Submitted by Debbie Malone, VAL Committee member: This blog post is one in a series of posts discussing the library value work being done by the ACRL Liaisons to non-library higher education organizations. We welcome Sarah Wenzel, University of Chicago, who is our liaison to the Modern Language Association (MLA).

The Modern Language Association is best known among librarians for its eponymous index; however, the MLA itself as an organization is active in areas ranging from pedagogy to pay-equity to open-access scholarship. The scholarly work being done by its members is novel, interdisciplinary and increasingly reliant on technology either as a tool or as the medium of the object studied.

As liaison to the MLA I have been observing and reporting back to ACRL, particularly the Literatures in English and Western European Studies Sections, changes in topics of interest, types of scholarship, attitudes towards libraries and librarians, and most importantly areas in which I think we librarians can participate (or intervene) on our own campuses or with our own faculty. Some of these are, broadly speaking, discussions that are relevant to the Humanities in general and not unique to literary studies.

One aspect that librarians may need to pay attention to was brought out in a session held at the 2014 Convention : “What Is Data in Literary Studies?” The debate was not as interesting as the discussion afterward, which led to points being made that I have not heard literary scholars previously make, such as : “The Archive” must be defined; scholars need to state their methodologies; results must be reproducible. This acceptance of the data-set in lieu of “the archive” (scholar-speak for the collection of texts or other materials upon which they work), has implications for libraries. First is that as scholars need to define their data set, they will need to know what is in (or not in) the full-text databases to which we subscribe, or the HathiTrust, or Project Gutenberg. Will they begin to care about what is or isn’t in a digital collection? (Associate costs vs. content?)

Second is a need to store data sets formed from different sources, which will have an effect on institutional repositories. In addition, while faculty already are insisting on licenses that permit data-mining, what sort of permissions will be required for storage of the data set created?  A third will be that librarians responsible for teaching students literary research will need to learn the skills required to evaluate these projects. And a fourth implicates collection development: while looking through a bibliography is one way to judge the strength of a library’s collection in a given area, a data-set or corpus of digital works is an entirely different animal. Concepts such as these were brought home to me even further when I sat in on a digital humanities course at my university, both observing and contributing to the search for raw data, creation and eventual loss of the data sets gathered for the final projects. And yet this aspect of the digital humanities, in what was meant to be a sort of introduction to the field, went unmentioned by the teaching faculty.

Also of great interest at this past year’s Convention is how many sessions took the digital humanities in stride and presented research done using those techniques without the angst prevalent in previous years, although there was angst to be had if it were wanted. The use of these techniques and methods of study is not received uncritically and issues surrounding tenure and promotion are real. Librarians find themselves drawn into these questions when asked about the thorny topic of alternative metrics, a topic I find even more difficult to take on than copyright : I cannot simply say “I am not a lawyer.”

The novelty this year was the proliferation of papers on electronic literature, whether it was the “Liminal Textuality of Comments in Code,” literature through social media, the changes wrought by platform migration, or games, or “_ebooks, Typography, and Twitter Art.”  I continue to be concerned that libraries are not preserving literature (or non-fiction, for that matter) created in or drawing from these media.  And there is still the unanswered question of cataloging and access.

Other sessions dealt with topics that you might associate more readily with the MLA : literatures from around the world, comparative literature, language studies, theory, performance studies, comics, bibliography and our very own Libraries and Research in Languages and Literatures forum. All are inflected by changes in modes of study, research tools and techniques, and new discoveries. Even as the Humanities and perhaps none more so than literature are under stress, even within academia, the MLA continues to promote the values of its members and advocate on their behalf. The 2015 Convention theme, Negotiating Sites of Memory, offers scholars and librarians rich possibilities for interaction.


Debbie Malone ( and Terry Taylor ( provided the information below regarding their work with the Value of Academic Libraries committee and the ACRL Liaison Coordinating Committee. They welcome your comments and questions!

In the 2012 report on ACRL Value of Academic Libraries Summit, Karen Brown and Kara Malenfant identified five major recommendations that came out of the summit work, and the fourth relates to expanding partnerships with higher education organizations to “collaborate on library impact activities and explore potential partnerships.” (p. 14) ACRL’s 15 current liaisons have been involved in this work for a number of years, and in 2013 the Value of Academic Libraries committee appointed a small subcommittee to work with the Liaison Coordinating Committee to bring together the work of our two committees and share information.

