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Choose your own adventure with Megan Oakleaf

April 21, 2011

As I attended the “Value of Academic Libraries” panel session at ACRL 2011 with Mary Ellen Davis, Lisa Hinchliffe, and Megan Oakleaf, I was filled with dreams of delightfully rigorous research.

Megan Oakleaf sounded a note of caution early on. She mentioned finding other researchers who had conducted similar projects in the past to little avail. Value of Academic Libraries (VAL) might eventually face a somewhat akin fate, but my optimism was barely tempered. VAL is generating a great deal of interest if the packed, colossal Liberty Ballroom is any indication. VAL inspired other sessions at ACRL, as well as at other regional and state library-related conferences. I found Meagan’s attitude about the report quite refreshing.

She called it a, “choose your own adventure.”

In other words, read the parts that are interesting and relevant to you. Then read some other parts, then a few more. It does not need to be read straight through in one sitting. Some considerations:

  • The executive summary is written for non-library folks. If you are a librarian, please delve into the body of the report.
  • “Next steps” (pg. 93-100) is Meagan’s favorite part.
  • The “Research Agenda” (pg. 101) is crucial for follow-up. We (as in librarians that did not work on VAL) need to step up and actually do the research called for if we intend to make a difference. Collaborating across institutions would be the best case scenario.
Here are some highlights that I found interesting (here I note the irony of summing up 100+ pages of research in a few measly bullet points):
  • Satisfaction surveys are not a recommendation.
  • Use is simply not enough.
  • “It’s not the dirt, but the plants that grow.”
  • ILL folks, acquisitions and catalogers may already have useful ideas of value: seek them out.
  • In general: a good deal of data might already exist, use a rolodex to find (it’s like a contact list, but papery). Call Institutional Research, get the old Director out of bed and find the loci of data at your institution.
  • Privacy concerns are warranted, but don’t let these considerations block success. We need to track individuals across their academic career to answer these questions: does using the library help a student get a job, better grades, or become more likely to graduate? It can be done without comprising privacy and other departments know how.
  • Don’t just collect, use! Data that is.

After the presentation, with my reveries of rigor fulfilled, I started dreaming another dream: getting started on the “Next Steps” and contributing something of my own.

Intrigued to find out more? Megan Oakleaf and a panel of knowledgable assessment folks (including MSCHE) are coming to Bloomsburg University on May 17th. For more information, we have a post in Upcoming Events. Register early to reserve a seat!

Note: This is my take on my experience, these aren’t direct quotes unless marked. A grain of NaCl or 2 is a suggested accouterment for this post.

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