Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success

Assessment project posters. 2014 ALA Annual Conference.

In September 2012, ACRL was awarded a National Leadership Demonstration Grant of $249,330 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for the program “Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success” (AiA). Part of ACRL's Value of Academic Libraries initiative, AiA  is being undertaken in partnership with the Association for Institutional Research (AIR) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). The grant supports the design, implementation and evaluation of a program to strengthen the competencies of librarians in campus leadership and data-informed advocacy.

An interim narrative report, submitted to IMLS on Thursday, October 31, 2013, describes the first year of grant activities, 10/01/12-09/30/13. In December 2013, we held an online open forum to provide background on AiA, report on the assessment work of the first 75 institutions, and give details on how your institution can apply for the second year of the program. Listen to the recording or download a PDF of the presentation slides.

The online application to participate in the second year of AiA was due 5 p.m. Central, Friday, March 21, 2014. Stay tuned for more information in late 2014 about the third year of the program.

The genesis of the AiA program
This program is based on ACRL's 2011 IMLS Collaborative Planning Grant which convened two national summits in partnership with AIR, APLU, and the Council of Independent Colleges. The summits assembled representatives from twenty-two postsecondary institutions, including senior librarians, chief academic administrators, and institutional researchers, for discussions about library impact. Fifteen representatives from higher education organizations and associations also participated in the summits. During the presentations, discussions, and collaborative work, the following four broad themes emerged about the dynamic nature assessment in higher education:

  • Accountability drives higher education discussions.
  • A unified approach to institutional assessment is essential.
  • Student learning and success are the primary focus of higher education assessment.
  • Academic administrators and accreditors seek evidence-based reports of measurable impact.

Given this intensified attention to assessment and accountability issues in the higher education sector, five overarching recommendations for the academic library profession emerged, each followed by proposed action steps. The AiA project design is based on those recommendations. Learn more about the summits in white paper “Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summits.”

About the program
Three hundred institutions of all types will be selected to participate in the AiA learning community (Year 1: 75 institutions; Year 2: 100 institutions; Year 3: 125 institutions). Each participating institution will identify a team consisting of a librarian and at least two additional team members as determined by the campus (e.g., faculty member, student affairs representative, institutional researchers, or academic administrator). The librarian team leaders will participate in a 14-month professional development program that includes team-based activities carried out on their campuses.

Partner, partner, partner; be visible and demonstrate value of libraries as campus partners in the student and faculty learning process. – Academic administrator at ACRL’s 2011 summits

Librarians who participate in the AiA program, supported by a blended learning environment and a peer-to-peer network, will lead their campus teams in the development and implementation of an action learning project examining the impact of the library on student success and contributing to assessment activities on their campus. The projects will result in a variety of approaches to assessing library impact on student learning which will be documented and disseminated for use by the wider academic library and higher education communities. The different perspectives and experiences represented by the institutional team members will foster a collaborative approach to assessing the library’s impact on student learning and success on the campus of each participating institution.

Reports of assessment efforts are often a stumbling block. It usually works better to get people together in conversation with basic data (not a report). It’s the process of reflecting on the data that’s important. – Charles Blaich, Director, Center of Inquiry at Wabash College and the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium, at ACRL’s 2011 summits

The AiA program has three broad goals:
GOAL 1: Develop the professional competencies of librarians to document and communicate the value of their academic libraries primarily in relation to their institution’s goals for student learning and success.
GOAL 2: Build and strengthen collaborative relationships with higher education stakeholders around the issue of library value.
GOAL 3: Contribute to higher education assessment work by creating approaches, strategies, and practices that document the contribution of academic libraries to the overall goals and missions of their institutions.

We need to reinforce that one size does not fit all. Students succeed for many different reasons. – April Mason, Provost and Senior Vice President, Kansas State University, at ACRL’s 2011 summits

AiA will result in training for 300 librarians, along with instructional engagement and resources for an additional 600-900 campus representatives on the teams. The design of the professional development program and the results of the collaborative campus projects have the potential for significant impact in the profession. The institutional teams will participate in peer review and provide feedback about the library value projects developed by other participating teams. An online collection of library value approaches, practices, and tools replicable to a variety of higher education settings will be documented and articulated for use by the wider academic library and higher education community.

About the curriculum
Unlike traditional educational models that spotlight an instructor’s central role as the “sage on the stage” with primary authority and content expertise, blended learning emphasizes the facilitative role of instructors (i.e., “guide on the side”). Learners work collaboratively in face-to-face sessions, webinars, and asynchronous online environments to create, share, and build content and products. In addition to cognitive learning outcomes which focus on building skills and enhancing knowledge, the program will include affective learning outcomes achieved by creating a peer-to-peer collegial network among the librarians in each cohort. This network will support collective learning, shared competence, sustained interaction, and a climate of mutuality and trust. In the process, a “community of practice” will develop. As Etienne Wenger explains, “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”[1]  The AiA program design includes a sequenced set of experiences to promote and support the creation of a community of practice. The learning activities will also encourage action learning, a critical aspect of the professional development program. As the librarians work with their team members on the design and implementation an assessment project, the knowledge and skills they acquire will be tested in authentic learning environments.

