Assessment in Action Team Applications

Assessment in Action

ACRL is seeking applications from all types of higher education institutions to participate in the third year of “Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success (AiA),” made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and described on the program homepage. Participating librarians will each lead a campus team in developing and implementing an action learning project which examines the impact of their library on student success and contributes to assessment activities on campus. They will be supported in this work by a professional development program with sequenced learning events and activities at key junctures.

The online application to participate in the third year of AiA is now available. Applications are due by Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 5pm Central. The information, below, describes how applicants should prepare to apply for the third year.

The AiA program, part of ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries initiative, employs a blended learning environment and a peer-to-peer network over the course of the 14-month long program, which – during the third year – runs from April 2015-June 2016. In order to apply, each prospective institution must identify a team consisting of a librarian and at least two additional team members from other campus units (e.g., faculty member, student affairs representative, institutional researcher, assessment officer, or academic administrator). The application requires two essays – the first describes the team’s project goals and the second describes the goals of the librarian team leader – and statements of support from the library dean/director and campus chief academic officer.

Learn more about the AiA program from the recording / presentation slides of an online open forum held February 10, 2015, for prospective applicants. It provided background on AiA and details on how to apply for the third year plus featured two AiA librarian team leaders who talked about their experiences participating in the first year.

Program Goals
About the Action Learning Projects
Expectations of Librarians as Team Leaders
Expectations of Librarians as Members of a Community of Practice
Expectations of Campus Team Members
Preparing Applications
Application Instructions and Deadline
Application FAQs

An important component of the AiA program, part of ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries initiative, is to establish a learning community in which all team leaders contribute to the success of the program through active engagement. Participation is limited to 125 teams to ensure an environment that fosters group interaction and active participation.

The institutional teams for AiA will be selected through a competitive application process designed to ensure representation from an array of geographic regions and postsecondary institutions (i.e., community colleges, colleges, and universities). Other criteria considered are demonstrated need, evidence of team readiness, and institutional support for a library-led assessment project. The review team consists of ACRL member leaders, grant partner organizations, and representatives of higher education organizations who serve on the grant advisory panel. AiA program design team members are excluded from the review process. All the applications will be reviewed at once after the application deadline.

Application reviewers will seek evidence that:

  • The team and proposed project topic have the potential to contribute to the greater library and higher education community.
  • The team and institution demonstrate the commitment of resources and support to enthusiastically sustain the project to completion.
  • The librarian team leader, as an individual, demonstrates potential for sustained growth as a campus leader and shows evidence of positive skills and attitude to contribute to a collaborative learning experience.

Program Goals
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.

About the Action Learning Projects
The AiA program focuses on assessment, which we believe is rooted in identifying important questions about student learning/success, designing assessments that yield information about library contributions, and taking action based on what has been uncovered. All action learning projects should go beyond use and satisfaction and examine questions of impact and outcomes. For some teams the projects may be a first step in examining what impact the library may have on student learning and success. Work will represent an initial step or pilot project through which teams will learn more, move to action, and take a deeper look at a particular area of interest. Teams undertaking “seed” projects of this type will begin an effort that will result in a longer term commitment on campus in the future. For other teams, a previous assessment activity may have raised questions for further exploration. Therefore, some projects will move beyond describing what type of impact is occurring (or not occurring) and take a deeper look into how the library creates an impact on students. Not all projects will demonstrate that there is in fact a library impact and key criteria for “success” will be different. Developing and implementing a project as part of the AiA program will engender learning, spur action, and build capacity for continued work in this area.

Action learning projects should be realistic, and applications should propose the best project for the team in the context of campus priorities and available resources. Ideally this project will fit into current planning and goals, and data gathering processes (if existing data from surveys, swipe cards, database logins, instruction sessions, etc. will not be used) will be part of the regular workflow of students. To increase the likelihood of successful completion, it is important that this is project be intrinsic to day-to-day work. It should be integrated into the work of the team leader, library, or institution in order to maintain commitment to this type of work into the future. Finding a topic that truly piques interest and satisfies a need on campus will allow sustainability for the length of the AiA program.

