Alumna's new book provides information basics for college students

April 24, 2012

Karen Sobel“Imagine this: it’s your first day of library instruction. You have one hour, one academic library full of millions of resources, one classroom packed with instructional technologies and 25 18-year-old students who want to write their research papers using only Google. Are you ready?” This is the beginning of a description of Information Basics for College Students, a new book written by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science (SILS) alumna, Karen Sobel (MSLS ’07). In this book, Sobel, research and instruction librarian in the University of Colorado at Denver's Auraria Library, provides a resource for anyone in need of guidance in the field of information.

“[My book] is a primer and a reference for librarians and MLS candidates who are learning to perform library instruction,” said Sobel. “I aimed to provide a fairly comprehensive overview of issues surrounding library instruction – working with academic faculty to plan instruction, assessing student learning, diverse needs among students, what actually happens in the classroom and so on.”

Sobel says that the book can be used not only as training for library instructors, but also as a guide for librarians and students who wish to learn independently. In fact, she was inspired to write this text by her experience working in the UNC at Chapel Hill House Undergraduate Library and instructing in the library science program at University of Colorado at Denver.

Information Basics for College Students“I frequently talk with other instruction librarians who guide new instructors at other libraries," said Sobel. "We always end up talking about what exactly our graduate assistants need to know. After a couple of years, I started thinking, why isn’t there a book that would help us guide our students? And finally – hey, I could write that book.”

At the annual American Library Association conference in June 2010, Sobel was given the opportunity to speak with an editor at the publishing company ABC-CLIO. She was asked to provide a pitch about her book, and in October of that year, ABC-CLIO made a formal offer. Sobel was given nine months to write her now finished product. She began by researching the topic even more, adding to her own experiences. 

“I turned to scholarly literature for just a hint of educational theory, plus numerous examples of creative instruction tools and methods from other institutions,” said Sobel. “I worked to fill in perspectives from other areas of academia as well. Interestingly, I developed a deep appreciation for research coming from community college libraries and classrooms. In many ways, they’re at the forefront of research on diversity in higher education.”

After conducting her research, Sobel began the writing process. She explained that she began the by outlining the subjects she and her graduate assistants discuss frequently; and then added topics she thought the graduate students needed to know. 

“I remember sitting down at my computer and suddenly thinking, I have no idea whatsoever how one writes a book,” said Sobel. “Then I did what I always do: I wrote an outline and spent a couple of days plugging in as much detail as I could. A few days later, I chose the chapter I found most enticing, and just started to write.” 

After writing, the book was edited several times before a final product was completed. Sobel acknowledges that her experiences at SILS were of great benefit to her as she wrote the book.  

“My advisor, Dr. Moran, and my 'Research Methods' teacher, Dr. Losee, taught me to enjoy taking on a big project and to handle it rigorously,” Sobel said. “They helped me take on a tough thesis topic, design my own instruments, crunch my own data and share it with the world. Since working with them, I’ve performed a lot of scholarly research as part of my job. Going through that process a number of times helped prepare me to be organized and confident enough to write Information Basics for College Students.”

Sobel also credits the staff of the UNC at Chapel Hill House Undergraduate Library, in particular, SILS alumna Suchi Mohanty (MSLS ‘02) and Lisa Norberg, now dean of Barnard College, for helping her to develop teaching and researching skills. 

“I am thankful for all three of the wonderful degree programs I’ve participated in,” said Sobel. “SILS gave me direction in my career and connected me with wonderful training and mentors. UNC’s English department taught me to teach well and to write well and to value both. Penn State’s honors program made me educate myself broadly and taught me to seek out the subjects that gave me passion, and then to dig in to statistics, Latin and all kinds of things that challenged my mind. Can you tell that I love education?” She said she appreciates the education she has received thus far in helping her publish excellent literature.

Information Basics for College Students will be available beginning May 30th, 2012. Although she has numerous other articles and research projects in progress, Sobel plans to take a break before her next book.