Assessment is the New Black
I’m teaching a course this semester for the Graduate School of Library & Information Science at Illinois called, “Libraries, Information, and Society.” Like similar courses, it presents an introduction to a number of core concepts for future information professionals, as well as an introduction to professional skills, values, and employment environments. This week, we heard an excellent presentation from my colleague, Tina Chrzastowski, author of “Assessment 101 for Librarians,” an essay that appeared Science & Technology Libraries in 2008. The point of the presentation, and the message that I hope my students took from it, is that the ability to design an assessment program and to use its results in planning and decision making is a critical skill set for any information professional. Assessment is the new black – it goes with whatever job you have, and it is relevant to every library environment.
Assessment may also the new instruction, though – a critical skill set for academic librarians that is not clearly and appropriately addressed in LIS programs. It is no coincidence that instruction librarians have been among the early leaders in assessment activities (I’m looking at you, Deb Gilchrist!): this reflects their connection to broader campus efforts to identify student learning outcomes, but also their experience in having to learn critical skills on the job that were not a focus for their professional education. The list of studies showing that teaching skills are required for a wide variety of academic library positions is almost as long as the list of studies showing that few LIS programs have ever made this a focus for their coursework or their faculty hiring (a shout-out to those who break that mold, including the University of Washington and Syracuse University). I imagine that a similar list of studies will find their way into the literature regarding the importance of assessment and evidence-based library and information practice for librarians of all types, and the need for greater attention to those skills across the LIS curriculum. As we remain concerned about attention paid to instruction in LIS programs some 30 years after those first studies started to come out, though, it may take a while to see real change. Of course, it may be that assessment is really the new knowledge management, in which case the courses will be available much more quickly!
As Chrzastowski’s article points out, there are many resources available to librarians interested in continuing professional education in assessment. The Association of Research Libraries has held two successful conferences on this topic, and there is an international movement in support of evidence-based practice that supports a journal and conference programs. As with instruction, there are “lighthouse” LIS programs, too; in this case the University of North Carolina, which offers a course on “Evidence Based Practices in the Library and Information Sciences”.
What can ACRL do? If assessment is the new instruction, should we see more attention to looking at assessment across the association, and to fostering the development of a corps of academic librarians (beyond assessment coordinators) who see this as a critical area of personal expertise? Since assessment skills are critical not only to public services and collections librarians, but also to technical services and information technology specialists, is this an area of functional specialty that could broaden our appeal across the academic library enterprise, or be an initiative on which we can fruitfully collaborate across ALA divisions?
I don’t have the answers, but I know you all look good in black!