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Book Review

Author - Catherine Moran


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Review of Publications in Academic Essay Writing:

Rose, J. (2001) The Mature Student’s Guide to Writing, Houndmills: Palgrave.

Greetham, B. (2001) How to Write Better Essays, Houndmills:Palgrave.

Crème, P. and Lea, M.R. (1997) Writing at University, Buckingham: Open University Press.
by Nick Crossley (London: Sage, 2005)

Book Review

Secker, Jane (2004) Electronic Resources in the Virtual Learning Environment: A Guide for Librarians, Oxford: Chandos.

This book is in part a call to librarians, across the education sector to open up a dialogue with educators and technologists to ensure that the e-learning revolution does not leave the profession standing on the sidelines with others questioning our relevance.
(Secker 2004: x)

This book, by Dr Jane Secker, is part of the Chandos Information Professional Series of publications. Books in this series are aimed at librarians and other information professionals, and, in the words of the series editor, are designed to be practical, easy to read, and authoritative in terms of current library thinking.

In the course of this publication, Secker is concerned with electronic resources, e-learning, the increasing integration of digital libraries and VLEs (virtual learning environments), the important contribution which librarians can make to e-learning, and how e-learning impacts upon their work. In view of the fact that the librarian’s role has shifted to that of an educator, it is evident that library and information professionals need to be actively engaged in e-learning. Secker, whose professional and academic credentials are impressive, is well placed to write a book on these issues. While her focus is on the UK, developments in Australia and the USA are referred to where appropriate. It is clearly written and well structured, with each chapter providing a clear statement of its contents. A list of references follows each chapter, and the book comes complete with an index, a handy glossary and two appendices.

The author, at the time of publication, was writing from the enviably privileged position of being employed in an organisation, The London School of Economics, which recognises that ‘e-learning and libraries are connected’ (Secker 2004: ix). However, while she contends that collaboration between the ‘e-learning and library communities’ is crucial, she is quick to point out that the essential process of collaboration between the two aforementioned communities isn’t universal in education (Secker 2004: ix). Her book is designed, therefore, to give hope to those librarians who work in organisations where this link hasn’t yet been discerned by non-library staff. Similarly, she argues that e-learning isn’t something that library and information professionals should be fearful of, urging them instead to actively embrace the opportunity provided by ‘the electronic environment’ to ‘exploit and extend their role in learning’(Secker 2004: 159). Hence, she adopts a positive and encouraging tone in each chapter in order to show fellow library and information professionals how they can contribute to e-learning.

The first chapter, which is intended to provide a ‘context for the integration of library resources with virtual or e-learning environments’ (Secker 2004: 1), outlines the development of the digital library since the 1990s. Therein she emphasises the undoubted impact which ICTs (information and communications technologies) have had on library work and discusses various important digital library initiatives like eLib (The Electronic Libraries Programme) launched by the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee). Most importantly, she delineates the components of a digital library that can be used in e-learning, namely library portals, electronic reserves, digital repositories, e-books, e-journals, reading list management systems and e-print repositories. These value added content digital library services are specified to demonstrate the usefulness of librarians and digital libraries in the e-learning environment.

Chapter 2, which covers e-learning and the digital library, is interesting especially when the author suggests that many librarians may struggle if called upon to give a precise definition of the term e-learning. This is hardly surprising, since, as we learn further on in the chapter, the term e-learning has varied meanings. Here she presents a body of research which supports her thesis that e-learning is ‘highly relevant to librarians’ (Secker 2004: 49).

In Chapter 3 the author examines the impact of information literacy, e-literacy, and e-learning upon the library and information professionals. Once again, the important role of librarians is stressed, while the danger of librarians becoming marginalised by e-learning developments is highlighted. Thus she argues that professional library skills, like information literacy teaching (which must be integrated), cataloguing and classification are all relevant, transferable skills in the e-environment (Secker 2004: 53—56). Information literacy or e-literacy training is presented as being particularly vital in order to educate the Google generation and help patrons navigate the increasingly complex digital information environment. Secker does concede, however, that promoting information literacy to academic staff can be challenging. Nevertheless, she urges librarians to keep up to date and to be proactive in promoting their relevant skills, in order to remain relevant to library patrons in a world where the relevancy of libraries is being increasingly questioned. She concludes by summarising some practical ways in which librarians can become involved in e-learning.

Chapter 4 deals with the complexities of copyright and licensing with a special emphasis on electronic resources (including the Internet). Notably, the reader is cautioned that ‘it is a mistake to believe that copyright does not exist on the Internet’ (Secker 2004: 84). The chapter is promoted as being highly practical, and indeed it does provide a useful overview of this whole area. Irish readers will need to familiarise themselves with Irish copyright law, which isn’t dealt with here. Other elements of interest in this chapter, include a discussion of website linking, and the issue of copying images from the Internet which should be carefully noted by academics. Finally, Secker, whilst admitting that most librarians aren’t trained lawyers, contends that they still have an important part to play in giving advice concerning copyright to academic staff.

The fifth chapter provides a useful, though sometimes complex overview of technical standards, specifications and access management, to the non ‘technologically savvy librarian’ (Secker 2004: 105). While it is intended as a quick guide, it makes for somewhat heavy reading in parts.

Chapter 6 details four case studies covering UK initiatives in Higher Education that illustrate ways in which librarians have become involved in e-learning. The fourth case study which examined information literacy and the VLE at Imperial College London was particularly stimulating. However, much food for thought is provided in the preceding three case studies which treat electronic coursepacks in a VLE, online resource lists and the integration of library resources into the VLE by the use of a library area respectively. On an aesthetic note, the few screen shots included in this chapter, should have been enlarged and printed in colour.

If you learn nothing else from this thought provoking book, you will at least come away from having read it with an awareness of the author’s repetitive argument that librarians mustn’t be left behind in the e-learning revolution. However, considering the fact that the book is clearly aimed at librarians, this argument smacks of preaching to the converted. Similarly in the otherwise useful ten-step plan for the action orientated librarian eager to get into e-learning, contained in the concluding chapter of the book, Secker advocates that librarians should attend non-library conferences to network and promote the central role that the library profession plays in the learning process. It is a pity that she didn’t extend this contention further by recommending that her professional colleagues publish such arguments in non-library publications. Similarly the subtitle of this book, while in keeping with the explicit brief of the Chandos Information Professional Series, may deter non librarians from reading it, despite the fact that it contains much information that is relevant to academic and learning technology staff. Overall, this book could have been shorter, with more practical examples included despite the author’s proviso that ‘wherever possible, examples of both research and practice are provided’ (Secker 2004: x). These quibbles aside, however, the book will be of benefit to any library and information professional who is new to the area of e-learning.