Attending and Presenting at Library Assessment Conference 2016


The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the University of Washington Libraries co-sponsored the 2016 Library Assessment Conference: Building Effective, Sustainable, Practical Assessment in Arlington, Virginia, October 31–November 2.

Held biannually since 2006, the Library Assessment Conference’s goal is to build and further a vibrant library assessment community by bringing together interested practitioners and researchers who have responsibility or interest in the broad field of library assessment. The event provides a mix of invited speakers, contributed papers, short papers, posters, and pre- and post-conference workshops that stimulate discussion and provide workable ideas for effective, sustainable, and practical library assessment. It is the most comprehensive North American Conference focused on library assessment.

Assessment is a topic of growing interest in library communities. The most recent conference was the largest to date, with over 600 attendees and over 100 contributed and short paper presentations. Presentations ranged from small-scale instructional assessment projects and visualizing data to developing a universal toolkit to illustrate library value to stakeholders and building a culture of assessment. The large number of conference participants, as well as variety of topics presented presents the growth of assessment in daily library activity.


The majority of librarians in attendance of the conference had ‘assessment’ in their job title. As a Resident Librarian for Online Learning, I sometimes felt out-of-place. My impotence for attending was slightly ad-hoc; I had submitted a poster proposal regarding measuring social media metrics after my library’s Instruction and Outreach Steering Committee expressed an interest that a teaching librarian attend to learn about the state of assessment in library instruction.

Many of the presentations I attended felt so particular in scope that I was having a hard time finding how I could translate the projects to my own or my colleagues work. I started to realize that the ‘classroom whispers’ of the conference’s twitter feed (#lac16) was more valuable than the presentations.

I found myself struggling to wrap my head around the sheer amount of projects and topics, and I felt overwhelmed by the number of projects and the specificity of each one. Luckily, Lisa Hinchcliffe’s keynote Sensemaking for Decisionmaking hit home with regard to my concerns and need for direction.

In her keynote, Lisa noted that historically, library assessment projects have been to evaluate decisions already made. Meaning a library has decided to implement a new service, install some new seating, reorganize its administrative structure, and would like to evaluate the effectiveness. However, with the large amounts of data at the library’s fingertips (circulation statistics, gate counts, interlibrary loan numbers, proxy access), libraries need to consider how to use this data to make decisions– rather than inform their already-made decisions. Hinchcliffe’s proposal of intentional assessment resonated deeply. I used this theme of intentionality as a theme in thinking about the applicability of the presentations for the following days. Doing so allowed me to think about presentations in a frame regarding the needs of my library and feasible projects I could replicate.

Meaning, while Kim Markman’s presentation on assessing user engagement with eye-tracking was innovative, interesting, and thought provoking, the research could not be replicated in my own library (without grant funding and project assistants). Rather, I can apply her key takeaway of designing projects for multiple trajectories, and multiple users to the theory of universal design- each person will encounter library information differently. When designing online learning objects, I need to consider how and when people might encounter the object and design for these trajectories.


Presenting a poster at a conference is an overwhelming experience. You stand by a visual representation of your research while hundreds of people review, provide feedback, and ask questions. From my experience, I have made a short list of tips that will help you to be successful in poster presentations:

Firstly, your poster needs to be designed well. How can you fit all of your research onto a single tri fold? My experiences in poster design are few, but I have come up with a few tricks to help:

  • Keep with the rule of threes: because you audience will tend to read your content in a F-shaped pattern, making sure your poster has 3 distinct sections will be more appealing, organically.
  • Clearly label your sections: Use larger font, and preferably, different typeface, as headers so your content can be browsed easily.
  • Edit edit edit: the more concise, the better. People aren’t going to want to stand and read forever. Keep things neat by getting rid of as many words as possible.

During the poster session, you’ll want to be able to engage as many people as possible. To do so, make sure to:

  • Ask people if they have questions when they come up to your poster. Most of the time, people will want to share their experiences. Asking how they would apply your methods to their library practice is a great way to get people chatting.
  • Keep business cards on hand. You might be in conversation with one, but another wants to hear about your project. The best way to navigate this situation is to connect with people after the session. Be ready to hand out your contact information.
  • Have an elevator pitch. Make sure you can accurately summarize the key points of your poster in 3-5 minutes. Have it down pat. People would much rather hear what you have to say than read your poster.


Attending a large conference that’s packed full of content can be difficult. There was a lot of assessment, and a lot of research. Overall, the conference’s all-over-the-place topics nature communicates the idea that libraries are experiencing a sea-change in how they view and implement assessment. All types of librarians and library staff are interested understanding how their services, collections, and spaces are being used.

However, as we find ourselves in a constant state of change, librarians need to think deeply about the implications of collecting so much data. How does learning about user preferences or use evolve library practice? How do we communicate these data points to library stakeholders. Lisa’s keynote recommended that librarians use the data we have as a map, compass, strategic guide. A map, for vision, to understand the state of libraries, a compass, for direction, to determine a purpose or mission, and a strategic guide, to find ways to maximize the work that we do efficiently.

How do you use assessment in your library work?


View all the slides, posters, and communal notes from LAC’s website:

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