To create a dynamic, authentic learning experience, the AiA program will use blended learning, peer-to-peer collegial relationships, and action learning projects, an enhancement to ACRL’s existing models. The AiA professional development program offers an opportunity to create and evaluate emerging instructional models as they relate to professional practice. The focus on action learning will also lead to a deeper understanding of what happens when knowledge and skills are applied in practice.

The design/facilitation team is led by Debra Gilchrist, Vice President for Learning and Student Success, Pierce College, WA; Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, Coordinator for Information Literacy and Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Kara Malenfant, Senior Strategist for Special Initiatives, Association of College and Research Libraries. Three additional designers/facilitators will participate throughout the length of the project: April Cunningham, Library Instruction Coordinator at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA; and Carrie Donovan, Head of Teaching & Learning for the Indiana University Libraries in Bloomington, IN. A community of practice expert advised the team during the early design process and Libby Miles, Associate Professor of Writing & Rhetoric in the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, RI, was part of the facilitation team for the first 18 months of the program. Project analyst Karen Brown, Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University, IL, will work with the team to create a process for documenting replicable action learning projects undertaken by the institutional teams. Expert speakers, selected to augment the program, will present briefly at key junctures. Read more about the design team members in their biographies.

While the bulk of the support for the AiA learning community will take place virtually through an online asynchronous classroom and webcasts, the librarian team leaders in each cohort will attend three in person events, which are held in conjunction with the ALA Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conferences on the following cycle:

  • June 27- July 2, 2013: Chicago, IL. Cohort 1, first full-day meeting.
  • January 24-28, 2014: Philadelphia, PA. Cohort 1, second full-day meeting.
  • June 26-July 1, 2014: Las Vegas, NV. Cohort 1, poster session.
  • June 26-July 1, 2014: Las Vegas, NV. Cohort 2, first full-day meeting.
  • January 30-Feb 3, 2015: Chicago, IL. Cohort 2, second full-day meeting.
  • June 25-30, 2015: San Francisco, CA. Cohort 2, poster session.
  • June 25-30, 2015: San Francisco, CA. Cohort 3, first full-day meeting.

How to get involved
THIRD YEAR TEAMS: In early 2015, ACRL will be seeking applications from all types of higher education institutions for additional teams to participate in the third year of AiA. Stay tuned for more information in late 2014 about the third year of the program.

SECOND YEAR TEAMS: In April 2014, ACRL selected 73 additional institutional teams to participate in the second year of the program. The teams, representing all types of institutions, come from 34 states and 1 Canadian province. Currently confirmed institutions are:

  • A.T. Still University (Mesa, AZ)
  • Arkansas Tech University (Russellville, AR)
  • Becker College (Worcester, MA)
  • Benedictine College (Atchison, KS)
  • Champlain College (Burlington, VT)
  • City University of Seattle (Seattle, WA)
  • College of Southern Nevada (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Colorado Mesa University (Grand Junction, CO)
  • Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, NY)
  • CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College (New York, NY)
  • Defiance College (Defiance, OH)
  • Des Moines Area Community College (Des Moines, IA)
  • Eastern Kentucky University (Richmond, KY)
  • Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, VA)
  • Florida International University (Miami, FL)
  • Fulton-Montgomery Community College (Johnstown, NY)
  • Georgia College and State University (Milledgeville, GA)
  • Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus (Atlanta, GA)
  • Georgia Southern University (Statesboro, GA)
  • Illinois of Institute of Technology (Chicago, IL)
  • Joliet Junior College (Joliet, IL)
  • Kalamazoo College (Kalamazoo, MI)
  • Knox College (Galesburg, IL)
  • Kutztown University of Pennsylvania (Kutztown, PA)
  • Lone Star College System (Houston, TX)
  • Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN)
  • Macalester College (St. Paul, MN)
  • Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI)
  • Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (North Adams, MA)
  • McDaniel College (Westminster, MD)
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)
  • Montclair State University (Montclair, NJ)
  • Naugatuck Valley Community College (Waterbury, CT)
  • Northwest Arkansas Community College (Bentonville, AR)
  • Northwest Vista College (San Antonio, TX)
  • Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
  • Otero Junior College (La Junta, CO)
  • Our Lady of the Lake University (San Antonio, TX)
  • Peninsula College (Port Angeles, WA)
  • Pierce College at Fort Steilacoom (Lakewood, WA)
  • Point Park University (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)
  • Rutgers, The State Univeristy of New Jersey (Piscataway, NJ)
  • Samuel Merritt University (Oakland, CA)
  • South Dakota State University (Brookings, SD)
  • Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX)
  • Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (Albuquerque, NM)
  • Temple University (Philadelphia, PA)
  • The College of Saint Scholastica (Duluth, MN)
  • The University of Akron-Main Campus (Akron, OH)
  • University of Alberta (Edmonton and Camrose, AB)
  • University of California, Merced (Merced, CA)
  • University of California-San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
  • University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA)
  • University of Minnesota-Morris (Morris, MN)
  • University of Mississippi (University, MS)
  • University of Mississippi Medical Center (Jackson, MS)
  • University of Nebraska Omaha (Omaha, NE)
  • University of North Carolina Wilmington (Wilmington, NC)
  • University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • University of South Dakota (Vermillion, SD)
  • University of West Georgia (Carrollton, GA)
  • University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (Stevens Point, WI)
  • Utah State University (Logan, UT)
  • Utah Valley University (Orem, UT)
  • Virginia Wesleyan College (Norfolk, VA)
  • Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC)
  • Wake Technical Community College (Raleigh, NC)
  • Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, MO)
  • Wayne State University (Detroit, MI)
  • West Virginia State University (Institute, WV)
  • Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI)
  • Yeshiva University (New York, NY)