Projects can consider any aspect of the library (e.g., collections, space, instruction, reference, etc.) but must ultimately be tied to student learning (e.g., course, program, degree) or success (e.g., retention, completion, persistence). The project organizers do not expect that all projects will be designed to yield generalizable results as you would expect of findings from social science research conducted from a positivist perspective or determine meaning or relevance as in qualitative social science research methods. However, many projects will be replicable at other libraries or contain elements which will be transferable to other settings. Two ACRL resources may help stimulate thinking about potential project topics: Standards for Libraries in Higher Education (see principle 3, Educational Role) and Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report (see research agenda, beginning on p. 101).

When applying to the AiA program, some of the successful past applicants stated their central inquiry questions as:

  • Do students who attend information or media literacy sessions attain higher grades than students who did not?
  • How does students’ work with special collections materials affect their ability to think critically and develop intellectual curiosity?
  • Do re-admitted students (who have appealed dismissal) improve their academic performance and persist at a higher rate due to mandatory meetings with a librarian for research assistance?
  • Does our new library/learning resource center facility have an impact on the student community, contributing to student enrollment and excitement about completing skills sessions and library orientations?
  • How does information literacy immersion (credit-bearing online  information literacy course) compare to point-of-need (“one-shot”) research instruction in helping students achieve information competencies (general education outcomes)?
  • What impact does the use of library resources and Open Educational Resources as primary instructional material have on student learning?

Other potential action learning project topics that applicants may propose could include:

  • What is the relationship between use of library-provided electronic journals and the rate/speed of degree completion for chemistry graduate students?
  • Do students in selected presentation-intensive courses who practice in library presentation rooms have better learning outcomes, as measured by course grade?
  • Our optional library instruction sessions are well-attended by those students who have some of the lowest GPAs on campus. Why is that? What could this suggest about better supporting these students?
  • On our campus, transfer students taking a course with an assigned reference librarian consultant during their first semester have a much higher retention rate. What factors are contributing? What can we learn about continuing to help transfer students succeed?
  • History majors at our college who use primary sources from our campus special collections during their junior year persist at a higher rate than those who use primary source materials from other archives and collections. To what extent is this attributed to qualities of faculty members who are more likely to partner with the library? To what extent can we claim an impact due to student use of materials and interactions with staff members in our library special collections?
  • We have a grant program for faculty and librarians to collaborate on the redesign of courses that incorporate the research process as a central element. What is the impact of this program on student learning?

Librarian team leaders from past years of the AiA program shared their advice on how to define a project:

  • “We came up with a project for AiA; I think things would have worked out better if we had already had a project, or at least a research question that we wanted answered.”
  • “I would have created a SWOT analysis ahead of time in an effort to identify my problem areas before starting the (application) process.”
  • “Don't worry about not knowing much about assessment…the program guides you through getting some sort-of assessment off the ground. Have a project (topic) really thought out so you aren't scrambling to implement.”
  • “It's important to get a big picture of the overall planning and implementation before rushing into designing a project. Learning to be a leader is definitely part of the process.”
  • “Use ACRL and AiA to leverage resources you need for your project on campus. We have been able to use the national aspects of this project to generate interest among some faculty members and get things moving that would have never gotten moving without the leverage.”
  • “Be flexible and realize that you may have to change your methods and goals as you move forward because there may be a better way to move forward with the project.”
  • “Go ahead and initiate conversations on-campus about the project, and what you would like to do, until you find at least one other person who is almost as enthusiastic as you are.”

Expectations of Librarians as Team Leaders
Being a librarian team leader in the AiA program will help develop professional skills by applying the program learning outcomes in a real-world context, while building more effective campus collaborations in the process. Librarians who participate will improve their skills as effective leaders through facilitating their campus team toward the completion of an action learning project. Furthermore, librarian team leaders will dedicate themselves to engaging with each other as a learning community, as described in the following section on being members of a community of practice.

