pdf version of the chapter. For example, in chapter 5, there are two images that are far more useful in the pdf version because some of the text is in green, and the printed version does not pick it up. Also, the reader can zoom in to read the smaller text. The red notations in an image in chapter 6 also stand out in the downloaded pdf of the chapter. URLs included in the text of the chapters or in the bibliographies are also linked in the pdf version, which makes them very easy to use.

This book, edited by Smiley, stays true to its title, doing a very good job of including only what is needed. All of the chapters work well together, and the theory section lays the stage for the praxis section. In addition to librarians who work at an institution that is a seminary, or has a theological program, this book will be useful to those who do instruction. The information and tools provided can easily be adapted to support information literacy in a range of fields.—Mark Shelton, College of the Holy Cross

Copyright Mark Shelton

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