FIRST YEAR TEAMS: In April 2013, ACRL selected 75 institutional teams, from a pool of 98 applicants, to participate in the first year of the AiA program. The teams, representing all types of institutions, come from 29 states and 3 Canadian provinces. Currently confirmed institutions are:

  • Alverno College (Milwaukee, WI)
  • Anne Arundel Community College (Arnold, MD)
  • Appalachian State University (Boone, NC)
  • Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)
  • Augustana College (Rock Island, IL)
  • Brown University (Providence, RI)
  • Bucks County Community College (Newtown, PA)
  • California Lutheran University (Thousand Oaks, CA)
  • Central Washington University (Ellensburg, WA)
  • Claremont Colleges (Claremont, CA)
  • Dakota State University (Madison, SD)
  • Dalhousie University (Halifax, NS)
  • DePaul University (Chicago, IL)
  • Elizabethtown College (Elizabethtown, PA)
  • Fairfield University (Fairfield, CT)
  • George Mason University (Fairfax, VA)
  • Grand Valley State University (Allendale, MI)
  • Greenfield Community College (Greenfield, MA)
  • Grinnell College (Grinnell, IA)
  • Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY)
  • Howard University (Washington, DC)
  • Illinois Central College (East Peoria, IL)
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Indiana, PA)
  • Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM)
  • Kapiolani Community College (Honolulu, HI)
  • Lakeland Community College (Kirtland, OH)
  • Lasell College (Newton, MA)
  • Le Moyne College (Syracuse, NY)
  • Los Angeles Trade Technical College (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Medaille College (Buffalo, NY)
  • Mercy College (Dobbs Ferry, NY)
  • Miami University (Oxford, OH)
  • Michigan Technological University (Houghton, MI)
  • Middlesex Community College (Bedford, MA)
  • Montana State University (Bozeman, MT)
  • Muhlenberg College (Allentown, PA)
  • Murray State University (Murray, KY)
  • North Carolina Central University (Durham, NC)
  • Northeastern Illinois University (Chicago, IL)
  • Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, WA)
  • Radford University (Radford, VA)
  • Rockhurst University (Kansas City, MO)
  • Rollins College (Winter Park, FL)
  • Saint Mary's College of California (Moraga, CA)
  • Salem State University (Salem, MA)
  • Santa Barbara City College (Santa Barbara, CA)
  • South Texas College (McAllen, TX)
  • Southern Connecticut State University (New Haven, CT)
  • St. Mary's College of Maryland (St. Mary's City, MD)
  • Stonehill College (Easton, MA)
  • The Citadel (Charleston, SC)
  • The College at Brockport, State University of New York (Brockport, NY)
  • The Ohio State University (Columbus, OH)
  • Towson University (Towson, MD)
  • UNC Charlotte (Charlotte, NC)
  • University of Baltimore (Baltimore, MD)
  • University of Connecticut Health Center (Farmington, CT)
  • University of Guelph (Guelph, ON)
  • University of Idaho (Moscow, ID)
  • University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, MB)
  • University of Maryland University College (Adelphi, MD)
  • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (North Dartmouth, MA)
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)
  • University of Nebraska Kearney (Kearney, NE)
  • University of Northern Colorado (Greeley, CO)
  • University of Redlands (Redlands, CA)
  • University of South Florida (Tampa, FL)
  • University of Texas at El Paso (El Paso, TX)
  • University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (Eau Claire, WI)
  • University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (Green Bay, WI)
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI)
  • Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA)
  • Webster University (St. Louis, MO)
  • Western University of Health Sciences (Pomona, CA)
  • York University (Toronto, ON)

If you have questions about the Assessment in Action program or ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries initiative, please contact Kara Malenfant, ACRL Senior Strategist for Special Initiatives, at or (312) 280-2510.


[1] Wenger, E. Communities of Practice. (June 2006).