Value of Academic Libraries Podcast — David James and Patricia Iannuzzi
David Free: Welcome to ACRL podcasts. My name is David Free. In partnership with the Association for Institutional Research, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, and the Council of Independent Colleges, ACRL recently held two IMLOS grant funded summits on the value of academic libraries. At the end of the first summit I talked with David James, Associate Vice Provost for academic programs, and Patricia Iannuzzi, Dean of University Libraries at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, about their experiences.
Do you think that coming to a summit or a discussion like this with people from different parts of your institution is going to foster you guys all working together and taking some of the ideas back to your institution?
David James: For me, I think what I got from this was perspective and knowledge that the processes and issues and challenges that we’re facing at UNLV are shared by other institutions, and also that the progress that’s been made and communicated at UNLV has also been manifested at many other institutions. That’s my principle takeaway from the meeting of yesterday and today.
David Free: Are there things from being in a meeting with a community of, let’s say, the library folks and people outside your institution, are there things that you learned about what librarianship or academic librarians, as a whole, contribute to the student learning outcomes of the academic community as a whole that maybe you hadn’t thought of before with working with just the librarians under your campus?
David James: Yes. I think the one thing I learned in that respect was that academic research libraries are tracking and actually obtaining data about student activity in the libraries and can use this to correlate with student performance, which is something I didn’t know before.
David Free: Are there specific types of data you think librarians could collect that would help that process?
David James: It has to be more than presence/absence in the library. It has to be utilization. I think the easy part is quantity of utilization. Number of volumes referred to, number of database hits. The harder part is quality or duration of that utilization, especially when you get outside of that. That’s easy. Knowing what database a student accessed or what book they checked out or what journal they checked out.
The harder part is if they’re getting assistance from librarians in special collections or in the reference section or, let’s say, if it’s a grad student getting help on course design or a faculty member getting help on course design. It can be tracked if there are card swipes or other ways to record the data. That’s really important data. The big issue, I think, the challenge which was discussed today also, is it correlative or is it causative.
There are ways to do that. I am not a social scientist but I think social scientists can help with study design and evaluation of the characteristics of the populations that are using the library services to help, in some way, figure out if it’s correlative or causative. Especially if they compare to students of similar characteristics that are not making extensive use of library services.
David Free: Do you think there are ways that librarians can collect that kind of data that David’s talking about and be able to contribute to that assessment process?
Patricia Iannuzzi: Something that I heard today that still sits for me as a big question is the value of the correlative data. I think that we need to pursue it, we need to do it, but I expect that what we learn from it will, rather than provide answers, will only provide or inform more questions that we will need to pursue. I think that what I heard today that I found a bit surprising was the circling back to the ways that libraries measure our impact on student learning.
We know, we’ve been trying, as I mentioned, for more than a decade to evaluate student learning outcomes related to information literacy, which we all know overlap and correspond to critical thinking and communication and other areas of intellectual competencies. Libraries continue to struggle with ways to measure that student learning because we can’t do it alone. The responsibility sits in the faculty’s hands and in the program’s hands.
We don’t even know if students are learning or developing those learning outcomes, never mind measure the library’s impact in those areas. I think that this other direction of looking at correlations is interesting and fascinating and I want to pursue it.
For me today, it made me underscore, based on a lot that I heard, that we need to cycle back to that requirement or need for universities and colleges and institutions to articulate the student learning outcomes, to find effective ways to have assessments of those student learning outcomes, and to really find ways, once the campus does that, for the libraries to measure their impact through authentic assessments of student learning through activities, assignments, rubrics, evaluation of coursework, et cetera.
We can’t do that piece alone so in the meantime we need to do, I think, both.
David Free: Do you think there are ways that academic libraries can bridge that gap and reach out to working with those other areas of the campus community to reach those goals?
Patricia: Absolutely, and we talked a bit about that today. I think when you originally asked the question, if the experience today had either one of us, or Dave in particular and myself, think differently about the role of libraries and he didn’t respond that it really changed it. It hasn’t changed it for me either, and that’s because we already work extensively together and not just Dave and Patty, but the area of the provost office with the library in all areas related to undergraduate reform and gen ed reform and curriculum reform.
Working with faculty on course redesign, assignment redesign, curriculum redesign. We’re intensively involved in that. I would even go so far as to say we’re leaders in that area on campus. Dave could jump in and say if he thinks that’s true or not. Really, I think the real conversation or the real question is around how do we work with faculty on helping them to embrace the learning outcomes that the campus may already have developed?