My primary take away is a combination of increased confidence in my abilities and an assessment worldview. There are a number of smaller skills that I developed over the course of the 14 months, but this shift in the way I look at the work I do and the knowledge that I can do it will stay with me into future projects.”

Participants should understand that being part of the AiA learning community is a continuous year-round commitment, including the summer. During the middle phase of gathering and analyzing evidence, an intensive effort is expected. At other points during the program, approximately 2-5 hours of project-related work per week are anticipated. Librarians who participate in the program will both actively contribute to a community of practice by providing peer support to each other and lead their campus teams to facilitate the execution of an action learning project.

“You don't have to be the library dean/chair/director to do this. This is a great opportunity to lead a big project.”

Librarian team leaders will participate in a 14-month long professional development program, with sequenced learning events and activities at key junctures. The AiA program includes team-based activities carried out on participant’s campuses. Librarian participants will submit a final project report at the conclusion of the program and prepare and deliver a poster and brief report describing their projects and their learning. Team leaders will engage in activities on campus such as:

  • Creating a project timeline and goals, monitoring progress, and adjusting as needed.
  • Facilitating the team’s work by drafting agendas and scheduling regular meetings with team members and allies.
  • Securing funding, if any, for project activities (e.g., incentives for survey completion, printing of poster).
  • Assuming responsibility for ensuring application to institutional review board, if necessary.
  • Enlisting others to provide specific skills/expertise if the team needs additional support to complete the project.
  • Effectively communicating about the project, its goals and accomplishments to library leaders, the campus community, and possibly external stakeholders.
  • Serving as the main point of contact for the institution to the AiA design team and ACRL staff for the duration of the program.

While the bulk of the support for the AiA learning community will take place virtually through an online asynchronous classroom, live online meetings, and webcasts, librarian team leaders are expected to attend three in-person events and must secure funding as the terms of the IMLS grant to ACRL do not include participant travel. The three events are scheduled in conjunction with the ALA Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conferences as follows:

  • Thursday June 25, 2015, 1-5 p.m. and Friday, June 26, 2015, 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: San Francisco, CA. Cohort 3, first meeting.
  • Thursday January 7, 2016, 1-5 p.m. and Friday, January 8, 2016, 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Boston, MA. Cohort 3, second meeting.
  • June 23-28, 2016: Orlando, FL. Cohort 3, poster session (two slots to choose from, dates TBD).

By submitting an application, librarian team leaders agree to meet these expectations to the best of their ability if the application is accepted. New or substitute team leaders may be identified only in extreme cases and team leader replacements are permanent.

Librarians from past years of the AiA program shared their advice on leading team projects:

  • “It's a lot more work than you think...Pick something small to start.”
  • “Be flexible and [have] patience with the process. If you are not currently working at a campus where libraries drive assessment campus wide be prepared for the struggle of trying to break the barriers of inclusion and providing your relevance to faculty.”
  • “While there is support, a majority of the work and responsibility rests on the team leader. Applicants should sincerely be enthusiastic about the project and receive administration support...Do you have the time to work on your project? Are you comfortable in creating a team and asking for help?”
  • “The AiA experience is great; however it is a significant time commitment, which is important for supervisors/directors to know.  If possible, secure ‘release time’ from supervisors before embarking on this project.”
  • “My greatest challenge was finding balance – balance between the AiA project and my other responsibilities and balance in the distribution of project tasks.  In a small library it can be easier just do things yourself, rather than put the effort into navigating shared responsibilities. This doesn’t really work in the community of practice model.”
  • “(Team leaders) should prepare to do a lot of work over the summer so they are ready to go in the Fall. They may need to begin project meetings as soon as they are notified of acceptance, before professors leave town for the summer.”
  • “Set designated time to work on AiA projects, attend webinars, etc., with your supervisor when applying. It can be something flexible such as 3 hours per week. My institution was very supportive for me to apply (but it has been a challenge) to actually do the work for my project.”
  •  “The responsibility falls mainly on the team leader. But, that responsibility is easier because the Provost's support makes the many collaborations more possible.”
  • “Communicate regularly with relevant constituencies and keep track of who you tell what. Even if it's brief, such as 2-3 sentences.”

