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Review of Facet Publishing Series on Digital Literacies

by Drew Virtue

Publication Details

 OLOR Series:  ROLE Reviews
 Author(s):  Drew Virtue
 Original Publication Date:  15 March 2018


Publication Note

This review was originally published in Research in Online Literacy, vol. 1, no. 1 (2018).

Resource Contents

Introduction to Series Review

​The continual evolution of technology has presented difficulties in how teachers, librarians, and practitioners analyze and understand communication in the digital age. The following reviews examine work that attempts to investigate technology through a range of literacies—literacies that can help us better understand technology and use it more critically.

Image of book's coverBook Cover 1 : Metaliteracy in Practice

Trudi E. Jacobson and Thomas P. Mackey (Eds.). 2016. London: Facet Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-78330-093-8. 256 pages, including index. US$65.12 (softcover)]. Visit publisher page (new window)

Review of Metaliteracy in Practice

Metaliteracy in Practice serves as a pedagogical resource to explore the term of metaliteracy, a concept used to analyze information literacy in digital environments. The book is structured around nine chapters, eight chapters that detail case studies that explore metaliteracy in various pedagogical contexts and a final chapter that discusses metaliteracy from a theoretical perspective. Although the chapters focus on collaborations between librarians and instructors, anyone who teaches can find value in the ideas within this book.

The focus on metaliteracy allows the contributors of this work a certain freedom in their analysis of different learning environments. For example, the authors explore the concept of metaliteracy in relation to nursing courses, a Renaissance Drama course, and student led courses, as well as the implementation of an open-source kind of institutional repository maintained by contributions from students and librarians. This dynamic range of topics serves as a key strength to the book because it allows readers to explore the idea of metaliteracy from a variety of perspectives in a way that leads to a more grounded understanding of how the concept can be applied in different environments.

The most significant strength I found throughout the various chapters was the relationship between metaliteracy and metacognition. Metacognition was addressed explicitly or implied through a focus on critical reflection among all the authors. For instance, chapter six details a project that had Renaissance Drama students contribute to the Map of Early Modern London (MoEML)—an open access project in which participants from around the world conduct research and contribute their findings to an interactive map that provides details about the “neighborhoods, streets, sites, [and] buildings” (p. 117) from London during the mid-sixteenth to seventeenth centuries. While the assignment taught specific skills, such as research and collaboration, students were also required to focus on the metacognitive process of their work. This emphasis on metacognition helps expand students thinking beyond how to do something to why they are doing it and what strategies they could employ to do something more effectively. This type of critical engagement was evident throughout book and helped reinforce why metaliteracy should continue to be studied.

One particular line that stood out appeared in the last chapter in which Prinsloo describes how the “‘meta’ in metaliteracy may actually indicate a state of ‘beta’—literacy as constantly being redefined and emerging” (p. 189). Metaliteracy, as well as any concept that extends the basic meaning of “literacy,” seems slippery in that it is hard to pin down or that it possesses so many meanings that the term itself can feel meaningless. However, Prinsloo stresses that this may not be a bad thing. The concept of metaliteracy forces us to wrestle with what it means to exist in a time in which technology continues to alter the way we use and communicate information. Metaliteracy in Practice offers a solid foundation to do just that while at the same time also providing some thought provoking ideas about how to incorporate metaliteracy in a wide variety of pedagogical environments.

Image of book's coverBook Cover 2: Visual Literacy for Libraries: A Practical, Standards-Based Guide

Nicole E. Brown, Kaila Bussert, Denise Hattwig, and Ann Medaille. 2016. London: Facet Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-78330-144-7. 208 pages, including index. US$71.62 (softcover)]. Visit publisher page (new window).

Review of Visual Literacy for Libraries: A Practical, Standards-Based Guide

Visual Literacy for Libraries: A Practical, Standards-Based Guide functions as a valuable resource to reexamine how we think about visual literacy. Each chapter within the book investigates specific components of visual literacy including “Interpret and Analyze Images,” “Ethical Use of Images,” “Images and the Research Process,” as well as others. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Visual Literacy for Libraries is that it challenges the perception of visual images as supplemental material and instead looks at them as a primary component of the composition process. Not only does this perspective lend itself well to thinking about what writing and composition mean in the digital age, it also helps students become more critical of the world they inhabit—including interactions with “old” media (e.g., billboards, televisions, magazines, etc.), digital environments, and research in the classroom.

