v32#2 Reader’s Roundup: Monographic Musings & Reference Reviews

by | May 11, 2020 | 0 comments

Column Editor:  Corey Seeman  (Director, Kresge Library Services, Stephen M. Ross
School of Business, University of Michigan;  Phone: 734-764-9969)    Twitter @cseeman

Column Editor’s Note:  For many of us academic librarians, our work in this modern age tends to follow us wherever we go.  We have access to email at work, at home, on our phone, on vacation, in the shower… well, not really there.  But the whole notion of a dividing line between the work that we do and where we do it has gone away.  As I have a completely digital collection that we manage at my library, I can be effective from just about anywhere.  

As has been the practice in my own life, I normally dedicate weekend or evening time to managing the compilation of these reviews from my crack team of reviewers.  The management and coordination (and shipping of books) is the thing that I do in the office.  So if we fast forward to our current difficult times of COVID-19 and just about everyone who can work remotely, will, we see a great deal about the future of work and the future of the library.  Par for the course, I am working on this at my kitchen table.  I am coordinating this work remotely via email.  

The pandemic we are currently living through will fundamentally change our libraries.  Just as COVID-19 preys on people in our communities who are the least healthy, I expect that some of our institutions, including publishers, businesses and academic institutions, will not survive this ordeal.  But I also expect that some of the constraints about publishing will come into question.  Why are some books not available for libraries to purchase electronically?  We have heard the justifications before (course adoption texts and textbooks in particular), but what if you cannot get to physical objects as is generally the case now?  What is the value in investing millions dollars in works that require you to physically be in the same room as the work?  For a long time, we have lived in a hybrid model of the future of libraries and the past each playing a role.  I just realized that even my reviewer ratings are focused on a library world that does not exist right now.  It is high time that we make more books fully available electronically for libraries to purchase and share with their communities.  Let’s figure this out before COVID-20 or 21 shuts us down again.

Thanks to my great reviewers for getting items for this column.  I have five first time reviewers for this column:  Kathleen Baril, Presley Dyer, Jessica Hagman, Tiffany Norris and longtime colleague Janet Crum.  If you would like to be a reviewer for Against the Grain (and I can ever get back into my office), please write me at [email protected].  If you are a publisher and have a book you would like to see reviewed in a future column, please also write me directly.  

Be safe, be well, take care of others, be a helper… and happy reading and be nutty! — CS

Dawson, HeatherA-Z Common Reference Questions for Academic Librarians.  London: Facet Publishing, 2020.  9781783304110, 370 pages.  $79.99


Reviewed by Tiffany Norris  (Associate Library Director of Research Services, University of Texas at Dallas) 

When some library patrons ask reference questions, entry-level librarians often experience the proverbial “deer in the headlights” moments, especially when staffing a traditional reference or information desk out in the public.  Those moments can induce panic and pressure to get the appropriate answer in a short amount of time.  What if you don’t know where to turn?  Author Heather Dawson has set out to provide a path for librarians to help navigate those moments.  While patrons might ask fewer fact-based questions these days (i.e., “What is the capital of Latvia?”), they are still asking questions (i.e., “Can you help me find GIS data about Latvia?”).  Depending on the librarian’s subject expertise, these questions can prove challenging to entry-level and seasoned librarians alike. 

Author Heather Dawson is an Academic Support Librarian at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  She provides library instruction and assists students and faculty in using library resources.  This work is an update to her 2011 book Know It All, Find it Fast for Academic Libraries and incorporates more current information on quickly evolving topics such as data mining, bibliometrics, and LGBT studies.

Dawson’s book covers a broad range of over 100 general subject areas including computer science, management, news resources, engineering, and data visualization.  Each subject covered in this book includes examples of typical questions, starting points for librarians, key organizations to be aware of, study guides, and recommended resources.  It offers a quick summary of reputable and accessible resources on each topic (though not all the resources are free of charge). 

Geared towards academic libraries, the examples in this work are mostly research-oriented.  For instance, in the Medicine and Nursing section, one of the example questions is “Does the NHS have any guidelines on treatment for diabetes?”  (NOTE: You see NHS a great deal via Twitter for grateful UK residents fighting COVID-19).  It also has sections related to assisting doctoral students and early career researchers, careers and employability, and research methods that are all geared toward working with students in higher education. 

