The three types of library professionals who absolutely must read the new ACRL/OCLC Academic Library Impact report


It’s really not for everyone

Clickbait headline aside, there really isn’t a compelling reason for some library workers to read the full text of the recently published Academic Library Impact: Improving Practice and Essential Areas to Research report from ACRL and OCLC.

For most librarians and educators, the eight-page introduction is all you need. It’s got a quick overview of six priority areas that we suggest as a guide for developing academic services that focus on student success. For each, there’s a short bullet list of actions and questions we’d like to explore further. That’s it. A nice, easy primer for most librarians.

But if you are a library administrator, do marketing for your library, or are directly involved in educational outcomes … sorry. You need to make time for all 73 pages.

Let’s connect goals to roles

The report’s introduction includes a key question, familiar to librarians:

How well can academic library administrators and staff demonstrate that the academic library is useful to students?

While the question seems straightforward, librarians know that the answer is anything but. We identified six areas that clarify how to address this question. These areas match well with the roles of library administrators, those doing marketing for their libraries, and those directly involved in educational outcomes.

1. Library administrators: match and collaborate

The areas that we identify as relevant to library administrators are:

  • Match library assessment to the institution’s mission
  • Collaborate with educational stakeholders

If you are a library administrator and your library’s metrics don’t mesh with and complement those of your institution … you need to get on that today. Colleges and universities are becoming much more competitive and data focused. Your college president, provost or CEO—whatever the title may be—is looking for ways to quantify contributions to student success. Because that’s what their paying customers—parents and students—are demanding.

To quantify and communicate the library’s contributions to student success, you need to be collaborating with other stakeholders. You need to know: what they are measuring; how your library can contribute to their work to make an impact at the institution; and how they can help you.

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2. Library marketers: quantify and communicate

The areas we identify as relevant to library marketers are:

  • Communicate the library’s contribution
  • Quantify the library’s impact on student success

Hopefully it’s obvious that “communicating” is part of your remit in marketing. But what may not be as obvious is that to do it well—especially internally—you need to start with the numbers and the terminology used by those within the academic community.

In our discussions with provosts and library administrators and our literature review, we learned that librarians use the word “service” more than others in higher education. They use more specific terms, like “teaching and learning,” “customer service,” and “space.” Go back and talk to your boss at the library and find out how you’ll be matching your activities and language with institutional missions.

3. Teaching librarians and library staff: improve your school’s pedagogy with data

The areas that we identify as relevant to those directly involved in educational outcomes are:

  • Include library data in institutional data collection
  • Enhance teaching and learning

What gets measured gets rewarded. If you’re working hard to help students succeed—but that activity isn’t recorded somewhere—guess what? It may not make the round of cuts.

Whether you’re measuring hard-and-fast statistics like graduation rates and grades or more subjective efforts like critical thinking and engagement … data are essential for making your library’s case to administrators, teaching faculty, and funders.

Our research indicates that provosts are more likely to associate libraries with student learning outcomes related to services, collections, and spaces as opposed to instruction and teaching support like research skills and how to identify credible information. And that’s a shame. If you—like many librarians and library staff—are doing the hard work of teaching, you need to make sure it’s recorded and rewarded.

I was kidding: everyone should read this

Well, as one of the authors … I’d certainly like everyone working in libraries to at least read the introduction. Heck, I’d like everyone working in education to read that much. But, in truth, it usually takes a smaller, more focused group of people to really get the ball rolling on any new set of activities like these.

Toward that end, if you’re one of the three types of library workers we’ve just discussed, guess what: it’s your job to get your staff, coworkers, and faculty on board. And by the time you’ve read the report, you’ll have a bunch of good ideas on how to make that happen.