CLIC-wide Assessment Workshop, The Value of Academic Libraries, featuring Dr. Megan Oakleaf, June 4, 2013

Guest Post by Emily Asch, St. Catherine University

Cooperating Libraries in Consortium, CLIC (St. Paul, Minnesota), hosted Megan Oakleaf for the grand finale of their Year of Assessment.  Dr. Oakleaf presented two sessions focused on the research and findings published in The Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report.   The morning session was entitled, “The Value of Academic Libraries: Research & Recommendations” and the afternoon session was, “The Value of Academic Libraries: Reframing, Reflecting, and Reporting Results.” The morning and afternoon sessions also engaged participants in applying assessment techniques through small group activities.

During the morning session entitled “The Value of Academic Libraries: Research and Recommendations”  Dr. Oakleaf presented on research findings about library value, assessment, and institutional accountability.  She also presented her recommendations for libraries in this time of transition and institutional scrutiny of all programs in higher education.

Overarching much of the need for assessing the value of the academic library is the higher education environment that is experiencing a large transformation and, as several have named it, crisis.  This transformation provides context as well as a need for all units within academic institutions to show the value and impact they have within their communities.

Key points from the morning session included a shift of focus on library’s stuff to the people affected by libraries.  These people include students, parents, future employers, librarians, administrators, faculty, and the list goes on.  This vision really extends the boundaries of physical, and even virtual, libraries and their impact (and thus value).  Examples of this shift as seen in the literature include focus on service instead of products, experiences instead of collections, enabling our users instead of mediating for our users, people instead of the facility, and sense-making of the information instead of access to information.

Exhibiting and maintaining the value of the library requires quality and well developed assessment.  The exhibited value must be placed within the context of the institution.  Data is a key element of assessment and Dr. Oakleaf expressed that much of the data libraries have collected and shared in the past, such as circulation data, visitors to the library, and satisfaction ratings are not as compelling to administrators in today’s higher education environment as other kinds of data.   For example, librarians may need to show correlations between our services and offerings and a positive impact within the institution rather than just reporting numbers and figures.  Librarians could show their impact and to prove the value by demonstrating correlation such as library instruction sessions have a positive impact on student grade or that the library’s new information commons increases student retention.

Dr. Oakleaf presented her recommendations to effect this change in how libraries present themselves and show their value.   She presented a concept that may seem obvious but bears repeating, that doing assessment without knowing what you are looking for is useless.  Assessment activities should be guided  by outcomes.  So, libraries must first determine what the library is trying to enable and identify the impact that is trying to be proven.

Find data that already exists is a simple recommendation but one that seems to be often overlooked.  There are many places on our campuses where useful data exists: institutional research offices, file cabinets, and the registrar’s office are just some of the key places that have useful data.  A very relevant point is that to truly do some meaningful assessment students need to be tracked longer than libraries normally do.  A pre- and post-test during an information literacy session does not elicit enough data to show true impact and value.  Data that gives libraries more information about individual library user behavior will provide rich data that can create the correlations needed to show value can be collected while maintaining privacy which seems to have concerned and stopped many librarians from pursuing this helpful data.

There were also very helpful recommendations that can be implemented much more quickly and provide a significant impact.  Some examples were providing a library liaison to administrators (or their assistants), providing meaningful accreditation information rather than just collection and instruction counts, and enhancing the library contribution to student job success.

Participants in the conference created a list of what they thought librarians needed to learn to be able to demonstrate/increase their contribution.

  • Statistical analysis
  • Know and articulate what is important to their institution
  • Learn the appropriate and contextual language of those to whom you are talking
  • What are other folks being assessed on
  • Who has the data that you need


“The Value of Academic Libraries: Reflecting, Reframing, and Reporting Results”

After presenting her research findings and recommendations, Dr. Oakleaf presented activities that would emphasize the importance of how library services and resources align with institutional goals and missions.

The participants worked with worksheets from Dr. Oakleaf’s  Academic Library Value: The Impact Starter Kit.  Participants broke into small groups to work on a matrix showing impacts on institutional goals and library services as well as a mock interview between a librarian and a key stakeholder of the library.

Discussion after each of the activities was helpful in re-emphasizing the value of the assessment that libraries must engage in.  The activities allowed librarians to implement the thoughts and ideas from the morning into familiar situations.  It also allowed the participants to engage in activities that may have been unfamiliar but created a time of exploration of the type of activities and thought processes that should be occurring in academic libraries.

All of the participants were able to leave with at least one thought out step to take after leaving.  These were shared among the group and were very enlightening and energizing.

If your library or consortium has engaged in similar activities and workshops, please share with the group.  Any successes to report or lessons learned?

Contributing to Overall Institutional Reputation or Prestige

In the Value Report, the last question offered to readers asks, “How does the library contribute to overall institutional reputation or prestige?” There are several factors that are listed, but the third mentions that one of the ways libraries can contribute is through their special collections. As stated, “special collections can be the ‘differentiating characteristic of research universities, the equivalent of unique laboratory facilities that attract faculty and research projects'”. (Pritchard, Special Collections Surge to the Fore 2009.) [Value, page 137] Unique special collections are not just found in research libraries, as many smaller colleges have distinctive special collections that also provide value to their institutions. In fact, there is increasing use of institutional repositories and image collection management  services that are being used to showcase and provide access to unique materials.  One can collect usage statistics for these types of online services, but there may be additional tools you’ve found useful to promote the value to your institution.  In evaluating your impact, one resource may be a toolkit for Archives and Special collections that is available online.

The University of Michigan has put together a toolkit, Archival Metrics,  in cooperation with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University of Toronto. In addition to the toolkit, there is a list of publications and presentations, as well as a bibliography of related materials

If you have completed some independent studies of your special collections and the prestige they bring to your institution, please share and let us know the nature of your study and if any completed reports are available.

Please note the Value blog will be taking a short holiday break and be back in January.

Course Content: A Point of Analysis for Library Impact and Value

If you or others at your institution are interested in finding out how your library contributes to faculty teaching, a review of course content can be a point of analysis for library impact and value. The Value Report answers the question, “How does the library contribute to faculty teaching?” in this way:

Most librarians think only of their contributions to library instruction, such as guest lectures, online tutorials, and LibGuides. However, libraries contribute to faculty teaching in a variety of ways. They provide resources that are integrated into course materials on a massive scale (a value that is long overdue to be adequately captured and communicated). They collaborate with faculty on curriculum, assignment, and assessment design. (Value Report, p. 134)

To measure library impact on faculty teaching, we can look at syllabi, assignments, course reading lists, course websites, course reserves, and more. Questions to ask in the perusal of course content include: Where, in these documents, are library resources used or referred to? Where could (or should) library resources be more integrated into a course?

Data sources for course information are not too hard to come by: course syllabi are often archived on a department website or in a departmental office, and depending on your institution’s online courseware, you may be able to gain viewing privileges for course websites. Information on course reserves is available within the library, and librarians may survey their colleagues to learn about collaborations between instructors and librarians on curriculum, assignment, and/or assessment design.

A library-focused analysis of course content can illuminate connections between various types of library use and institutional mission and outcomes. And if your library is not currently collecting data on these potential correlations, it’s worth considering.