In our institution we have articulated student learning outcomes. The next step is what role do libraries play to create those spaces where faculty can understand how those learning outcomes can be embedded within their courses alongside the content and the values and the other?
David Free: You guys have been successful on your campus with collaborating and reaching out across different, for lack of a better word, silos on campus and for assessment. What advice, based on your successful collaborations, would you have for institutions that are maybe starting to go down that road where that hasn’t necessarily been a part of their culture maybe?
David James: I would say the first would be to look at what the institutional or unit level needs are. I’ll give you a couple of examples. In general education we knew we needed to become, as an institution, more effective in attaining student learning outcomes in what are called high impact or large enrollment classes. We knew that was an issue.
In many cases, when a student is in a very large enrollment class they’re passivated. You’re lucky if they’re even paying attention. How do you improve that? The first institute that was developed and put together in partnership between the provost office and the libraries was attaining course based learning outcomes in these high impact, large enrollment classes. That’s an example of an institutional need. It’s sort of departmental but it’s also institutional.
Another example, which was also just completed, was an institute with the College of Hotel and I’ll let Patty describe that.
Patricia: After what we think was a success, in the collaboration anyway, we don’t know the impact of the actual course redesign on the students, but the collaboration was a success. The Hotel College was the first in line to ask for a partnership with the library on another institute, specifically for their faculty, on a core curriculum revision. So to help work with them and their faculty on six core courses for their major and all of the instructors for those courses partnered with librarians on a course redesign process.
We did and we developed the institute and we, again, partnered with some others on campus with this. The librarians were always at the table in the course redesign process. That was so successful in the words of the participants and we know that only through their storytelling and their video and the testimonials, basically, but also because they came back to us and asked us to do another institute with them as they redesigned their capstone experiences.
Now we are, again, offering another institute where faculty and librarians and Hotel are partnered. We know that the collaboration piece is working, at least in some areas. It’s not working all across the campus. We have our share, as Dave noted, of some questioning the role of the librarian course design, but generally when we step up into that role and sit at the table and participate the response has been uniformly and unanimously very positive.
We’re actually discussing right now the next step, which would be another institute for first year experience courses which is a new requirement at UNLV, again, in partnership with others on campus who have a stake in faculty professional development. That would be, of course, instructional technology and the person in the assessment office and others.
The librarians are the ones who have, at least at our institution, who have the skill and the design of the institute to create that learning space. It’s not teaching, it’s creating the space for faculty in a peer to peer environment to work through a model of course redesign together with library partners to create basically a whole new course.
David Free: Patty, what do you think is one takeaway that you think others in the academic library field should hear about from the summit?
Patricia: Libraries do a really good job of input and output measures, but we’re not so good at doing outcomes assessment and there’s a tremendous need for training in libraries for outcomes assessment. That’s not just in the area of student learning outcomes but programmatic outcomes assessment. Especially since our new standards, the frame is totally dependent upon outcomes assessment, we have a significant need for training in that area.
I don’t believe that that’s unique to libraries. I think that that’s probably true across our institutions. I also was, if I may, a second thing I was very impressed with, I was very impressed with the institutional research experts in the room and their knowledge of experimental design and methodologies. Over and over again, they reminded us of the wide array of approaches in experimental design.
I know that I made a note that when we go back to campus I want Dave and I to sit down with our institutional research person to talk about what it is we’re really trying to do and hear from her some ideas on how we might develop an experimental approach that might fit our particular institutional need.
David Free: Great. Same question for you, Dave. What takeaway or what big idea from the summit would you like to share with others in the academic administration?
David James: I would say my one takeaway was the need for closer integration with both program level design and assessment and course level design and assessment, especially so academic assessment comes up. How libraries and faculty and academic assessment people can partner to more clearly state what do we want students to learn, how are we going to do that, how are we going to figure out if they learned it, and what are we going to do about it?
My lens was limited to are they just by debt to being busy and not making the time to look at the national literature fairly. What I came away with was there’s a lot of activity going on across the country of which I was not previously aware. Not only across the country but internationally. Especially Megan Oakleaf’s afternoon presentation on how libraries are working to actually document their impacts on student learning. That, for me, was an eye opening.
Patricia: I was pleased to hear, from our representatives of the accreditation associations and from Council on Higher Education, an openness to having us provide input about some of their accreditation language, because in the past there’s actually been a specific stance that they don’t adopt or adapt or even endorse standards from other organizations.
I felt that there was more of an openness about that and there’s an opportunity for our profession to step up and to provide some input into their regional work about the way that libraries should be looked at.
David Free: Thank you guys very much for taking time to talk to me and for coming to the summit