It was particularly encouraging to see nuggets of information evaluation worked in throughout the book.  For example, “When using Wikipedia entries, always advise exploring the linked references to consult the original source.”  Practical advice for operating in higher education is also included.  “Library staff can provide general advice about the range of [research] methods, but the ultimate choice should be made in conjunction with academic staff.”  It is the kind of book that would also be useful for skimming during slower times at the reference desk as librarians seek to familiarize themselves with a variety of general resources and internalize the answers to provide more timely responses to patrons.

The book definitely comes from the perspective of someone working in the United Kingdom, and many of the recommended resources are British-based.  However, it is still broad enough to be useful to librarians in other countries who are seeking introductory information on a variety of topics.  Also, it is helpful to have so many topics contained in one book.  Librarians would likely be able to find this information from a variety of sources on a case-by-case scenario, but there is something useful about having it collected and available on the Ready Reference shelf. 

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)

De Abreu, Belinha S.  Teaching Media Literacy, Second Edition.  Chicago: ALA Neal-Schuman, 2019.  9780838917213.  264 pages.  $54.99

Reviewed by Jessica Hagman  (Social Sciences Research Librarian, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)   

Belinha S. De Abreu’s new edition of Teaching Media Literacy offers school librarians and K-12 teachers a conceptual introduction to media literacy instruction and activities that can be adapted in the library or classroom.  Teaching Media Literacy joins De Abreu’s several previous works on media literacy and education, including a co-edited volume on the theory and pedagogy of media literacy.

Belinha De Abreu’s extensive experience with media literacy education and research (as founder of the International Media Literacy Research Symposium and expert advisor to UNESCO’s Forum on Media & Information Literacy) is evident in the first part of the book.  Part I features chapters on media literacy and related concepts, such as information literacy, misinformation, and digital literacy.  These early chapters, coupled with the chronology of media literacy, list of movies and TV shows about the media, and list of media literacy resources in the appendices offer those new to teaching media literacy a strong foundation from which to work.  The description of several theories of digital learning and technology in chapter seven, for example, provides an introductory insight into ways of thinking about technology beyond the immediate affordances and applications and towards a reflective view of technology in education. 

Each chapter in Part I is accompanied by a reflection essay written by practitioners elaborating on that chapter’s concept and application in their own work.  One example is for the chapter on digital literacy and the reflection essay by elementary educator Emily Soler.  She makes one of the few explicit links to elementary education in the book and describes how technology allows first graders to take their book reviews beyond handwritten essays to audio reviews that can be shared in the library catalog.  Teachers of older students will likely appreciate Jimmeka Anderson’s reflection essay on equity and equality, which advises a discussion of media conglomeration and cultural representation. 

While the book is meant to be a practical guide, there are some broad claims about the nature of the information environment and how young people consume information that would benefit from greater engagement with the growing body of knowledge about the ways in which youth engage with digital content.  Teens are said to be lacking “real knowledge” (p. 44) about how social media networks work and as “forgoing their privacy” (p.48) for the sake of social connection with little thought of the consequences.  The Internet is described as eliminating “thought processes that enable us to separate objective facts from biased ideas and misinformation” (p. 29) and the rise of social media is blamed for the loss of “our natural ability to communicate and socialize as a community” (p. 98, in the reflection essay by Michael Godbout).  Claims like these have the potential to position students as without agency and failing to engage in any sort of critical thought about media until intervention comes at school or the library.  

In Part II, De Abreu provides readers with a series of lessons and activity plans that are “ready-to-teach.” The formats offered in this edition mirror those from the first edition: television, movies, photography and images, music and radio, advertising, and media production and other digital technologies.  Social media receives little mention here, despite attention paid to changes in the information environment throughout the first section.  Some lessons seem to be out of touch with modern media consumption habits.  The lesson on television, for example, asks students to watch a news broadcast and list the top stories.  This approach runs counter to the move toward news consumption via short clips shared on social media, a trend mentioned in the earlier chapter on social justice and advocacy. 

Overall, the book offers a solid framework for understanding media literacy and its related issues that will be of value to school librarians and teachers new to the concept or who need to make the case for teaching media literacy to skeptical colleagues or parents. 

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this available somewhere in my shared network.  (I probably do not need this book, but it would be nice to get it within three to five days via my network catalog.)

Goodman, Amanda L.  Marketing Plans in Action: A Step-by-Step Guide for Libraries, Archives, and Cultural Organizations.  Chicago, IL: ALA Editions, 2019.  978-0-8389-1812-8.  194 p.  $59.99.

