The Assessment problem: How to quantify academic libraries in a changing environment

"The academic library sits at the intersection of university instruction, services, and resources," writes Eric Ackerman in a recent paper. But the traditional methods to assess academic libraries are no longer relevant. Stakeholders openly question the relationship between libraries, student learning and research. And, libraries must also prove they provide a return on investment during troubled budget times. 

Assessment was often handled inhouse at libraries, so they were only relevant to librarians (and their bosses). Ackerman suggests that academic libraries must better measure ways meaningful to these outside stakeholders -- especially those who write checks or provide accreditition. 

From the paper, called Program Assessment in Academic Libraries: An Introduction for Assessment Practitioners

[M]ost library assessment is developed in relative isolation from the larger higher education community. It has been driven mainly by internal library needs, and has resluted in metrics and reporting protocols that are meaningful primarily to other librarians. Instead, these measures need to be meaningful not only to librarians but also to other stakeholders, both on and off campus.

Ackerman provides a list of problem areas. 

  1. Information literacy: can someone please define it -- and tell us how it helps students?  
  2. Services: customer service instruments are easy to understand. However, Ackerman points out customer services change nowhere more often than an online, digital environment
  3. Reference Services: Similar to the Information Literacy problem above, good luck trying to quantify reference questions and the amount of help their answers gave the patrons. 
  4. Web Stats: Vendor supplied weblogs don't provide a lot of granularity, nor do they capture the "why" or the purpose of the use, Ackerman writes. 

Here is a link to the paper again: Program Assessment in Academic Libraries: An Introduction for Assessment Practitioners