New ACRL Report Highlights Library Contributions to Student Learning and Success

Academic Library Impact on Student Learning and Success coverThrough a new report issued by ACRL, “Academic Library Impact on Student Learning and Success: Findings from Assessment in Action Team Projects,” the higher education community now has compelling assessment findings that tell a strong story about the multiple ways that academic libraries are contributing to student learning and success. The report focuses on projects completed during the third and final year as part of the program Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success (AiA) from April 2015 to June 2016. Teams from more than 50 campuses completed assessment projects and reported on them individually (fully searchable online),  and this synthesis builds on past findings from an additional 150 projects completed during the first and second years of the AiA program as context.

Positive connections between the library and aspects of student learning and success in five areas are particularly noteworthy:

  1. Students benefit from library instruction in their initial coursework. Information literacy instruction provided to students during their initial coursework helps them perform better in their courses than students who do not.
  2. Library use increases student success. Students who used the library the library in some way (e.g., circulation, library instruction session attendance, online database access, study room use, interlibrary loan) achieved higher levels of academic success (e.g., GPA, course grades, retention) than students who did not use the library.
  3. Collaborative academic programs and services involving the library enhance student learning. Academic library partnerships with other campus units, such as the writing center, academic enrichment, and speech lab, yield positive benefits for students (e.g., higher grades, academic confidence, retention).
  4. Information literacy instruction strengthens general education outcomes. Library instruction improves students’ achievement of institutional core competencies and general education outcomes such as inquiry-based and problem-solving learning, including effective identification and use of information, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and civic engagement.
  5. Library research consultations boost student learning. One-on-one or small-group reference and research assistance with a librarian enhances academic success, as documented by such factors as student confidence, GPAs, and improved achievement on course assignments.

While these project findings may not be generalizable, as from some forms of social science research, they can be adapted to other settings with care and consideration to local context. Because the findings are derived from action research, which is situated in authentic institutional contexts, the results reflect “on the ground” practices in terms of resources available and campus priorities.

“We now have compelling assessment findings that tell a strong story about the multiple ways that libraries are contributing to student learning and success. Having overall consistent assessment findings of library impact in these five areas—across a body of over 200 projects—is especially strong because of the variation. Each setting was unique; each library program and service differed in the way it was designed and implemented for the local context; students had different characteristics and backgrounds; there was a multiplicity of methods for investigating library impact on students,” said report preparer Karen Brown, professor in the School of Information Studies at Dominican University. “We urge academic libraries to grow and strengthen high-quality programs and services in these five areas of effective practice. Assessment findings such as these from the AiA projects lessen the need to question whether investments of time and energy in these areas will bring about a positive impact.”

In addition, the AiA projects continue to build evidence of promise for library impact in four areas which have yielded promising results about positive connections between the library and students’ academic success:

  • The library contributes to improved student retention.
  • Library instruction adds value to a student’s long-term academic experience.
  • The library promotes academic rapport and student engagement.
  • Use of library space relates positively to student learning and success.

Beyond the findings about library impact, librarian team leaders reflected on the experience of leading a collaborative campus team. Librarians engaged in an immersive process of ongoing interaction with one another and collaboration with their team members.

“The librarians led the design and implementation of assessment that related directly to their campus’s academic priorities, creating opportunities for substantive conversations with campus stakeholders about student learning and resulting in meaningful findings that informed decision making about library programs and practices,” noted ACRL Senior Strategist for Special Initiatives Kara Malenfant, who contributed to the report. “Through this, they strengthened crucial leadership qualities such as an awareness of the importance of decision making grounded in institutional context, a deeper understanding the dynamic nature of assessment, and a recognition of the personal and professional growth that emerges through collaboration with others.”

Read more in the full report “Academic Library Impact on Student Learning and Success: Findings from Assessment in Action Team Projects.” The executive summary is available as a separate document, formatted to share broadly with campus stakeholders.

The three-year AiA program, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), helped more than 200 postsecondary institutions of all types create partnerships at their institution to promote library leadership and engagement in campus-wide assessment. Each participating institution established a team with a lead librarian and at least two colleagues from other campus units. Team members frequently included teaching faculty and administrators from such departments as the assessment office, institutional research, the writing center, academic technology, and student affairs. Over a 14-month period, the librarians led their campus teams in the development and implementation of a project that aims to contribute to assessment activities at their institution.

A new day-long traveling ACRL workshop builds on the AiA curriculum with a focus on strategic and sustainable assessment. Learn more about how to bring this and other ACRL licensed workshops to your institution, chapter, or consortia.

A forthcoming print volume, Shaping the Campus Conversation on Student Learning and Experience: Activating the Results of Assessment in Action, will describe the entire AiA program in greater detail. The volume, to be published by ACRL in fall 2017, will provide context, offer reflections from team leaders, and serve as a culminating capstone for the three year IMLS-funded program.

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