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If a tree falls in a forest…

April 27, 2011

and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Well, your answer will depend on how you view reality, but speaking for myself I’d say yes. However, perhaps a better question is, “If no one hears the tree falling, does it matter?” This (naturally) leads me to the upcoming CRD workshop, “Assessment in Higher Ed: How do libraries measure up?” If we as librarians are doing a great job, but no one perceives that we are doing a great job, then we have a problem. The CRD Board has invited Megan Oakleaf, author of the Value of Academic Libraries, to lead a day-long workshop to better equip academic librarians to collect evidence of their libraries’ value in terms that will matter to their institutions.

Megan co-presented a related session at ACRL 2011 Conference with Michelle Millet and Rachel Fleming-May, Evolution or Revolution: Strategies for Demonstrating the Library’s Impact in a New World of Assessment. The three of them noted that librarians need to stop talking about what we did (providing X number of information literacy sessions this year, purchasing X number of books, videos, etc.) and talk instead about what happens as a result of what we do. For example, we can determine whether librarians are helping students to do better work by evaluating samples of work done after library instruction. We can ask how library materials are being used in the curriculum and if our materials are helping to keep textbook costs down by working with the faculty and the bookstore.

The underlying question that should be driving all decisions concerning what we do, what data we collect, and how we should report it is this: What is the impact on student learning and development? Recasting what we do and how we report it in terms of impact on students rather than in terms of the traditional ‘institutional outputs’ involves a huge shift in our culture. And it’s not just a shift for librarians, it’s a shift for everyone in higher ed.

We’ve also asked Megan to address two rather scary questions in the workshop:

  • what happens if we as librarians find we do NOT add value to our institutions’ missions? (not very likely, in my opinion, but possible)
  • what happens if we do demonstrate we add value to our institution, but our institutions don’t care or don’t use the evidence? (more likely, in my opinion, more possible and VERY scary)

We certainly live in interesting times — I try to remind myself daily that every threat is also an opportunity. I hope you can join us at the workshop. For more information on it and how to register, view Upcoming Events on this blog.

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