After The Values Study

ACRL has received a considerable amount of positive feedback about the Values of Academic Libraries Study. Perhaps you’ve had an opportunity to catch one of the presentations about the study that Megan Oakleaf, author of the study, or ACRL President Lisa Hinchliffe, have conducted at a number of different conferences.

At the Midwinter conference, during a meeting of ACRL’s Leadership Council (the Board, section chairs, and other miscellaneous representatives), a question was raised about what we do next with the Values study, or rather what comes after the study. If anyone at the meeting had a good idea, he or she chose not to share it because there were no responses to the question – and perhaps folks just had not yet had much time to give thought to that particular question. The study provides abundant information, from a mix of qualitative and quantitative studies, to help academic librarians provide evidence of the ways in which our libraries make valuable contributions to student and faculty success, and help to improve higher education. But the report itself is not a research study that provides concrete documentation of the value of academic libraries. What it does well is provide ammunition for library leaders who will want to argue for the value of academic libraries, and use it to make a case for institutional support. So the question about what comes next – what more can be done to create a strong connection between academic librarians and the value they provide – is a good one. I suspect ACRL is already cooking up some plans for next steps to extend the “value of academic libraries” initiative, but I’m not sure what they are.

As I’ve been thinking about this “what comes next” question, two possibilities have come to mind. I continue to believe that some of the most essential areas in which we can demonstrate the value of our work are student retention, persistence to graduation and student success beyond graduation. How do we connect our contributions to these higher education performance issues? I wanted to share some thoughts about this, and would like to hear what you think might make a good follow-up to the values study. One inspiration for a next step is the recently released book Academically Adrift that has created quite a stir in higher education circles with its finding that for many of our students there is little learning in their four years of college. The findings are based on data collected from a sample of 2,000 students from 24 four-year colleges. The students took standardized learning assessment tests three times during their college years.

That approach could offer some possibilities for a next step. With enough grant money a sample of students could be tracked in order to assess changes in their research skills. As seniors would they still be starting their research at Google? If asked, to what extent would they point to the librarians at their institution as playing a role in their academic success? Did the librarians have any impact on their ability to stay enrolled? The authors of Academically Adrift are already moving on to the “next step” in their research on student learning, and they’ll be looking more closely at alumni and what happens after college. Targeting alumni might even work better as a way to document the value of the academic library. If asked, what would alumni have to say about their library experience? I could see that as a more qualitative study, interviewing alumni to get more in depth information about their library experience, what value it provided and whether it was making a difference for them in their careers (assuming they’ve started careers).

A few colleagues and I previously did some quasi-experimental research on the use of LibGuides and whether, by examining the annotated bibliographies produced by the students in control and experimental groups, we could ascertain if the LibGuides made a difference in the use of library resources. While it was difficult to determine if higher quality work could be attributed to having access to the LibGuide, one thing we did notice is that there were clear outliers within the study groups. Some students performed far better, and perhaps that’s not unusual in any academic setting. Looking specifically at library research skills though, especially evaluation of content, what leads some students to excel? Another possible follow-up to Values Study could track the outliers into their post-graduate years to determine whether or not they still use their learned library skills in the workplace – and can any post-graduate success with work that involves research and/or writing be attributed to library research skills education. If we could link library research skill building with positive post-graduate or career performance that could definitely speak volumes about the value of academic librarians. There’s no question that these types of research projects are involved, somewhat complicated and almost a full-time job in themselves. That’s where ACRL’s connection with LIS educators to conduct the research makes good sense.

I’m not sure what will come after the Values Study. Given its success and value as a starting point, there is strong support in the library community for further research into the value of academic librarians and their libraries. In this post I focused on student retention and persistence to graduation. The Values Study also points to the academic librarian’s contribution to faculty research and productivity, as well as institutional prestige. There are important areas too for “next steps” research. ACRL is open to ideas for what comes next. Let ACRL know what you think would be a good next step. A great idea for what comes after the Values Study could come from anywhere in our profession.

6 thoughts on “After The Values Study”

  1. One answer to “what comes next” is the research that we will all do that is inspired/informed by the work of Megan Oakleaf. For example, I’m hard at work on a correlation study, looking at the correlation of selected IPEDS varaibles related to student success and library funding. In this post, StevenB writes about ideas he has. I’m sure there are many more projects in progress. In a year or two, one thing ACRL could do is put out a call to see what librarians have done related to the Value report. The results of these studies can be used by other libraries to continue the work of demonstrating value.

  2. That’s a great suggestion, Ann. Another thought is to be sure to suggest the Values Study as a place to start for colleagues who may be looking for a research project to take on. I know there’s a companion website to the Values Study — maybe folks can be encouraged to post briefly about their projects/results on the site?

  3. Ann – Could you get in touch with me about the correlation study you are working on? I’d like to make sure we are doing complementary work and not duplicative since there is plenty to do! 🙂 lisalibrarian at gmail

    And, Maura’s suggestion is excellent. ACRL is definitely looking to support and engage this Value work in an ongoing way. In fact, it is the first goal in the strategic plan we are working on finalizing! BTW, the Value report has a section on “Next Steps” that some might find interesting. Summarize in the Exec Summary but more detailed in the body of the report. If anyone has something to submit or would be interested in working on this in ACRL, please be in touch. Again, lisalibrarian at gmail

    Lisa Hinchliffe
    ACRL President

  4. One way that libraries can demonstrate value is by connecting library use to undergraduate student learning outcomes as defined at the course, program, and institutional levels.

    Historically, this has been difficult for libraries to do but this challenge is made explicit in the recently proposed revisions to the ACRL Standards for Libraries in Higher Education.

    This is exactly the challenge I’ve taken up in developing the ‘Understanding Library Impacts’ protocol. The protocol includes instruments to gather information about students’ purposeful library use during effort on undergraduate coursework and a method for linking that use to outcomes associated with the academic major, general education goals, and broader frameworks for student learning outcomes. The instruments are intended to be context-sensitive and work at scale.

    I’m running pilot projects throughout 2011 and I will be reporting findings late this year and in early 2012.

    If anyone is interested in learning more, please feel free to contact me.

    Derek Rodriguez

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