Library Assessment Conference 2016, the day after: Next steps

I started out my last day of the Library Assessment Conference sharing biscuits, poached eggs, and strong coffee with Maoria Kirker, Instructional Services and Assessment Librarian at George Mason University, and fellow alum of the 2013 ACRL Immersion Teacher Track program in Seattle, Washington, where we met. I admire Maoria for lots of reasons: she’s sharp, funny, energetic, dedicated to student learning, and constantly reflective of her own practice as a teacher. We have a lot in common, and it’s no surprise that we’ve even applied for the same jobs.


Maoria and I both share strong identities as educators. “I really feel like I’m an educator first,” I told her, which lead to an interesting discussion about how we describe what we do.

“I say that I’m a teacher,” she said to me. “I always say that first. When they ask what I teach, then I explain that I’m a librarian and I teach college students research skills and concepts.”

Her response made me pause. When people ask what I do, I always say that I’m a librarian–but why do I say that, if what I really believe is that I’m a teacher? Do I feel like I would be taking ownership of a word that isn’t really mine? Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve always wanted to be a librarian, and the teacher part came second, after some convincing that being a teacher wasn’t a bad thing. Librarian was a word that always had a positive connotation for me, and teacher, well, that’s a tough one. I felt a lot of shame in school (how is that children, whether labeled “smart” or “dumb”, end up feeling ashamed?) and resisted seeing my teachers as allies. I never thought that being a teacher was a positive thing. Until I learned I could be a teacher in a library, I didn’t think a teaching career was possible for me. It was a powerful revelation.

yesiamalibrarianMy Halloween costume.

I left Arlington yesterday afternoon after attending two more sessions, glumly eating a boxed lunch, and chatting up Paul Bracke about the state of library leadership today. I brought home a new tote bag (of course ) and a long list of next steps. In no particular order, I need to:

  • Continue my own research agenda. The papers and posters presented at LAC16 affirmed that my approach to information literacy and student learning assessment are valid, and I was inspired by presentations like Ann Medaille’s, who studied students’ drawings about their research process, and Anne Grant’s, who was inspired by the Framework to develop student-centered one-shot instruction that included having students write their own LibGuide.
  • Clarify my thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. I was extremely flattered by the people who stopped me and asked about some of the (half-formed) thoughts expressed in my tweets & blog posts, including my position on disaggregated data in student learning assessment, card swiping, and longitudinal tracking of individual students. I have a lot more to say, but I have to figure out how to say it first, and the informal conversations I had were wonderfully helpful in pushing me to refine and synthesize my positions.
  • Apply to the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship. I know it’s unlikely that I’ll be accepted (as I learned from Kristine Brancolini‘s presentation, they received 250 applications for 60 spots), but I think this would be an incredible opportunity to define and implement a broad-scale information literacy research project. (Although, as I also learned, they could fill an entire IRDL with just information literacy projects, and they need diverse applications representing different library services and functions!)
  • Develop my quantitative and qualitative research skills. For the past few years, I have had an intense focus on developing my pedagogy and information literacy instruction capacities, and I have not done much (if any) formal research. I was disappointed by some of the projects at LAC because I felt like the research wasn’t very strong, but I recognize my own deficits in this area and I’d like to improve my skills. Thankfully I’m at an institution that provides classes in these areas, so I can take advantage of that sometime in the next year.
  • Follow up with people who are doing great work, including Rachel Gammons and Lindsay Inge at the University of Maryland, Katie Fox with Colorado State Library, and AJ Boston at Murray State University.
  • Send thank you cards. It’s just a good habit. I met some really nice people, and I’d like to send them a brief note expressing my gratitude for them.

Yesterday, Luke Vilelle from Hollins University presented about the assessment efforts at his library. Hollins is a very small university with fewer than 700 undergraduates, all women, and the library has a tiny staff (nine people by my count). The audience was clearly impressed when Vilelle shared that their library chooses and assesses outcomes annually, generates regular reports, and even maintains a simple but effective dashboard of “Library Stats” available on their website.

A participant in the audience stood up and asked, “How do you do all this assessment with such limited staff? How do you have time for anything else?”

Vilelle chuckled. “We just get it done,” he said. It was a good reminder for all of us that, no matter the size or scope of our institutions, whether we have fifty librarians or just one or two, we can make good things happen by choosing a direction, delegating tasks, and pitching in.

The word that came to mind for me throughout the conference was habit. What are the habits in your workflow? What do you do every day, every week, every month, every semester, every year? If you do something on a regular basis (count the number of instruction sessions taught, study how people use your space, run reports of your database downloads, reflect on reference interactions, assess student learning samples, etc.), then it’s less onerous. The path forward with library assessment isn’t just buying more software (although Tableau has plenty of new fans now), hiring someone called an Assessment Librarian, or writing outcomes–it’s making the work a habit for everyone, at all levels of your library, and showing them that their habits yield positive results, internally and externally.

– – –

Missing out on: Dr. Cornel West speaking on campus today–the line was too long and my brain was too full.

Seeing tonight: Moonlight.

Ready for: Whatever’s next.