The second half of the book seems especially important in teaching about how images should be used ethically. The prevalence of social media and participatory networks has made it easy to copy, repost, and remix images without giving much thought to the effects of this type of “share” culture. Brown, Bussert, Hattwig, and Medaille, however, complicate this by discussing copyright laws, fair use factors, and creative commons licensing. These types of discussions (and the corresponding activities) challenge students to become more critical of the way they consume visual images. In addition to using images, another goal of the book seems to be helping students become more conscientious in creating their own images. Some of the activities from this section include having students register their own images for creative commons licenses as well as composing the necessary metadata that will make an image more functional for other users. This transformation from consumer to producer seems to be a vital step in gaining a more in-depth understanding of visual literacy.

While Visual Literacy for Libraries addresses a number of issues related to visual literacy, the primary content of the book seems targeted to novices rather than individuals with a moderate background in visual literacy. That said, the activities included at the end of each chapter will benefit novices and experts alike. Each activity is designed to carry out specific tasks to learn more about visual literacy, but the authors have also provided context for how the activities could be modified or extended for different situations. Additionally, the authors were smart to include the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education as an appendix. Each activity includes a “Visual Literacy Standards Connection” that links the activity to specific ACRL Visual Literacy Standards and Performance Indicators. In doing this, the authors reinforce the overall value of the ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education while also increasing the ethos of their own work and its contributions to visual literacy. There have been many books published on visual literacy and while the content of Visual Literacy for Libraries may seem more like a review of foundational work, its true innovation lies in the activities at the end of each chapter and how they help bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Image of book's coverBook Cover 3: Critical Literacy for Information Professionals

Sarah McNicol (Ed.). 2016. London: Facet Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-78330-082-2. 192 pages, including index. US$78.14 (softcover)]. Visit publisher page (new window)

Review of Critical Literacy for Information Professionals

Within the opening pages of Critical Literacy for Information Professionals, the editor of the work, Sarah McNicol, describes how critical literacy must consider the “social and cultural contexts” that affect texts and how critical literacy should lead to “practical action and community engagement” (p. XI). In order to do this, the book is separated into two sections. The first section shows examples of how and why critical literacy is important while the second section provides an overview of multiple case studies as a means to help librarians and instructors determine how to incorporate critical literacy in the classroom.

While I appreciated all the ideas discussed in the first half of the book, two chapters in particular stood out. In chapter three, McNicol writes about the use of health-education comics in healthcare consultation. She excels at showing how critical literacy can change how different texts affect readers, and contends that “comics might be argued to be texts which have a particularly powerful potential to subvert the traditional hierarchy between author/creator and reader” (p. 34). The reason for this is that the reader takes an active role in filling in the blanks between comic frames, which consequently leads them to gaining agency in the meaning making of the content. In chapter six, Whitworth complicates our understandings of literacy by moving it from traditional educational environments to the workplace. By looking at literacy in the workplace, literacy is anything but static and instead involves “making judgements about the relevance, credibility and authority of information [and] is one that is maintained through discussions, practices and interactions that take place in specific social settings” (p. 68). Not only is this reflection important to the workplace, but it also seems integral to the act of meaningful learning.

The second half of the book transitions into a series of case studies showing how to incorporate critical literacy within pedagogical environments. This was the section of the book that I found myself wanting more, not because the content was problematic but rather that I would have liked to have seen the ideas fleshed out in greater detail. For example, chapter thirteen followed eight students as they interacted with “search mediators” to help them complete an assignment for an English composition course. The content within this chapter demonstrated the vast differences that students experience in seeking out information and working with information professionals. Not only was this chapter informative, but it left me wanting to learn more about the individual experiences of each of the eight students. Overall, Critical Literacy for Information Professionals clearly established the importance of not only teaching students how to find information but why it is imperative to be critical of it. Readers of this work will be better equipped to deal with the evolving nature of technology and how it changes and affects the texts we read. Likewise, the authors’ focus on critical literacy will help empower learners to not only become better at assessing texts but also at expressing their own ideas in a constructive manner.

