This post is from Peter McDonald, Dean of Library Services at Fresno State

The accreditation commission Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), perhaps most effectively among all such agencies, has taken the a step toward fully including librarians in defining how academic institutions of higher learning have an impact on core competencies such as critical thinking and information literacy. WASC believes these have a direct impact on student engagement, retention, and graduation rates. Of course, these are areas where libraries already do, and in fact can continue to have, great impact. WASC has held several regional meetings over the past two years on evolving their standards where librarians from many diverse campuses were specifically invited to give input and help define meaningful rubrics on these and other competencies.
This emphasis by WASC, of course, has the added benefit of making most academic colleges and universities within the WASC region reach out to their own local libraries for greater support and partnership in accreditation efforts.  
After looking at the WASC accreditation model, and in conversations with stakeholders about accreditation agencies elsewhere around the country, we’ve come to the conclusion that it may well serve our values work most if we don’t get hung up on the specific language in accreditation documentation that may lists requirements for accreditation in language other than ‘information literacy’. Though WASC specifically mentions information literacy, they also emphasize such critical student learning outcomes as undergraduate research,  critical thinking, inquiry and analysis, lifelong learning, writing proficiency and so on — all of which, in fact, are arenas of student success support where academic libraries, in collaboration with campus stakeholders, provide extensive services and referrals. (See for example:  As academic librarians, we just need to message that these sorts of student centered foci are precisely what libraries are about already.
Using what we’ve learned working with WASC, we suggest we stop worrying about not being named specifically in accreditation documentation, or even in some cases removed from accreditation language, and get into the business of realizing we already have the  skills and the wherewithal to support any student outcome listed by any accreditation agency – by being nimble in using our many demonstrated skills to match whatever language the various regional agencies may use. Our role as central loci of student learning on our respective campuses therefore has many facets.
While librarians have had some success reaching out to, and influencing, accreditation discussions at WASC, it seems a salient take-away that academic libraries everywhere can play a stronger role in curriculum and course design best practices on our respective campuses, which doubtless would link back directly to almost any accreditation language irrespective of region. We firmly believe libraries are one of the most effective campus units that not only have a demonstrated impact on most all facets of curricular activities/outcomes regardless of discipline but we also bridge over to support and make successful co-curricular activities/outcomes so critical to student graduation and retention.
In the months ahead the ACRL Value Committee will be looking at ways to leverage the effective participation of librarians in WASC to provide broader documentation on how we actually do provide many existing services coast to coast, regardless of which agency we may belong to, that can show direct and indirect (correlative) impact on most all rubrics of student success well beyond the confines of information literacy. 


In October 2013, Mary Jane Petrowski, ACRL Associate Director, shared a blog entitled, “ACRL Metrics: Enhancing Data-Driven Decision Making.”  In that posting, Mary Jane shared information about ACRLMetrics the online tool that is currently collecting data for the ACRL 2012-13 Academic Library Trends and Statistics Survey. Collection of data in a standard survey on an annual basis is essential for academic libraries that wish to demonstrate value to their institutions.  In their work, Viewing Library Metrics from Different Perspectives: Inputs, Outputs, and Outcomes , [1] Robert E. Dugan, Peter Hernon and Danuta A. Nitecki include in their appendices a series of tables that identify the type of metrics that can be used to track trends within your own institution as well as provide benchmarks and comparisons to peer institutions.  While this data is useful for tracking internal trends, we need the same data to be available to the larger academic library audience.  That means it is essential for academic libraries to contribute their statistics to an annual standard survey.  This need is more urgent based on the fact that the last NCES Academic Library Survey has been completed and published.  2012 is the last year that data will be collected in that form. [2]    Approximately 4,000 academic libraries including community colleges, 4 year, institutions, Master’s level and research universities participated in that biennial survey.  We need the same level of participation in the ACRL survey in order to have valid data that can be used by libraries.

The Association for Research Libraries has an established survey tool and system for collecting statistical data from their member institutions, but the ARL is limited to its 125 members.  While they provide a valuable service in providing excellent summary and trend data, it does not replace the need for detailed information from many more academic libraries including community colleges and smaller four-year institutions.

ACRL has been working to establish an online standard survey tool and system for all academic libraries to use.  ACRLMetrics [3] became available in 2010 and is an online tool that utilizes a system to collect your data and then share the contributed data in both trend reports and user-generated reports and focuses on the same suggested metrics that are presented in Viewing Library Metrics from Different Perspectives.  All library directors or someone designated in your institution should have received an email invitation with password information to access the online survey in order to submit your data on collections, staffing, services, and expenditures. The deadline for completing the survey is April 30, 2014.  Information including the worksheet and instructions will be found on the website.

If you did not receive an invitation, you can access support at  You also make direct contact by sending an email to Lindsay Thompson at or calling 800-521-4930.

I hope that you will see the value in contributing your statistics to the ACRL survey.  The more libraries that contribute, the greater will be the benefits for all academic libraries.  By doing so, you will help contribute to the data that we need when preparing reports demonstrating the value we provide to our institutions.



[1] Robert E. Dugan, Peter Hernon, Danuta A. Nitecki. Viewing Library Metrics from Different Perspectives: Inputs, Outputs, and Outcomes. (Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, 2009)

[2] A much shorter version of the NCES ALS survey will be included in IPEDs beginning in 2015.  You can review the new form on the IPEDs website.

[3] If you are not familiar with ACRLMetrics, it is a subscription service.  However, libraries that contribute their statistics do receive a subscription discount.  I am not trying to sell subscriptions to this service.  I am more concerned that we have a survey tool that accurately reflects data from more academic libraries.  If interested, you can obtain information on subscriptions at their website, but I will point out that if you contribute your data, you become eligible for a subscription at less than $200.



We value assessment for the purposes of improving teaching and learning, but there is no denying that accreditation drives many assessment efforts at our various institutions. How do libraries contribute to accreditation efforts?

In an article based based on a paper presented at LILAC 2013, Cara Bradley looks at “Information literacy in the programmatic university accreditation standards of select professions in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.” The study finds “significant variation in the language used in the professions to describe the concept of IL, highlighting the alternative language used in the various professions to describe this ability. The study also maps outcomes outlined in the accreditation documents to the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL’s) Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (ACRL 2000) in order to identify areas of overlapping concern.”

In other research on information literacy, libraries, and accreditation, Laura Saunders has published several items of interest:

  • Saunders, L. (2007). Regional accreditation organizations’ treatment of information literacy: Definitions, collaboration, and assessment. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33(3), 317-326. doi:
  • Saunders, L. (2008). Perspectives on accreditation and information literacy as reflected in the literature of library and information science. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(4), 305-313. doi:
  • Saunders, L. (2011). Information literacy as a student learning outcome :The perspective of institutional accreditation. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited.

For other thoughts about library value and accreditation, see the Value report, pages 54-55.

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