Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Assessment Aha! Moment #5: Market the library as a time saver.

Assessment Aha Moment #5: Market the library as a “time saver.”   

                DePaul University in Chicago has over 50% of their students coming in as transfer students. Many of them work full-time. They market the library as a time-saver. Students in one study I heard about at the conference did not want to ask librarians for help, since they wanted to seem self-sufficient. (This study used a technique of having students draw a picture of their research process; the pictures were mostly quite funny and showed things like “stress cleaning” and other ways of procrastinating.) Unfortunately, this insistence on self-sufficiency leads to some wasted time as they learn to navigate the library’s resources. I think that instead of showcasing our many collections and databases, we need to reach students at the bottom line: coming to the library and getting help here saves time. Perhaps this is should be the first research question we undertake!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Assessment Aha! Moment #4: I don't care about your data

Aha Moment #4: I don’t care about your data—I care about the conversations that came out from the data.

                One of the euphemisms I heard time and again at this conference was “and then we used the research data to have conversations about XYZ.” You have probably experienced that each session at every library conference held anytime, everywhere starts with a slide about how their library and their students are special snowflakes. If we truly buy into that belief that our students are all so different, that means we each need to complete the exact same studies at each of our institutions to prove the same thing time and again—that academic libraries have value. On the other hand, we instinctively know the answer to this question to be true already. What I am getting at is that the discrete data points that were presented at this conference were not what were interesting to me. Instead, I wanted to hear briefly about the research method, where I could find a longer description of the whole thing, and how I might replicate it. But most importantly, instead of stopping there, I also wanted to hear more about the conversations that were had because of the study. So many times, right after I heard this euphemism of “having conversations,” I wanted to beg for more details. After attending this conference, I now have a list of colleagues I need to reach out to in order to ask for more information. Some neat studies included using rubrics to assess students’ ePortfolios at a small liberal arts school, and a larger school that had students compose at 140-character tweet at the end of their library session. They then coded each of the tweets to look for patterns.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Assessment Aha! Moment #3: You don't need to be a statistician.

Assessment Aha Moment #3: You don’t need to be a statistician to conduct assessment.

                Truth: I think I thought you needed a PhD in research methods to do this stuff—and conversely, that my skills were extremely lacking. What was I thinking? Lots of librarians are using statisticians. Lots of them are making “the ask” to their offices of institutional assessment for help. Many of them are partnering with faculty and other external groups on campus. And, related my last Aha! Moment where out outlined our collective lack of self-esteem, we seem to be surprised when these people are excited to help. Another related myth I dispelled for myself at this conference is, “we have to have all of our ducks in a row in order to get started.”  Instead of doing all of the things possible and doing them perfectly, we can start by answering one question, and then another. Many institutions were creating working groups to map out the assessment they wanted to complete in an assessment plan and then building that over time.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Aha! Moment #2: Let's take this show on the road!

Assessment Aha Moment #2: The academic library literature has already proven that supporting libraries are worthwhile. Now we need to get this information out to higher education as a whole and advocate for ourselves.


I attended one long paper about the Value of Academic Libraries project. This committee is an outcome of the ACRL Plan of Excellence. The speaker presented a meta-analysis of the library literature that has been published on the topic of assessment. This work builds on the 2010 Value of Academic Libraries by Megan Oakleaf and the 2012 whitepaper from ACRL that give recommendations for assessment. The type of analysis being done was a gap analysis, which is looking for what information still needs to be published upon. The takeaway of this session for me was that librarians have already “drunk the assessment Kool-Aid” and they are undertaking numerous important library assessment projects that show the overall value of libraries. I am not sure if the number of people involved in assessment and the deluge of papers being written was clear to me before this conference. To put it into perspective: there were over 190 articles published since 2010, and over 600 attendees at the conference.
                One of the most important things posited by the speaker in this session is that information literacy instruction needs to be added as the 11th “high impact practice” put forward by the AACU. Other high impact practices include service learning, first year experiences, global learning, and writing intensive courses. The work being done by the University of Minnesota and Grand Valley State University is proof that information literacy instruction and library services can be tied to student retention. But when we tell this story only to other librarians in library literature, we are leaving the external campus stakeholders out of the conversation. We need to advocate for libraries to be at the table, and this is a big job that is being left undone. I left this conference feeling that librarians collectively need to grow their self-esteem.  We need to advocate for ourselves on a higher level and use the assessment we are doing to prove it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Library Assessment Conference Aha! Moments, Post 1

I had the good fortune to be able to attend the ARL Assessment conference in Arlington, VA’s Crystal City. I traveled with colleagues via Amtrak, which was an enjoyable and new experience for me. Once at the conference and checked in, we employed a “divide and conquer” approach to the conference and attended different sessions. Instead of a blow-by-blow account of each session of the conference like I have done in the past, I hope to provide some of my own Aha! Moments that I had throughout the time there. I hope that these will apply to those of you who consider yourselves newbies or outsiders to assessment librarianship. I hope that my reporting can help those who are not yet converts to see assessment not as scary, but more of as an accessible toolkit to use to prove library value.

Assessment Aha Moment #1: It all starts with a question.

A major shift in thinking happened for me during this conference, which could be related to the old adage, “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” I believed that we were collecting data points, such as number of instruction sessions, interactions at the desk, etc. in order to be able to report those statistics outward. And although this is an important thing to do, I think that I was equating these statistics and their collection to Assessment (with a capital A). Instead, I learned that in order to conduct assessment activities, it is important to take the stance of a researcher and start with a research question. This may not seem groundbreaking to those reading this, but it very literally changed my thinking about something I thought I knew about. In one of the sessions I attended, a presenter made a throw-away comment in which she said that the library should make their mission statement into a series of questions. This was my biggest Aha! Moment of the entire conference. Starting with a well formulated question should be the start of an assessment project, whether you are dealing with instructional data (“are they learning?”) or space (“how is it being used?”) or services (“what can we offer or how can we improve?”) It is not simply enough to ask if we are valuable or not, but the question must be formulated to look at a certain group or activity happening in the library. This made me think of our annual departmental objectives. I believe that if we looked at each of the library’s objectives and turned those into questions, it would be easier to classify these departmental actions—do these departmental activities work to prove or answer this question or not?
 This will be a series, so expect more of these as I work through my conference report.