Image of book's coverBook Cover 4: Metaliteracy: ​Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners

Thomas P. Mackey and Trudi E. Jacobson. 2014. London: Facet Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-78330-012-9. 250 pages, including index. US$71.62 (softcover)]. Visit publisher page (new window)

Review of Metaliteracy: ​Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners

Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners offers an ambitious attempt to develop a new framework to tie multiple literacies together. The authors state, “Metaliteracy is not about introducing yet another literacy format, but rather reinventing an existing one—information literacy—the critical foundation literacy that informs many others while being flexible and adaptive enough to evolve and change over time” (pp. 1-2). In order to accomplish this, the authors spend the first half of the book describing theory behind metaliteracy and use the second half of the book to show metaliteracy in practice. Overall, this book succeeds in demonstrating the need for some type of system to structure how we talk about and work with literacies in the digital age.

Within the first chapter, the authors construct a metaliteracy model that serves as a key strength of the book (p. 23). The structure of the metaliteracy model employs a collection of general terms (e.g., one level of the model includes “determine, evaluate, understand, and access”) that function as a way to critically analyze different types of existing literacies while remaining malleable to the continual evolution of technology and new literacies. While the second half of the book focuses on metaliteracy in practice, the theory chapters seem to be the most important in not only explaining what metaliteracy is but why we need it in today’s technology-based environments. Chapter two in particular stresses the need for metaliteracy due to the fact that we have entered a “post-information age” in which we have moved beyond a handful of individuals being the main producers of information. Instead, the ability of anyone to publish information in a variety of ways has profoundly changed how we communicate, but this ability does not guarantee a critical understanding of why we communicate and the effects of these new communicative dynamics.

While the majority of the book excels at furthering the need for metaliteracy, I had a problem with chapter five in how the authors present the findings of a survey they conducted regarding literacy frameworks. In illustrating some of the results through crosstabulated bar graphs, the authors separate the responses of certain questions by age category (e.g., 18-20, 21-29, 30-39, etc.); however, the crosstabulated data is expressed by number of responses rather than the percentage of responses. Since the number of respondents for each age category differs, the reader cannot make any meaningful inferences between age groups. The authors set it up to compare responses between age groups, but the only way to compare age groups is if it is done by percentages. Consequently, the presentation of their data never meets its full potential. Despite my issue with this chapter, Mackey and Jacobson offer a foundational work that challenges how we understand literacy in the digital age. Furthermore, their argument for the need of metaliteracy is compelling. Metaliteracy is not only interesting but a necessary concept to understand the complexity of communication embedded within our continually evolving technologies—one that will help us, as teachers and librarians, help learners become more astute in their everyday lives.

Table 1: Summary of Facet Publishing Book Series 

Librarians and educatorsIt may be targeted more for novicesThe theory provides an important framework for working with metaliteracyThe theory provides an important framework for working with metaliteracy
Metaliteracy in Practice Visual Literacy for Libraries Metaliteracy Critical Literacy for Information Professionals
AudienceLibrarians and educatorsEducatorsEducatorsLibrarians and educators
Major Strengths Comprehensive case studies provide great resources for librarians and educators

The topics can be applied for a wide variety of fields

The activities at the end of each chapter are a great resource for educators

The activities tie into ACRL Visual Literacy Competence Standards

Offers a foundational concept for how we work with and teach about literacy in digital environments
The writing style is easy to read and follow

Major Weaknesses None foundIt may be targeted more for novices
The data in chapter five is problematic The case studies were too brief
Comments Versatile book that is relevant to a number of disciplines and types of pedagogy
N/AThe theory provides an important framework for working with metaliteracy N/A


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About the Reviewer

Drew Virtue is an assistant professor in the professional writing program in the Department of English at Western Carolina University. His research includes rhetoric, pedagogy, and digital literacies with a special focus on the role of technology in the classroom.

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