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May 14, 2007

Triangulating on Outcomes

One of the key initiatives identified in our current strategic plan is a greater emphasis on assessment of library services. Three things I read or heard last week helped me to focus on one specific approach to assessment - outcomes assessment.

Outcomes assessment has been a priority in higher education and a key component in accreditation processes for years, but our most widely-used assessment program, the collection and report of ARL statistics, focuses almost entirely on inputs, rather than outcomes. Many of us have provided constructive criticism of this approach for years, and it's clear that the academic library of the 21st century will have to pay much more attention to outcomes. Here is the "triangle of outcomes assessment" for UIUC librarians in May 2007.

First, Sandra Blackaby, Vice-President of Instruction at Walla Walla Community College, articulated how important outcomes assessment can be in convincing campus administrators to support their libraries in tough budget times in an essay in C&RL News.

Second, Sherri Schmidt, Dean of Libraries at Arizona State, responded to the recently released Top Ten Assumptions for the Future of Academic Libraries by immediately drawing attention to the fact that they missed the fact that libraries should be focusing on demonstrating their impact on student learning outcomes.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly for our local audience, there was this comment that I received from a member of campus administration at a recent retreat on strategic planning: "I see your data on your progress toward your strategic goals, but tell me how that progress has a direct impact on student learning and the student experience."

There are those in our profession who believe that the focus on assessment is simply the newest "bandwagon" that some of us are jumping on. It's not. Our campus, and campuses around the country, are increasingly interested in how we assess our impact on student learning, on the research and teaching of our faculty, and on broader campus missions and priorities. They want to hear less about the inputs we are (or are not) receiving, and more about the outcomes we help our users achieve. That is the story we have to be prepared to tell.

We have a core group of Library faculty at UIUC who are committed to conducting research on library assessment, to translating that research into improved practice in our Library, and to fostering Library-wide discussions of assessment and data-driven decision making about how we allocate our resources and how we tell our story to the campus, the community, and the state.

If my week last week was any indication, we're lucky to have them!

Posted by swalter at May 14, 2007 9:53 PM

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