Starting the Conversation – Engaging Provosts, Deans, and Institutional Research Members

In November 2011 two Summits were held that brought together librarians, chief academic officers, and institutional research staff members to discuss the Value of Academic Libraries report.  (See section on IMLS grant on this blog. ) These summits were a collaborative effort of ACRL, the Association for Institutional Research, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Council of Independent Colleges.  The summits were a component of the project “Building Capacity for Demonstrating the Value of Academic Libraries,” made possible by a National Leadership Collaborative Planning Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.   This program is part of the professional development that ACRL is undertaking to help us learn how to “document, demonstrate, and communicate library value in advancing the mission and goals” of our colleges and universities. Megan Oakleaf, Assistant Professor, Syracuse University School of Information Services and author of the Value report served as the developer and key facilitator for the summits.  The first day and a half included 22 institutions with teams composed of chief academic officers, members of the institutional research department, and senior librarians.  The point of these summits was to have conversations about student learning and faculty research productivity and how the library contributes to the institutional goals in these areas.  I conducted short phone interviews with some of the participants from smaller, private liberal arts colleges asking them to share their thoughts and impressions of the summits.

All mentioned two panel presentations.  One of the panels included chief academic officers.  The point was made by one of the panelists that in our data rich environment, data doesn’t necessarily provide the information that needs to be conveyed.  It was during this panel that the Dean of Hope College pointed out that students succeed when they have one-on-one relationships with adults, and that librarians often provide this role.  The question is how can we create stories to demonstrate the value that these relationships create?  The individuals I talked with all agreed that the opportunity to have their Dean hear from other Deans about what they valued or wanted to see from the library was very beneficial and helped inform conversations that began at the summit.  Everyone agreed that the value of having members of the institution outside the library made for a richer conversation and for developing the connections with key individuals to get the library more involved in the institutional assessment plan.

The second panel included members from national accrediting agencies.  All noted that the role of the library and its importance in accreditation varies in different regional accrediting agencies. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) commission announced in November that they were undertaking an accrediting redesign process.  Highlights of the redesign include “[r]equiring institutions to demonstrate proficiency of their graduates in 5 key areas: written communication, oral communication, quantitative skills, critical thinking and information literacy.” This pattern is not consistent across all accrediting agencies.  However, in a session at ALA midwinter on the new ACRL Standards for Libraries in Higher Education, it was mentioned that several accrediting agencies were interested in the standards and the new standards do have significant emphasis on our contributions to institutional effectiveness as well as our role in information literacy.

The common thread in discussion with the participants was that one of the most important outcomes of the summit was the amount of time participants were able to have with their chief academic officer and the member from the institutional research office.   It was mentioned that too often we are limited to 30 minutes or less in time that we have with our Provosts, but this was an opportunity to talk both during the travel time as well as part of the summit.  The conversations were intended to cover what kind of data campus administrators would like libraries to provide and what kind of assistance would be available through the institutional research offices, but the overall major benefit was having the time to have a conversation that would lead to the library being more fully included in the assessment conversation for the institution.  A second common thread was the positive response to the structure and content of the summit.  Megan Oakleaf received high praise for her role as facilitator and her work on assessment.

There will be more details coming on the summit.  Look for a future white paper by Karen Brown, Associate Professor, Dominican University Graduate School of Library and Information Science, who will summarize the summits and outline a framework for further action.

In the meantime, how many of you have started the conversation on your own campuses?  What successes have you had in getting the library included in assessment activities at the institutional level?  Please share your stories and help others learn how to become part of the conversation on their campuses.  We want to hear from you in order to help learn what we can be doing to help you “document, demonstrate, and communicate library value in advancing the mission and goals” of your colleges and universities.

 Additional resources:

“Building Capacity for Demonstrating the Value of Academic Libraries: A Report on Recent ACRL Summits” – http://www.cni.org/topics/assessment/building-capacity-for-demonstrating-the-value/