Libraries and Accreditation

This post is from Peter McDonald, Dean of Library Services at Fresno State. He thanks Patty Iannuzzi and Theresa Byrd, whose conversations with him on this topic formed the ideas in the post below.

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: http://www.wascsenior.org/content/retreat-core-competencies-critical-thinking-and-information-literacy)  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.

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