Reviewed by Janet Crum  (Head, Content, Discovery & Delivery Services, Cline Library, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona) 

As competition for funding and user attention grows tighter, marketing becomes more and more essential for all types of libraries.  Libraries must promote their collections, services, and programs to target audiences — and they must do so in an information-rich environment in which user attention is a scarce commodity.  We find that the user’s attention is often fragmented by and drawn to slick, professional pitches and always-on entertainment options.  Meanwhile, most librarians lack formal training in marketing, and librarians in smaller libraries are often asked to take on marketing responsibilities on top of an already-full plate of work.  To be successful under these conditions, many of us need clear, practical instructions for library marketing — and that’s just what Goodman delivers in this book. 

Amanda Goodman serves as the publicity manager at Darien Library, a leading public library in Connecticut.  Among her many writing credits are The Comparative Guide to WordPress in Libraries: A LITA Guide and an issue of Library Technology Reports entitled, “Digital Media Labs in Libraries.”  The book consists of 72 short guides that provide two varieties: practical step-by-step tutorials and concept explanations.  The tutorials follow a similar structure: Your Goal, Difficulty Level, Time, Cost, What You Need to Start, Tools, Steps, Tips, and Watch Out (cautions).  Concept explanations vary in length and structure, but all present concepts in a way that is clear and understandable to readers with no background in marketing. 

To illustrate this structure, let’s look at Guide 41: Simple Surveys.  In it, Goodman walks the reader through creating a simple paper survey to administer on the spot in the library, along with instructions for creating an online survey.  Her coverage of the topic focuses on the basics only: identifying what you want to know, creating a short survey, getting feedback from colleagues, and creating the instrument itself.  Two additional sections address what the author calls “guerilla surveys” (quick surveys conducted in person by approaching users in the library) and online surveys.  Again, there is little depth, and the focus is entirely practical: bring two pencils in case one breaks, practice an elevator speech for approaching users, provide a token of thanks, etc.  But for staff in a small library with little training, experience, or budget, this approach makes sense.  For the reader, the barrier to entry is low and the advice is practical and actionable. 

Goodman’s approach in the other guides is similar: simple, practical approaches that cost little and can be carried out without specialized tools or training.  These guides are divided by broad topic into ten chapters including: “Getting Started” (an overall introduction to marketing), “Learn About Your Organization” (getting buy-in, job scope, branding);  “Get Notified of Marketing Requests” (setting up systems to take in requests);  among others.

Marketing professionals in large libraries may need more depth and professional-grade information, but those of us who are tossed into marketing without prior experience or who must do marketing on top of other tasks will reach for this book over and over.  Many examples are centered on public libraries but could be adapted easily to other settings. 

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this on my desk.  (This book is so valuable, that I want my own copy at my desk that I will share with no one.)

Martin, JasonLibrary Leadership Your Way.  Chicago: ALA Editions, 2019.  9780838979057, 79 pages.  $44.99

Reviewed by Kathleen Baril  (Director, Heterick Memorial Library, Ohio Northern University, Ada, OH) 

For many librarians, leadership and management positions are not the first roles that they assume in the profession.  Library leaders, as in many professions, usually start in entry level roles before pursuing advancement into leadership.  Although many graduate programs in library science require a management course, by the time an individual is ready to apply those skills, the content of said course may be long forgotten or irrelevant.  For these individuals, Library Leadership Your Way is a great way to explore your own personal leadership style as well as to review some basic management principles.  

Author Jason Martin is currently the associate dean of the James E. Walter Library at Middle Tennessee State University where he oversees library assessment and professional development.  In addition to his MLS, he also holds an EdD in educational leadership and has published numerous articles on leadership in libraries. 

Unlike most literature in this area, this book engages readers in active explorations of their own leadership styles and encompasses many aspects of leadership.  Written in a workbook style with questions and space to record notes, Jason Martin guides readers through the various areas of leadership that they will encounter.  Each chapter presents different facets of leadership and then has the reader reflect upon the short readings by answering questions.  For example, the first chapter begins with a brief definition of leadership and then prompts the reader to write their own definition.  The chapter goes on to provide a concise explanation of the theory of leadership, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of leadership, and an explanation of each individual’s unique selling proposition as a leader.  Martin’s structure as a workbook encourages the reader to record their own personal views throughout.  For example, readers are encouraged to provide their own theory of leadership and answer several questions to complete their own personal SWOT analysis.  

