ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest – ALA Midwinter 2008 – Discussion 2

Assessment: We know we should do it but does it have to be so difficult?

Conveners: Gayla Byerly and Annie Downey

Sunday, January 13, 2008, 4-5:30 p.m.
LOEWS Regency Ballroom A  |  Philadelphia, PA


Assessment is an essential part of a quality library instruction program. Librarians learn in library school, at conferences, in articles, and on the job that continuous assessment is necessary to ensure instruction is relevant and effective. So why aren’t librarians implementing more assessment programs?

Teachers of K-12 and college students instructors have used assessment for innumerable years to determine if students are learning concepts and meeting objectives. The thought of not using assessment in the classroom is unthinkable for the majority of teachers. As librarians are doing more and more teaching and are considered teaching faculty in many school districts and at many institutions of higher education, it is more important than ever that we implement assessments in library classrooms.

Best Practices for Assessment

The American Association for Higher Education developed “9 Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning,” which is used throughout higher education to guide assessment practices. It includes important factors like the necessity of examining our educational values to insure we are measuring what we want to improve rather than measuring what is easy. The Best Practices also assert that assessment has to take into account that learning is a complex process, that the programs being assessed must have clear purposes, and that we must pay attention to outcomes and the processes to achieve outcomes when we are designing assessment. Assessment also needs to be ongoing and be a part of the wider educational community to include addressing issues and questions that people really care about and be a “part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.” Finally, assessment helps educators honor their responsibilities to students and to the public by providing information about how students are doing and by offering opportunities to improve our practice.

These 9 Principles do a great job of getting to the heart of assessment: why it is important and issues that need to be thought about and included to make it as effective as possible. However, they can also appear daunting to librarians who may be struggling to figure out how to fit everything they need to teach into a one hour session while simultaneously learning teaching techniques and about student learning. Assessment can often feel like an add-on; something that would be nice if only there were time.

That being said however, many librarians do have a strong desire to design and implement quality assessment programs. At least two reasons for this include “external pressure imposed by accrediting agencies” and a desire to improve teaching and learning.

Current Assessment Practices

Not a lot was written about assessing student outcomes of information literacy instruction until the 1990s, when there was suddenly an increase of conference programs and workshops on how to design assessment programs. That these sessions were well-attended attests to an interest on the part of librarians in learning about and how to do assessment of their instruction classes and programs. “Unfortunately, for the majority of colleges and universities, high interest has not resulted in large numbers of well-designed assessment tools (Merz and Mark).”

According to a University of Minnesota study of four year universities published in 2004, 22% of the library respondents did not assess library instruction in any form. Merz and Mark’s study for their 2002 CLIP guide found that 59% of the library respondents performed some type of formal assessment after their instruction sessions, while 41% admitted they did not do assessment of any kind for their library instruction sessions.

Types of Assessment

In education, there are two standard categories of assessment: formative and summative. Formative measures the quality of instruction and includes “self-assessed student learning” such as surveys, one-minute papers, one-minute summary, muddiest point questions, and other brief evaluations. Summative measures actual student learning and includes pre-tests and post-tests, portfolios, bibliography analysis, rubrics, and research paper analysis (Merz and Mark, 2002).

Of the respondents in the Minnesota study, 57% assessed with a questionnaire, 79% assessed using a paper format, 16% assessed using online formats, and 5% assessed using both methods. In the Merz and Mark study, 50% of the respondents who practiced assessment used a multiple choice type questionnaire, 30% used assignments other than papers, 34% were included as part of the classroom faculty’s exam, 29% used an attitudinal assessment that was part of a general library survey, and 36% used an attitudinal assessment specific to the library instruction session.


Arp and Woodard posit that there are probably several reasons librarians do not assess as much as they may think they should, including “a perception that doing assessment requires a certain level of expertise in assessment methodologies and data analysis,”; that learning and therefore assessment of it is very complex,; and subject to time constraints.

Some of the obstacles cited by Merz and Mark include: “lack of systematic and/or longitudinal access to students due to reliance on the good graces of classroom faculty; inadequate staffing, little or no access to appropriate teaching facilities, and lack of institutional support.”

Sonntagg and Meulemans state that some of the challenges librarians face in starting an assessment program include a feeling that it will be “too burdensome given regular job responsibilities”; that the results may be negative and adversely affect programs and services and reflect poorly on job performance; the perception that they have few options in terms of making changes if the assessment suggests changes are necessary; lack of knowledge about assessment theories and practices; and lack of administrative support.

Librarian Comments on Assessment

“We are short staffed and three of our positions have been frozen due to the budget so assessment is on the back burner.”
“We do not assess our program because our director thinks it is a waste of time. We want it, however.”
“We have ideas and drafts but we cannot work 24 hours a day.”
“To be honest, I have always fought tooth and nail against assessment in library instruction. I spend all my time and energy building relationships with students and faculty, perfecting my jokes, and getting excited about what students are working on. This takes up all my time and I am convinced that this is the right thing to do and my administration is supportive of this, assessment is a waste of time.” (Kapoun, 2004)


American Library Association. “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.” (September 01, 2006) 18 December 2007. <>

Astin, A. W. “9 Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning.” American Association for Higher Education: 1996. 18 December 2007 <…

Avery, Elizabeth Fuseler, ed. Assessing Student Learning Outocmes for Information Literacy Instruction in Academic Institutions. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2003.

DeFranco, Francine, Steve Hiller and Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, eds. Building Practical, Sustainable, Effective Assessment.Proceedings of the Library Assessment Conference. Charlottesville, VA. Sept. 25-27, 2006. <>

Kapoun, Jim. “Assessing Library Instruction Assessment Activities.” Library Philosophy & Practice 7.1 (Fall 2004): 1-11.Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts. 20 December 2007. <>

Library Instruction Annotated Bibliography Evaluation and Assessment. Carla W. Buss updated by Ellen Keith, June 2001 and Chad Kahl, August 2003. 18 December 2007 <>

Merz, Lawrie H and Beth L. Mark, comps. Assessment in College Library Instruction Programs. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2002.

Williams, Janet L. “Creativity in Assessment of Library Instruction.” Reference Services Review 28.4 (Winter 2000): 323-335.


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