Recently I’ve been part of at least two separate conversations that included someone asking “how does an institution measure the impact that changes in library spaces may have on the student experience.“ In the Value Report, each of these questions included the use of library space as a possible area of correlation:
- How does the library contribute to student achievement?
- How does the library contribute to student learning?
- How does the library contribute to the student experience?
In the section on student experience it was suggested that one technique would be to issue a survey that “ask[s] library users to describe what the academic library has enabled them to accomplish.” (p.124) For those libraries that have initiated changes in their spaces, it is possible that the survey could ask what has the new improved spaces enabled them to accomplish that they couldn’t accomplish before. The following are just a few of many available resources that may assist libraries in conducting some means of assessment for their new spaces or assist in planning as well as assessing the impact of new spaces.
The new ACRL Standards for Libraries in Higher Education (SLHE) include a principle on space, which reads “Libraries are the intellectual commons where users interact with ideas in both physical and virtual environments to expand learning and facilitate the creation of new knowledge.” The SLHE are designed to guide academic libraries in advancing and sustaining their role as partners in educating students, achieving their institutions’ missions, and positioning libraries as leaders in assessment and continuous improvement on their campuses. They articulate expectations for library contributions to institutional effectiveness, with evidence collected in ways most appropriate for each institution. It is worth remembering that the SLHE provide a strong framework for demonstrating the impact and value of all types of academic libraries. Librarians can use the standards to prepare for accreditation, demonstrate value of their library to student learning and success and institutional initiatives, and improve quality in many areas, including library space.
At ACRL 2007 in Baltimore, Rachel Applegate presented a paper entitled, “Build it and Then What? Measuring Implementation and Outcomes of Information Commons” which provides some guidance on developing programs of assessment for new Information Commons. Based on the experiences of the University Library (UL) of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI, Applegate provided information on outcomes they were able to measure as a result of the new Information Commons. She shared evidence that database usage increased based on data collected pre-Commons versus pilot-Commons. (p.171) This was a demonstrated measurement showing that there was at least one significant change based on the implementation of the Information Commons. As stated in the article:
“But merely proving that they use an area does not capture what kind of outcome it has achieved.
Outcome evaluation is a core goal of the academic assessment and accountability movement. Inasmuch as academic libraries are indeed academic, they are called to participate in this effort to determine just what student learning outcomes have been achieved. For libraries this is very challenging, as they serve an assistive, not a direct, role in learning.” (p.171)
Challenging as it may be to demonstrate learning outcomes, Applegate shared further details on a grant-funded survey that collected data in a limited study of eight courses: four graduate and four undergraduate. Limited as the study may have been, it provided enough information to make a general assertion that the “results tend to show that library and Commons usage can be associated with positive outcomes, for undergraduates…”(p.172) You can read the complete details in the report that is freely available online. She shares information on methodologies and provides detailed background on the nature of their studies. What is most important is that these are the types of studies that can be replicated in other libraries, including your own.
The main point is that projects such as these still require that some kind of data be collected and analyzed in order to demonstrate how these changes have contributed to improving the student experience in a quantitative manner. In the publication, ARL Learning Space Pre-Programming Tool Kit a majority of the report focuses on assessment techniques after the planning process. The report includes a detailed example of a survey that could be executed at a workstation within a multi-media lab. Even though this is an ARL publication, the example of a survey that could be executed at a workstation could be applied to any type of academic library – community college, four year, or research level. The important piece is that the survey might generate enough information to provide a means to initiate a more detailed follow up with selected participants. A follow-up could be used to collect data that might be able to demonstrate improvements in GPA, or retention, or other correlations that could demonstrate that more has taken place beyond just improving the student experience as a result of creating a multimedia lab or Information Commons or new comfortable reading spaces.
The Value Report suggested that correlations with spaces and student achievement, student learning, and the student experience could all be compiled for the purpose of demonstrating value. What is really needed now are more examples from libraries that have conducted studies and collected data and a sharing of those studies so that other libraries can learn and apply lessons learned in their own institutions.
Perhaps your library has recently initiated substantial changes in spaces within the library. Have you implemented a plan of assessment to determine how these changes are contributing to student achievement, learning or their overall experience? We’d like to hear from you if have and would love to see and share any reports you may have generated. Use the “Share Your Reearch” feature to the right of this posting –
Working on a Value of Academic Libraries project at your institution? Share your research through our VAL project survey. We’ll highlight many of these projects on our blog.
With thanks to Megan Oakleaf and Kara Malenfant for contributions to this post and to John Pollitz for the topic suggestion.