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Academic librarians and PA Forward

October 29, 2012

The new PA Forward initiative, officially launched in February 2012, continues to have a relatively low level of participation by academic librarians.  We want to change that! In order for PA  Forward to be a strong and effective advocacy initiative, all types of librarians must participate. And to participate, they first must recognize the benefits of a program that clearly demonstrates the value that libraries provide to their communities, whether students on their campuses or citizens in their towns.

This fall, PaLA President Debbie Malone created an ad hoc committee to encourage more academic librarian participation in PA Forward. She asked Erin Dorney and Erin Burns, members of the CRD Board, to conduct two focus groups at the Annual PaLA Conference. The goal of the focus groups was to understand the reluctance of academics to get involved with PA Forward and to identify what can be done to make it clear that PA Forward is not just an advocacy effort for public librarians and public libraries but for all librarians and libraries.

The summaries of the focus group discussions were fascinating. Many participants saw the activities described in the PA Forward Best Practices for Literacy database as mostly programs for public libraries, which academic librarians could not recreate without “stepping on the toes” of other units on their campuses. They were unsure as to what they could contribute to the initiative and what they could gain from it.

Clearly, we need to clarify what constitutes a ‘best practice.’  A ‘best practice’ is simply something a library does that effectively meets the needs of its patrons. It does not mean peer-reviewed or award-winning or grant-funded. A best practice can certainly also be a new well-funded or award-willing initiative, with lots of bells and whistles, but the important thing is that it makes a contribution and difference in the lives of the people the library serves. A best practice can also be something you think other librarians could adapt for use in their own situations. In short, a best practice is something that works.

Why is the PA Forward Best Practices for Literacy database so important? The PA Forward Partners and the public need to clearly see the multiple ways that academic libraries provide value to their campuses and surrounding communities. Recently three new academic associations have joined PA Forward as Partners: ACRL/Delaware Valley Chapter, PALCI, and ACLCP (Associated College Libraries of Central Pennsylvania).  They also need to see examples of academic librarian involvement in the initiative so they can clearly understand how they can contribute.

The following is a partial list of some of the activities in which academic librarians regularly participate that could easily be included in the best practices database. Each supports one (or more) of the five PA Forward literacies: information literacy, financial literacy, health literacy, basic literacy, and social & civic literacy:

  1. Library involvement in an institution’s open access repository or online open access journals created and/or edited by faculty members
  2. Pedagogies that work or assessment techniques that measure student learning outcomes of importance to the institution
  3. Library participation in One Book, One Campus events
  4. Online tutorials that engage students and provide assessment of student learning
  5. Library participation in first-year experience programs and events
  6. Library collaborations with student life departments
  7. Librarian contributions to the work of significant campus committees
  8. Programming created and hosted by the library which is designed for the campus community and/or the public at large
  9. Other creative ways you reach out to faculty, staff and students on campus!

We know there are many academic librarians doing similar, creative things on their campuses, significantly contributing to their institutional mission and students’ education, and we want to hear about it! Please take a moment to add a description of your work to the PA Forward Best Practices for Literacy database. It’s very easy. Just go to our online form at The database is moderated by the PaLA Public Relations/Marketing Committee, so it will take a day or two to appear. If you have any questions, feel free to contact either Debbie Malone (debbie DOT malone AT desales DOT edu) or Linda Neyer (crdpala AT gmail).  We want to hear from you!

Debbie Malone, 2012 PaLA President, and Linda Neyer, 2012 CRD Chair

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