Subsequent chapters cover leadership, followership and organizational culture, how to lead yourself, how to lead others and how to develop a leadership practice.  When applicable, Martin provides brief introductions to leadership and management theories and topics to provide the reader with additional context to answer the questions posed throughout the text — most notably in the fourth chapter on leading others.  

The interactive format of this slim volume may not be for everyone but works well for the reader who wants guidance about whether they should enter the library management and leadership field or for the reader who wants to explore their own personal leadership style.  In some ways, this book reminded me of some of Meghan Oakleaf’s works on assessment that incorporate active thinking, reflection and even action items which are great for practitioners versus some books which provide loads of theory but not many ways to apply that theory to your everyday work.  

This book would work best for those at the beginning of their library leadership journey, either to determine if leadership is for them or to form their leadership philosophy.  For those readers looking to explore leadership and management theories deeply, it would be better to pursue other resources.  Overall, a good resource to add to the library management and leadership collection for new leaders.  

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)

Wyckoff, Claire, ed.  Opinions Throughout History: Social Media Issues.  Amenia, NY: Grey House Publishing, 2019.  9781642650648, 951 pages.  $195.00

Reviewed by: Presley Dyer  (Catalog Librarian, Tennessee State University Libraries) 

If asked to define 21st century culture, one might likely mention digitalization and social media as being the key aspects.  Social media has become a pivotal part of our lives as it provides (for better and worse) a new form of communication for Americans and the world at large.  Just like the telephone, radio, and television before it, social media has established a new medium for connecting and informing, which has created exciting new opportunities; however, with optimism, comes concern.  What started as a method to communicate and share with friends, such as Facebook, has now turned into platform for identity theft, hate speech, and an instrument for terrorism.  Such issues are just a few of many, which get highlighted in Opinions Throughout History: Social Media Issues. 

Social Media Issues is the sixth volume of Grey House Publishing’s series, Opinions Throughout History, which is “designed to follow the evolution of public opinion on a current, controversial topic as it has changed throughout history.”  Author Claire Wyckoff is a former publisher, writer, and executive coach, specializing in media and technology.  While many studies simply focus on the technologies of the new millennium, Wyckoff has created a reference tool that has taken the social media examination further by evaluating the studies of pre-digital advancements, such as the telephone and radio, to better understand its development and societal impact. 

The volume consists of 30 chapters with each chapter including an introduction, a bullet point list of topics discussed, an analysis of a source document relating to the topic at hand, discussion questions, works cited, and a conclusion.  Some chapters provide a historical context for our current experience with social media.  For instance, the first chapter, “The Telephone Revolution: Making Messages Immediate and Personal (1876-1976),” examines how the telephone changed the political and social landscape, along with the evolution of the cell phone.  The source document is Claude Fischer’s American Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940. 

Social Media Issues concludes with end notes used within the chapters, a complete list of primary and secondary sources for further research, a glossary with frequently used social media terms, a historical snapshot that timelines American developments significant to social media, and a detailed index of the material.  This volume is, therefore, well organized and put together.  It covers a lot of material that an individual might not otherwise think about in relation to social media.  The discussion questions may also help an individual establish a potential paper topic as these types of questions start the brainstorming, writing process. 

At 951 pages, the volume obviously consists of a lot of information in a concise manner.  There are a few topics missing from this otherwise useful work: Napster and the copyright infringement of peer-to-peer file sharing and the integral impact of Apple’s iPod.  Also, surprising, Apple’s Steve Jobs did not get any recognition, even in the Historical Snapshots.  These exclusions are minor in comparison to everything else that is included, and so, Opinions Throughout History: Social Media Issues should still be considered a significant reference tool for a library collection.

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)  

Guide to the ATG Reviewer Ratings

The ATG Reviewer Rating is being included for each book reviewed.  Corey came up with this rating to reflect our collaborative collections and resource sharing means and thinks it will help to classify the importance of these books.  

I need this book on my nightstand.  (This book is so good, that I want a copy close at hand when I am in bed.)

I need this on my desk.  (This book is so valuable, that I want my own copy at my desk that I will share with no one.)

I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)

I need this available somewhere in my shared network.  (I probably do not need this book, but it would be nice to get it within three to five days via my network catalog.)

I’ll use my money elsewhere.  (Just not sure this is a useful book for my library or my network.)

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