Latest NCES Data Shows Little IL Progress
In a post from August 2008 I shared some data straight out of a report titled Academic Libraries 2006 that presents tabulations for the 2006 Academic Libraries Survey (ALS) conducted by the United States Department of Educationâ€™s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The data related to the percentage of libraries reporting information literacy activities was underwhelming when one considers all of the attention our profession places on and puts into information literacy and library instruction initiatives. For the fall of 2006, there were far too few institutions reporting that information literacy was a part of the institutional mission or had been incorporated into the strategic plan. So I was curious when I saw the latest Academic Libraries 2008: First Look report that presents tabulations from 2008. How did we do? Was there an increase in reported information literacy activity between 2006 and 2008?
There was some change all right, but not in the right direction. Here are the same five data items identified in the NCES Survey related to information literacy:
1. defined information literacy or information literate student
2. incorporated information literacy into institutionâ€™s mission
3. incorporated information literacy into institutionâ€™s strategic plan
4. has institution-wide committee to implement strategic plan for information literacy
5. strategic plan formally recognizes the libraryâ€™s role in information literacy instruction
Here at the corresponding percentages for each of those five items for 2006 versus 2008:
1. 48.4——————————- 1. 46.3
2. 34.3——————————–2. 32.5
3. 30.4——————————–3. 30.3
4. 17.6——————————–4. 17.8
5. 24.8——————————–5. 24.2
So there was either decline or no significant change. That’s quite puzzling and somewhat disturbing. Here we are two years later and academic librarians’ efforts to advance the integration of information literacy into our institutions appear to be backsliding. Maybe we need to discount the data item number two above. How many academic institutions are going to incorporate something about information literacy into their mission statements? I wouldn’t even expect my own institution to do that. And what about the incorporation of information literacy into the strategic plan. At my own institution an early draft of a new strategic plan written this year included some text about the importance of the library for supporting research – nothing about information literacy. But even that minimal language was dropped in a later version. So getting the institution to incorporate information literacy into the strategic plan is no easy task. I would expect number 4 to be higher though. Here is an objective worth working towards. And rather than ask about integration of information literacy into the strategic plan or mission, why not change that to integration into a curriculum plan for core education. I think more academic libraries could report that their institution’s plan for general education or liberal education does discuss information literacy as does the one at my institution.
Academic librarians still have their work cut out for them when it comes to institutional recognition of the value of information literacy. Beyond that, what can the Academic Report 2008 tell us about our performance and contributions to the academic community? Not much. But here are some comparative numbers that may interest you:
Total Circulation-144,119,450(06)–138,102,762(08) 4.175 % decrease
Interlibrary Loan-10,801,531(06)—-11,095,168(08) 2.718 % increase
Returnables – 8.676 % increase
Non-Returnables – 5.265 % decrease
Gate Counts–18,765,712(06)——20,274,423(08) 8.04 % increase
Reference Transactions–1,100,863(06)—1,079,770 1.916 % decrease
Presentations–471,089(06)—-498,337(08) 5.784 % increase
E-Books–64,365,781(06)—–102,502,182(08) 59.249 % increase
FTE Librarians—26,469(06)—–27,030(08) 2.119 % increase
You can find more of these data items in the full report, and it’s not too difficult to toggle back and forth between the 2006 and 2008 reports to see where the differences are. As the representative items offered here suggest there hasn’t been much significant change over the two year period, excepting a big increase in the number of e-books. Without doing any sort of detailed analysis it looks to me like academic libraries are holding their own. There’s nothing here to suggest the academic community is abandoning their libraries. Circulation and reference are down a bit, but ILL is still busy, more people are visiting the building and despite the anaemic indicators for information literacy, the number of instruction sessions (included in “presentations” I take it) continues to increase.
I hope that the folks who construct the NCES survey instrument for academic libraries will give more thought to what type of questions would give us a better picture of the status of information literacy integration into the institutional curriculum rather than the mission or strategic plan. I see they do include a group of academic librarians in the development of the report. Perhaps for their next meeting they’ll put this issue on the agenda.