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portal: Libraries and the Academy 2.2 (2002) 344-345
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Information Literacy Instruction:
Theory and Practice
Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice, Esther S. Grassian and Joan R. Kaplowitz. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2001. 468 p. with companion CD-ROM. $55 (ISBN 1-55570-406-9).
In her introduction to this inaugural volume in Neal-Schuman's "Information Literacy Sourcebooks" series, Cerise Oberman writes that today is "the most challenging time ever to be an instruction librarian." Trends within both the field of education and the field of library and information science (LIS) have brought information literacy instruction (ILI) increasingly into focus as a core professional responsibility for many librarians, requiring the mastery of new skills related to "learning theory, pedagogy, technology, instructional design, politics, and management." (p. xxvii) The learning curve for librarians has been steep and, until now, there has not been a useful synthesis of the vast professional and scholarly literature related to ILI. Information Literacy Instruction attempts to fill that gap by serving both as a primer on ILI for new librarians (and librarians-in-training) and as a "support and self-education tool for the practicing instruction librarian" (p. xxii). The authors, both experienced instruction librarians and leaders in the information literacy movement of the past decade, set a high standard for their work. By and large, they are successful.
Information Literacy Instruction is divided into five sections: ILI Background (definitions and history of ILI and major professional organizations involved in promoting it); ILI Building Blocks (learning theory and styles, conceptual models, and strategies for supporting critical thinking and active learning); ILI Planning and Development (needs assessment and program planning, course design, and assessment and evaluation); ILI Delivery (teaching tips, instructional concerns related to diverse audiences, and educational technology); and, finally, The Future of ILI. Although not every section is equally well developed, each provides an overview of major and minor concerns facing the instruction librarian. Theoretical discussions of educational psychology, for example, are balanced effectively with practical discussions of the mechanics of lesson planning, along with brief introductions to a wide variety of instructional techniques. Exercises and suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter are clearly aimed at an LIS student audience, but would also prove useful for in-service training for librarians new to teaching. The text also includes a companion CD-ROM that contains an interactive exercise allowing the reader to identify potentially useful modes for ILI as well as a collection of suggestions for further reading (reproduced from the conclusion of each chapter of the printed text) with hypertext links to the full text of the suggested resources (when available). For librarians lacking a background in teaching, the snapshots of theory and practice found throughout the book should prove invaluable. Those with such a background will appreciate being able to review so many ideas in a single resource.
It is difficult for any work, however, to address fully such a wide variety of issues; some topics deserved greater consideration. The question of what "information literacy" actually means, for example, is never fully resolved. The authors begin by noting that "defining what we mean by information literacy is crucial to our task as instructors" (p. 4), but they end by concluding that "there is really no totally agreed upon and standard definition of the term." (p. 8) In practice, this may be true, but what better venue for promoting a standard definition of this troubled term? For the LIS student using this work as a [End Page 344] textbook, I can only imagine some frustration at discovering that he or she will find no concrete guidance on this crucial question. For the practicing librarian, I can imagine some exasperation at being told, yet again, that there is no workable definition of this term.
Another area that needed greater study was the relationship between ILI at the collegiate level (which is clearly the focus of this text) and information skills instruction at the K-12 level. A recent report issued by a joint committee of the Association...