Town Hall with Academic Librarians: Measuring and Communicating Value

I just had the pleasure of conducting a town hall meeting with academic librarians at Syracuse University and Le Moyne College here in central New York. I briefly shared my background in libraries and ALA and then highlighted the key points of my presidential focus on Transforming ALA, Transforming Libraries, and Transforming Communities. The concept of holding town halls as an ALA presidential candidate, in fact, came from my understanding that we need to transform ALA and make it more inclusive, inviting individual members to contribute their voices to an ALA-wide conversation and making sure that ALA as an organization listens.

We started with a discussion of value – how do academic libraries measure and communicate their value? The group acknowledged the importance of advocating for the value of the academic library and yet the difficulty of defining metrics that actually mean something, especially on long-term objectives. Any discussion of value must be considered in terms of the library’s alignment with the priorities of the larger institution. Can we measure the effect of an academic library on the institution’s graduation rate or freshman-class retention rate? Is there any way to capture the students’ perspective, when they look back on their university experience and say, “The library made a difference”?

Librarians who teach information literacy are struggling with measuring the value of their instruction for the skill development of their students. Tests do not really measure how well students can apply the skills, but what alternatives provide valid assessment data? In a subsequent e-mail exchange, one librarian and I decided that ALA could help by fostering robust conversations between academic librarians and school librarians around teaching and assessing information literacy.

Those attending the town hall brought up a number of other issues facing academic libraries and librarians – I will share these in a subsequent blog.