Looking Back

Editor’s note: In today’s guest post, Joseph Matthews examines the recommendations of  two 1990s articles on library performance measures in light of the VAL report.

Back in 1996, Peter Hernon and Ellen Altman suggested that academic libraries should publish a series of performance measures that would reflect the library’s contribution toward teaching and research.1  Karen Bottrill and Victor Borden suggested an additional set of complimentary measures.2  Probably as a result of the fact that academic libraries were not being asked to provide measures of their value at that time, few if any libraries took up the challenge and started to regularly collect and report such measures.  It is interesting to look that these suggested measures and see how well they line up with the call by Megan Oakleaf to begin to conduct assessments in order to demonstrate the value of the library.

These suggested measures include:

  • The percent of courses with materials in the reserve reading room.
  • The percent of students enrolled in these courses who actually checked out/downloaded reserve materials.
  • The percent of courses requiring term papers based on materials in the library’s collections.
  • The percent of courses requiring students to use the library for research projects
  • The number of students who checked out library materials.
  • The number of undergraduate (and graduate) students who borrowed materials from the library.
  • The number of library computer searches initiated by undergraduates.
  • Percent of library study spaces occupied by students.
  • Number of pages photocopied by students.
  • Percent of freshmen students not checking out a library book.
  • The percent of faculty who checked out library materials.
  • The number of articles and books published by faculty members.
  • The number of references cited in faculty publications that may be found in the library’s collections.

While most of these measures are output measures, they are not assessing the impact of the library in the lives of students or faculty; they are measures that indicate the extent to which the library’s collections and services are reaching different user segments on campus.  And such information about the reach of the library is an important first step in determining the value of the academic library.  It would seem reasonable that a library should know what proportion of students, faculty and staff are using the library each year as a starting point in determining the library’s impact.

Thus, it is suggested that the library should collect and analyze the necessary data to know what proportion of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and researchers used the library during the prior year.  The library might want to know:

  • The percent* who borrowed materials
  • The percent* who downloaded online materials
  • The percent* who used the physical and virtual collections.

Rather than relying on a “gut” feeling that the library is being used by various campus groups, the library would have clear evidence of its actual use by different segments of the university.  A second reason for actually determining the actual amount of usage of library resources is that it would allow a library to compare its usage to other “peer” libraries that have also determined the actual usage of the library resources.  A third reason for determining these usage numbers is that the library could set short-term and long-term targets to increase the usage of library physical and virtual resources.

* = Undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and researchers.

1 Peter Hernon and Ellen Altman.  Service Quality in Academic Libraries.  Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1996.

2 Karen Bottrill and Victor Borden.  Examples from the Literature.  In Using Performance Indicators to Guide Strategic Decision Making.  Victor Borden and Trudy Banta (Editors).  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994, 107-119.

Value of Academic Libraries Summit White Paper

Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries SummitsACRL has released a new white paper, “Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summits,” which reports on two invitational summits supported by a National Leadership Collaborative Planning Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The report is freely available on the ACRL website (PDF).

As part of ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries Initiative, a multiyear project designed to assist academic librarians in demonstrating library value, ACRL joined with three partners — the Association for Institutional Research, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges — to sponsor two national summits held November 29 – December 1, 2011. The summits convened senior librarians, chief academic administrators and institutional researchers from 22 postsecondary institutions for discussions about library impact. Fifteen representatives from higher education organizations, associations and accreditation bodies also participated in the summit discussions and presentations and facilitated small group work.

The report — co-authored by Karen Brown, associate professor at Dominican University, and ACRL Senior Strategist for Special Initiatives Kara Malenfant — summarizes broad themes about the dynamic nature of higher education assessment that emerged from the summits. From these themes, the report presents five recommendations for the library profession:

  1. Increase librarians’ understanding of library value and impact in relation to various dimensions of student learning and success.
  2. Articulate and promote the importance of assessment competencies necessary for documenting and communicating library impact on student learning and success.
  3. Create professional development opportunities for librarians to learn how to initiate and design assessment that demonstrates the library’s contributions to advancing institutional mission and strategic goals.
  4. Expand partnerships for assessment activities with higher education constituent groups and related stakeholders.
  5. Integrate the use of existing ACRL resources with library value initiatives.

“Beyond these recommendations, the report also articulates a framework for future action,” said Megan Oakleaf, co-chair of ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries committee and associate professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Services. “This will be a guiding document for furthering the discussion at national and local levels.”

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, co-chair of ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries committee and associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concurs observing that “We expect the report will serve as a resource for academic librarians and others on campus who are committed to helping their colleges and universities assess and advance their missions.”

“ACRL’s ‘Plan for Excellence’ identifies the value of academic libraries as a top priority for the association, and results just in from the 2012 membership survey show that demonstrating library relevance is the top issue of concern for our members,” added Joyce L. Ogburn, ACRL president and university librarian and director of the University of Utah Marriott Library. “ACRL has already taken steps to continue this crucial work by submitting a grant proposal to design, implement and evaluate a team-based professional development program to strengthen the competencies of librarians in campus leadership and data-informed advocacy.”

For more information on the report, listen to a podcast conversation with Hinchliffe and Oakleaf.

Learn more about the report and the steps ACRL is taking to address the recommendations during the upcoming ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim. The “Forum on ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries Initiative” will be held from 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 24, 2012, in the Disneyland Hotel, Magic Kingdom Ballroom 2.

Value of Academic Libraries Podcast – David James and Patricia Iannuzzi

In this podcast, C&RL News editor-in-chief David Free talks to David James, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Programs, and Patricia Iannuzzi, Dean of University Libraries, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas about their experiences at the IMLS grant-funded Value of Academic Libraries Summits in Chicago.

Time: 12:45

A transcript of this podcast is also available.

About the Music:
The music in ACRL Podcasts is “Don’t you,” mixed by stefsax and available on ccMixter. The music is used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license.