Book Review: Cybrarian Extraordinaire: Compelling Information Literacy Instruction. | Fraser | Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Smith, Felicia A. Cybrarian Extraordinaire: Compelling Information Literacy Instruction. Santa Barbara, Calif: Libraries Unlimited, 2011. Print. 112 pp. 45.00 USD. ISBN-13 978-1-59884-605-8

In Cybrarian Extraordinaire, Felicia A. Smith shares her experiences as a "Resident Librarian" (a recent MLIS graduate on a term contract), and later as an Outreach Librarian. This period of acclimatization to librarianship is one that is not frequently covered in the literature, and Smith fills this gap by writing about her experiences in a semi-biographical style. Some might even call this work a librarian memoir.

The author begins by describing what she sees as a fundamental shift in the librarian persona from traditional librarian to a new (Generation-X) cybrarian. This shift is displayed in the diverse range of pre-professional experiences of the author's librarian colleagues and acquaintances.

The next section covers the author's work as the Librarian-in-Residence at the University of Notre Dame where she developed her thematic "Pirate Librarian" approach to instruction. Although this will not be the exact circumstance of many new librarians, there is a clear opportunity for Smith to share what she has learned with those freshly entering the profession. In describing these experiences, the text becomes a little disorganized. The reader is faced with an array of scattered advice, and it is not always easy to follow the author's train of thought. We jump from pedagogical advice to the production of viral videos, to academic committee work, to tips for using Smartboard technologies, but the ideas don't flow together with much clarity. It may be that these are presented in the order in which the author encountered them on the job, but, in spite of occasionally offering some insights, the text generally feels a bit directionless.

This section also contains some thorough examples of projects the author has undertaken as the Resident Librarian, including the complete storyboard and script for a YouTube video the library created to promote Refworks. This video, entitled Citation Cops, is available online and is well produced.

Next, Smith shifts her attention to Second Life, the 3D online virtual community. Notre Dame was fortunate enough to get funding to explore the use of Second Life in library instruction. Students were encouraged to navigate the virtual environment and complete instructional activities. Aside from being an interesting and engaging novelty, the specific activities they created could be employed just as effectively in the real world. There is plenty of potential here, but this work covers only a sliver of the overall discussion of the pedagogical utility of Second Life, and readers will no doubt find greater detail on this topic in other works.

After serving as a Librarian-in-Residence, Smith took on the role of Outreach Librarian. Here she undertook a project to improve the literacy opportunities for a group of residents of a juvenile detention centre by offering a portion of the programming by way of eBook technology. This outreach project, summarized and discussed in only a few pages, is possibly the most interesting part of the book and certainly merits greater attention. It would be wonderful if Smith focused future works on the role technology might play in promoting literacy and learning among juvenile delinquents, prison inmates and other marginalized populations.

The next two chapters are devoted to library instruction and assessment. The author is a vocal proponent of active learning and suggests the use of games to engage students. It becomes clear from reading the descriptions that these games are generally preceded by a short lecture to introduce topics. The games are meant to reinforce what has been taught in the lectures. The suggested activities, such as word scrambles and crosswords, while more engaging than sitting through long lectures, are not the strongest examples of active learning. A word scramble of a book title, for instance, doesn't itself demonstrate any fundamental information literacy concepts but merely serves to engage students in a somewhat tangential activity.

The chapter on evaluating your courses includes examples of feedback Smith has received from students in her courses. This feedback has been positive. Smith also advocates blogging and journaling as good methods of self-evaluation and includes some of her own her entries.

Finally, the author looks to the future and considers other themes that might be developed into engaging library instruction sessions in the event that her pirate librarian becomes stale.

Cybrarian Extraordinaire contains many specific examples of Smith's work at Notre Dame, but, unless readers are interested in pursuing those themes, they may not find much of tremendous value in this work. The text skips from one example to another without settling on any concept or exploring it in much depth. This leaves the reader with very little sense of the broader applications of the methods being described. Smith is no doubt an excellent librarian, but this book falls short in imparting her wisdom and experience in a meaningful or effective way.

Ian Fraser, Head Library Instruction, Data Services & Teaching Technology,, University of Winnipeg Library, The University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Manitoba

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Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research (ISSN: 1911-9593)