Column Editor: Debbie Vaughn (Adjunct Instructor, College of Charleston)
Stielow, Frederick. Reinventing the Library for Online Education. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2014. 978-0-8389-1208-9. 378 pages. $75.00.
Reviewed by Debbie Vaughn (College of Charleston)
For the past two years, I have been teaching a learning skills class via distance education. When I taught this course in a brick-and-mortar setting, we spent at least one — but sometimes two — class periods in the library covering topics such as interpreting search results, evaluating sources, and other information literacy concepts. Moving to the online environment has been difficult for me, and one of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced is determining how to effectively introduce students to campus services and resources (including, of course, the library), virtually. As any instructor strives to keep up with best practices in pedagogy, I have immersed myself in books, articles, and blogs about teaching and learning strategies in the “click classroom.” In the process, I have followed news and developments in higher education and savored the dialog struck between advocates and opponents of online education, MOOCs, for-profit institutions, and other Opposing Viewpoints-worthy topics.
Frederick Stielow has written a pivotal book addressing the way the library can and needs to remain relevant in the growing enterprise of online education. Reinventing the Library for Online Education offers an informative overview/history of online education, the library’s role in this mode of course delivery, and the demands of online library personnel. He also gives what he calls “commentaries” on a variety of library services, methods of operation, and systems. Stielow breaks down these commentaries into three groups, subsequently defining services, systems, and modi operandi as those that should be eliminated, redefined, or constructed.
No doubt, Stielow’s experience and credentials make him the perfect author to tackle the subject. He has served as department head, library dean, public library system director, and professor. He has authored numerous books on archives management and virtual libraries. Perhaps most impressive is his post at the American Public University System (APUS), where he is vice president and dean of libraries, electronic course materials and APUS ePress. It should be noted that APUS is an entirely online enterprise, and Stielow has grown its library into a model for supporting and partnering with online learning endeavors. In fact, in February he was named as this year’s Routledge Distance Learning Librarianship Conference Sponsorship Award recipient; his prize will be presented at the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. In her letter of nomination, Susan Hyland, AVP of Library Operations at APUS, aptly summed up Stielow’s accomplishments: “As head of APUS’ virtual library services, this visionary has long been at the forefront of a revolutionary transition — successfully moving distance learning librarianship into center-stage in the new world of online universities… The APUS Online Library moved from marginal to a position of sustainability.”
Reinventing the Library is a bit richer and more philosophical than many books on library issues. It’s also written with non-traditional formatting — not quite as dramatic as Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad or Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, but the pages are filled with kickers, text boxes, and bullets. Stielow explains that this is intentional: “it reflects the Web’s unfolding impact on written communication” (xv). It forces the reader to think and learn about the library as it pertains to online education as though the reader has been dropped into online education’s native habitat. “See also” references act as print hyperlinks and encourage the reader to explore content in a non-linear fashion. The only thing that would bring the reader closer to the native habitat would be to offer Reinventing the Library in online course format. Even Stielow’s colophon is also creative. Traditionally, of course, the colophon is a simple closer, identifying the font, spacing, paper type, and other specs of a publication — the bones, if you will. Stielow lauds the bones of his publication: APUS, its library, and growth of Classroom/Research Information Services, Electronic Course Materials, and other initiatives.
Reinventing the Library for Online Education is a fascinating read. It is eye opening and thought provoking for library personnel supporting online education endeavors, faculty teaching online courses, and higher education administrators. In fact, it would be a good idea for all senior academic affairs administrators to take a look at this timely work, whether or not their institution’s online education is currently booming — because if it isn’t thriving now, it is likely that soon it will be.
Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.