We began conversations with Kristen Kingsley, then chair of the Liaison Training and Development Committee, and we decided to ask liaisons to tell us about the major issues facing their target organizations.  The goal was to use these issues to see if the Value of Academic Libraries committee could provide resources and talking points for liaisons that could open the door to conversations on ways in which libraries could assist in tackling these key issues.

Some of the concerns facing these external organizations were unique, such as the SCUP (Society for College & University Planning) need for evidence that designing  “informal” learning spaces can relate to improving the student academic experience or the development of self-directed learning.  On the other hand, scholarly publishing and open access are concerns shared among a number of liaison target organizations, as is data management and curation.

We began our work on talking points with the goal of creating a unique document for each liaison and target organization.  As we advanced with the process, we realized that a document that included sections on all of the identified major issues would allow liaisons to pull the resources that were helpful for their particular needs, and it would be much easier to keep up date.

We met with liaisons at both the midwinter and annual conferences in 2013 and 2014, and sought their feedback on our basic outlines. The liaisons were immensely helpful in explaining what worked for them and what did not, and they provided additional resources that we had not considered. Juliann Couture, Interdisciplinary Social Science Librarian at the University of Colorado and liaison to the American Anthropological Association, provided most of the content on data management.

Our discussions with the liaisons led us to a new understanding of the challenges our liaisons face in working with this diverse group of external organizations as well as the successes they have had in promoting library value within their target groups. In an effort to publicize this work to the larger ACRL community, we began asking specific liaisons to write VAL blog posts about their efforts. We hope you have enjoyed reading these posts by Juilann Couture, University of Colorado, Boulder, on her work with the American Anthropological association, Danuta Nitecki, Drexel University, on her work with the Society for College and University Planning, Allison Ricker, Oberlin College,  on her work with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Mandy Swygart-Hobaugh, Georgia State University, on her work with American Sociological Association.

The liaison talking points document now includes sections on basic resources, scholarly publishing and open access, data management and curation, information literacy, which includes a sample letter introducing the new Information Literacy Framework to liaison target groups, library space planning and design, and altmetrics.  The document is available in ALA Connect at

We encourage comments and suggestions from ACRL Liaisons and the entire ACRL community. Please send comments to either Debbie Malone at or Terry Taylor at


Readers of this blog may be interested in an online discussion hosted next week by the ACRL-ULS Committee on the Future of University Libraries. The discussion is free and will be held on Thursday, November 20 from 3-4 pm EST. To register, go to:

Some of the speakers and their projects have been featured here in the past.

  • Just last month we highlighted Eric Ackermann‘s Assessment in Action project regarding the impact of library games on information confidence.
  • We’ve been talking about the big library data project at University of Minnesota since 2012, and we have followed the publications resulting from that work.

Details about the online discussion follow.

Feeling pressed to prove that your library contributes to student success?  Are administrators demanding evidence that funding the library helps retain and graduate students?  While it may seem obvious  to librarians that students would not succeed without the library, demonstrating that can be a challenge.

Read short descriptions of ways three libraries have effectively assessed their contributions to student success, and then join this online discussion, where assessment librarians will encourage discussion of various ways to measure and demonstrate how your library helps students succeed.


Eric Ackermann (Head of Reference Services and Library Assessment, Radford University) will speak on how his library has tracked how the library’s participation in freshman orientation and core courses has affected retention.

Jennifer L. Jones (Assessment & User Experience Librarian, Georgia State University) will explain how her library followed three cohorts of undergraduates to assess the effect of using library workstations, study rooms, and research clinics.

Shane Nackerud (Technology Lead for Libraries Initiatives, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) and Janet Fransen (Engineering Librarian, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) will discuss the big data model the library used in partnership with the university’s Office of Institutional Research to assess the library’s contribution to student outcomes.

The speakers have prepared background stories to help you prepare for this discussion.  Find the descriptions of their successful projects at

© 2014 ACRL Value of Academic Libraries Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha