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ACRL DLS Chair: Natalie Haber
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Top 5 Articles: Distance Library Marketing

Compiled and annotated by Cynthia Thomes and Erica Getts, members of the DLS Research and Publications Committee.

Marketing a library’s resources or services can be particularly difficult in the distance education setting, where some users never physically set foot in the library and only interact with library staff virtually. Although there are relatively few articles that focus specifically on marketing to distance library patrons, the five discussed in this post show some ways that distance librarians have attempted to make this population aware of the resources and services available to them.


Albert, A. B. (2017). Building brand love and gaining the advocacy you crave by communicating your library’s value. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 11(1/2), 237–250. https://doi.org/10.1080/1533290X.2016.1193413


Albert designed a needs assessment to determine what distance faculty think of the library, how they use it, and how they’d like to be able to use it. Anyone looking to accomplish a similar task themselves will be happy to find the complete survey used included in the Appendix. The author found that 49% of distance instructors didn’t even know the library offered support services to them, and when asked what services they would like the library to offer, they requested things that were already available. This led the author to the conclusion that the most-needed service was marketing to make this faculty group aware of the plethora of support available to them and their students. Albert notes that faculty encouragement is a huge factor in students using the library.


If possible, marketing should be geared to specific groups (e.g., hybrid faculty, distance faculty, administrators, etc.), and the style (font, colors, etc.) should be consistent. You can use your school’s branding so as to avoid starting from scratch and conflicting with the school’s guidelines. Also, be sure you can deliver on your promises (don’t say “yes” to everything just to be accommodating), because failing to do something you said you would, or doing it poorly, causes your library to lose integrity. Finally, focusing your marketing efforts on faculty has a greater payoff than focusing on students because faculty are typically at the school longer than students, and, as previously noted, are great advocates for getting their students to use the library.

Bonella, L., Pitts, J., & Coleman, J. (2017). How do we market to distance populations, and does it work? Results from a longitudinal study and a survey of the profession. Journal of Library Administration, 57(1), 69-86. https://doi.org/10.1080/01930826.2016.1202720


The authors reported on the results of a longitudinal study of Kansas State University students and faculty. A survey was sent in 2011 to gauge awareness and use of library services by the university’s distance population. Based on the results of that survey, librarians redesigned their distance services page and created informational flyers for faculty and for students that were distributed by Global Campus staff, along with an e-mail message. A survey was then sent in 2014 to assess the effectiveness of the marketing efforts, and a separate survey was sent to distance librarians nationwide in order to compare Kansas State’s distance library services to those of other institutions. Results of the internal survey indicated that there had been an increase in both awareness and use of library services, along with an increase in satisfaction with resources and services. Among other things, results of the survey of librarians indicated that the vast majority of respondents were not assessing their marketing efforts to their distance population.


The authors noted that “much of what works and doesn’t work depends on factors particular to an institution,” but they added that their research had uncovered some best practices that should be universal for serving distance patrons. These boil down to creating useful services (considering the unique needs of the distance population and designing with that population in mind) and marketing those services. For marketing, it’s essential to partner with the university’s distance education department, to use existing communication channels, to repeat the marketing message frequently, to create targeted messages aimed at specific groups of students or for particular assignments, and to ask that faculty encourage students to take advantage of the library’s services.

Brahme, M., Bryant, S., & Luscinski, A. (2018). A literature review covering 20 years of research on marketing library resources to distance learners. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 12(3/4), 130-147. https://doi.org/10.1080/1533290X.2018.1498626


The authors conducted a systematic literature review in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the effectiveness of library services marketing efforts aimed at distance learners. They reported having searched for distance, marketing, and library in various combinations in more than 40 databases, resulting in a set of 51 scholarly publications that had been published within the past 20 years. Each of the publications was then read by at least two of the article’s three authors, and their notes about each document were saved in a Google Document. They found that only 11 documents of the documents that they read discussed the assessment of marketing efforts; most documents simply discussed the development and/or implementation of marketing campaigns.


Any marketing campaign should include an assessment component to gauge its effectiveness. Findings from the assessment should be published so that others may benefit from them; having a larger set of documents from which to draw will make it easier for future researchers to draw conclusions and to make evidence-based recommendations for library policy and practice related to marketing efforts. The authors also stated that “[c]ollaboration across academic libraries is a good idea for research standardization in the future” (p. 142).

Gall, D. (2012). Librarian like a rock star: Using your personal brand to promote your services and reach distance users. Journal of Library Administration, 52(6/7), 549-558. https://doi.org/10.1080/01930826.2012.707952


The author discussed ways in which personal branding and relationship marketing can lead to increased patron loyalty and satisfaction from distance patrons. A librarian’s personal brand can be thought of as his or her reputation; it’s what people think of when they think of the librarian. Relationship marketing involves the idea that it’s advantageous for the two parties involved in a transaction — in this case, a librarian and a distance library patron — to develop a long-term mutually beneficial relationship.


Gall stated that in order to build a strong personal brand, it helps to do what you are good at and to be good at what you do; librarians should aim for continuous improvement by learning new skills, keeping current with the literature in their field, and taking advantage of professional development opportunities. Keep in mind that it takes time to build a brand. It’s important to know your audience; consider the message that you want to send to each of the different groups with which you interact. Having a succinct message about yourself helps in building a personal brand. Building lasting relationships with distance library patrons can encourage library use and can increase satisfaction with the library’s resources and services.

Girton, C. (2018). Showing students we care: Using empathetic marketing to ease library anxiety and reach distance students. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 12(3/4), 209–218. https://doi.org/10.1080/1533290X.2018.1498634


Empathetic marketing was a new trend in 2018, when this article was published, that entities use to make emotional connections with their audience. These emotional connections are intended to not just inform people about a product or service, but to explain how that product or service can make your life easier. Distance education students are a good target market for empathetic marketing because they often feel isolated and think that they do not have the same privileges and access to the library as other students, which negatively affects their esteem, self-actualization, and sense of belonging. However, librarians can design marketing campaigns that can bolster these “big three” emotions. 


Empathetic marketing shows how the library can help meet distance students’ emotional needs, by reaching out to students in a way that makes them feel comfortable. For example, librarians can normalize confusion and anxiety with campaigns like, “Feeling stressed about an upcoming assignment? Here is how the library can help!” This shows students that they are not alone in feeling unsure about how to use the library’s resources. Another suggestion was to market ways for students to ask questions anonymously so they do not feel like they are being perceived as knowing less than others. 

Member of the Month: May 2020

The ACRL Distance Learning Section (DLS) Membership and Event committee started a “Member of the Month” initiative to highlight our diverse members.  Here is our highlight on Melissa Cornwell, Online Learning and Scholarship Librarian at Norwich University in Vermont.

If you are interested in being or nominating an ACRL DLS “Member of the Month”, please fill out this brief nomination/sign up form.

Brunette with long hair wearing a yellow scarf looks into the camera.

Name:  Melissa Cornwell

How long have you been a DLS member?

6 years

Where do you work and what do you do there?

I am the Online Learning and Scholarship Librarian at Norwich University in Vermont. I work with the online graduate students and have started to explore ways to showcase student scholarship through the library.

What is unique about your institution, and how does your work as a distance services librarian support the mission?

Norwich University is a military university and the birthplace of the ROTC program. Many of our distance students serve in the military and I work to make sure they are represented in decisions made by the library, archives, and museum.

How do you bridge the distance with online learners? What’s one way you create community for your distance learners?

Since the learning takes place in an asynchronous environment, it’s hard to create a community with our distance learners. However, I try to make sure that students know we want to help them. This includes being embedded in a few courses and also in the new student orientation that every student is required to complete. I would like to explore using virtual research consultations to reach more of our distance students.

How do you recharge your knowledge of distance library services?

I attend the Distance Library Services conference. It’s my favorite conference! I also read articles from the Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning.

What’s something fun that you’re doing now (outside of your work as a distance librarian)?

I finally got Netflix :).

What are you reading right now?

These Three Remain by Pamela Aidan

Twitter, LinkedIn, or other handles you would like us to share?


What else would you like us to share about you?

I’ve really enjoyed being part of the distance library services field. It’s such a supportive community of people and I’m grateful for the growth and opportunities it has given me.

Member of the Month: April 2020

The ACRL Distance Learning Section (DLS) Membership and Event committee started a “Member of the Month” initiative to highlight our diverse members.  Here is our highlight on Amanda Ziegler, Director of Library Services at Northcentral University.

If you are interested in being or nominating an ACRL DLS “Member of the Month”, please fill out this brief nomination/sign up form.

Amanda Ziegler

Name:  Amanda Ziegler

How long have you been a DLS member?

Since 2014

Where do you work and what do you do there?

I’m the Director of Library Services at Northcentral University.

What is unique about your institution, and how does your work as a distance services librarian support the mission?

Northcentral is a 100% online institution, focused on graduate education. Our library team has been working 100% remotely for years, and we provide robust and tailored instructional support for our primarily doctoral student body. I think that working remotely ourselves gives a lot of empathy with our online students.

How do you bridge the distance with online learners? What’s one way you create community for your distance learners?

Our institution has a digital commons, and we have a community there, the Library Insider, where we connect with students. We also heavily use Zoom to connect with our students via research consultations and workshops.

How do you recharge your knowledge of distance library services?

I love attending all of the virtual DLS events and so do my team members! It’s always great to hear how other librarians are working with students online.

What’s something fun that you’re doing now (outside of your work as a distance librarian)?

Life in our current pandemic reality has made me a connoisseur of educational apps for 5 & 7 yr olds.

What are you reading right now?

A lot of romance novels because I need something escapist with a guaranteed happily ever after.

Twitter, LinkedIn, or other handles you would like us to share?


Free Virtual Poster Session on Online Library Instruction, April 13-17

The ACRL Distance Learning Section Instruction Group invites you to participate in our 2nd annual Virtual Poster Session between April 13-17, 2020. During this week, 35 posters about online teaching and learning practices are available to view, and presenters are available to answer questions

There will be a wide variety of poster topics focused on distance library instruction, organized under the following five tracks:

  • Accessibility and Inclusivity
  • Assessment
  • Instructional Collaborations
  • Project Planning & Management
  • Student Engagement

These posters may have embedded content such as video and audio, in addition to images and text. Hear from voices of current online students and seasoned library workers looking to share their learning!

We encourage you to leave your thoughts and questions in the comment sections of the posters! Poster presenters will be available between April 13-17 to respond. This format should lead to interesting and vibrant conversations between presenters and viewers. 

Be sure to check back to see how the conversations progress!

Once you’ve visited the Virtual Poster Session, please fill out a survey to let us know what you thought! 

Top 5: Assessment of Online Instruction

Compiled and annotated by Alexandra Hauser and Lindley Homol, members of the DLS Research & Publications Committee.

Information literacy instruction for learners who are online or at a distance can often be difficult to assess. Are students attaining learning outcomes through online library instruction, and if so, which methods seem to be the most effective? Check out the articles below to see how librarians are assessing their online instruction and strategies for developing online assessments.

Alverson, J., Schwartz, J., & Shultz, S. (2019). Authentic assessment of student learning in an online class: Implications for embedded practice. College and Research Libraries, 80(1), 32-43. doi: 10.5860/crl.80.1.32

Librarians supporting an online research seminar revised their outreach model to the course, adding in more robust librarian support for students, including a video introduction and a required research consultation. In order to measure what success, if any, these implemented revisions had on students, librarians analyzed bibliographies from students’ final papers from both before and after revisions to the library support model for the course, a method of authentic assessment. Librarians compared 65 bibliographies submitted before the change in librarian support with 112 submitted over four subsequent quarters. Results of this analysis indicate that curricular changes were associated with better citation scores overall though students still struggled with recognizing scholarly literature.

This study shows that creating a visible librarian presence in an online course has a positive impact on student learning and success. While this can be time-intensive, this “high-touch” embedded model that focuses on personalized interactions with students is excellent for creating engagement and better learning by students. When conducting an authentic assessment, having a rubric and norming that rubric with others is imperative to the accuracy of the assessment.

Greer, K., Hess, A., & Kraemer, E.W. (2016). The librarian leading the machine: A reassessment of library instruction methods. College & Research Libraries, 77(3), 286-301. doi:10.5860/crl.77.3.286
This article tackles the question of whether online information literacy instruction can be as effective as hybrid instruction for students taking face-to-face courses. Following a complete overhaul of the library curriculum for an introductory writing course, in-class library sessions were reduced in length, more information literacy content was delivered via the learning management system and the assessment for the course was also modified from a pre-/post-test approach to a final exam aligned to student learning outcomes. Nine faculty members’ sections of the writing course were studied. Two sections from each faculty member were studied—one which received the hybrid instruction and one which received all online instruction. The students’ final exam results indicated that there was no significant difference between the two instructional delivery methods and students’ attainment of learning outcomes.

When library instruction is carefully designed and mapped to student learning outcomes, completely online delivery may be just as effective as hybrid instruction. However, when overhauling library instruction in a course, it is important to ensure that the changes have not adversely impacted students’ attainment of learning outcomes. Before moving all library instruction online, librarians should carefully assess whether such a switch will impact students’ learning gains in the course.

Haber, N. & Mitchell, T.N. (2017). Using formative & summative assessment to evaluate library instruction in an online first year writing course. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance learning, 11(3-4), 300-313. doi:10.1080/1533290X.2017.1324549
The authors outline the use of both formative and summative assessments in an online first year writing course. Formative assessments included the use of a tutorial video with accompanying graded worksheet and the use of a discussion forum styled after the Reddit Ask Me Anything format within the learning management system. Librarians also utilized a rubric to assess a sample of student annotated bibliographies at the end of the semester to examine skills retention and utilization. Randomized samples of the annotated bibliographies were selected, using 15 out of 42 students’ bibliographies. Results showed that most students were in the “middling” range of success on the normed rubric and students struggled with identifying source type and credibility. While the Librarian Ask Me Anything format has been a successful implementation the assessments also show that information literacy skills weaken as the semester moves on. Librarians plan to use the results of the assessments to add in more interactive content focused on student sticky points.

Partnerships with course instructors and professors are key when looking to integrate both library instruction and assessment to an online course. Librarians were able to work closely with an instructor to match the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy to overall course learning objectives before diving into their library instruction & assessment. They also were able to work with the professor to gain access to completed annotated bibliographies at the end of the semester. Librarians must also be willing to act based on assessment results; the librarians in this article shared both a discussion of the results and a plan for how they will try to improve upon the results in the future.

Schweikhard, A.J., Hoberecht, T., Peterson, A., & Randall, K. (2018). The impact of library tutorials on the information literacy skills of occupational therapy and physical therapy students in an evidence-based practice course: A rubric assessment. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 37(1), 43-59. doi:10.1080.02763869.2018.1404388
Librarians collaborated with faculty to develop online library tutorials for graduate students in an evidence-based practice course at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa campus. The tutorials were embedded in the learning management system and addressed search processes for levels of evidence. To measure the tutorials’ impact on students’ information literacy skills, researchers developed a grading rubric that assessed students’ use of search strategies and evidence sources in their final papers. 180 randomly selected student papers were graded according to the rubric and those papers from the post-tutorial cohort showed a statistically significant increase in use of subject headings, limiters, and citation of higher-level studies.

This study demonstrates that information-literacy focused tutorials that are embedded in a course can positively impact graduate students’ information literacy and evidence-based practice skills. The collaboration between librarians and teaching faculty may be a key ingredient to success as the librarians observed the course meetings and developed tutorials that were highly aligned with each week’s class module.

Twomey, B. (2015). Authentic assessments: Praxis for the distance librarian. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 9(1-2), 170-178. doi:10.1080/1533290X.2014.946356
The author argues that online assessments of library instruction frequently employ multiple choice tests, which cannot fully assess students’ grasp of complex skills like search strategy development and information evaluation. Authentic assessments, however, require students to apply what they have learned and can measure students’ attainment of higher order skills. The author outlines a sample information literacy outcome into the instructor’s objective, the students’ tasks, completion criteria, and assessment to demonstrate how an online authentic assessment might be developed.
The information landscape is complex and multiple-choice assessments of information literacy skills are only scratching the surface of what students need to understand to become competent information consumers, evaluators, and creators. Distance and online librarians can use authentic assessments to better reflect the complexity and contextual nature of information literacy skills, while also making the assessments more relevant and meaningful to students. To maintain flexibility and some measure of scalability for the library instructor, authentic assessments may need to be highly structured or used in conjunction with multiple-choice tests.

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