Expectations of Librarians as Members of a Community of Practice
The AiA program is designed so that librarian team leaders learn together and actively support each other, providing insight and perspective. Through a peer-to-peer collegial network, the librarian team leaders 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]. Find out more about the AiA approach to developing a peer-to-peer collegial network and community of practice on the program homepage.

Librarian team leaders in past years of the AiA program stressed the importance of their active roles in supporting each other:

  • “Think of this program as truly about developing a community of practice with your AiA cohort and on your campuses. The AiA facilitators provide excellent learning opportunities but cohort members need to be self-directed and responsible to each other for learning and developing their projects.”
  • “Expect to be active participants in the learning community – i.e., participation in the project not only results in a campus-specific assessment project but also the creation of a professional community of practice. (Your) participation in the learning activities is critical to the development of this community of practice.”
  • “You need to devote time to (regular online) work every week because others (librarian team leaders) are depending on you, even if your campus is very busy that week… The online environment is where (you) will interact the most.”

Expectations of Campus Team Members
Being part of the AiA learning community is a continuous year-round commitment. The involvement of team members will vary depending on project role.

All team members will engage in a peer review process, providing feedback about projects being developed by other participating teams. The projects will be documented and disseminated, via poster session and in online project reports via the ACRL website, for use by the wider academic library and higher education communities.

Librarian team leaders from past years of the AiA program shared their advice on finding team members who can commit to being involved:

  • Make sure to have campus buy-in and teammates who are focused on assessment. Having an Institutional Researcher or someone from the Assessment Office on the team would be a good idea.”
  • “It is imperative to choose campus partners wisely; those individuals who can make significant contributions to a team project.”
  • “Mak(e) sure your campus partners have a good understanding of time commitment going in, and recogniz(e) how much work and planning there will be on your part to keep the campus partners engaged.”
  • “Make sure that others on your team are committed to helping out with work, rather than seeing themselves in only an advisory role.”
  • “Be very clear with those you invite to be part of your campus team that it will require some level of work/communication over the summer. As someone in a 12-month position, it can be easy to overlook the fact that teaching faculty may be away and less likely to engage during the summer months.  Strategically planning for this would have been helpful – creating designated 'email check in' dates or something like that.
  • “Build on established relationships.  There may be more glamorous projects out there, but when you (and your campus) are new to assessment, it is wise to work with individuals you know well and who already support the work that you do.  This allows you to build your skills in a supportive environment. As an added bonus, they are more likely to go out and ‘testify’ about your findings – you can’t buy that kind of PR.”
  • “Communication between team members especially with members outside of the Library is crucial to the success of the project.”

As a general guide, librarian team leaders who are selected for the third year of the AiA program can expect to participate in a range of activities as follows:

This timeline is just one way of illustrating a team leader’s involvement in the AiA learning community and how a project could be executed. Because individual action learning projects vary greatly according to institutional needs and priorities, the AiA program offers flexibility. For example, some teams may gather and analyze evidence at a later time than others.

There is a registration fee of $1,200 for participating in the third year of the AiA program. For the first two years, the IMLS grant covered the majority of the costs for developing and delivering the AiA program. In the third year, the IMLS grant will subsidize only part of the costs and ACRL is implementing a registration fee as the program transitions to a cost-recovery model. Full payment due in April 2015, upon acceptance.

Librarian team leaders need to secure their own funding for travel to three in-person events: June 2015 (full day meeting), January 2016 (full day meeting), and June 2016 (poster session). Librarian team leaders who are only attending AiA meetings in June 2015 and January 2016 do not have to register for the full ALA conference. In order to present their posters, librarian team leaders must register and pay for attending the 2016 ALA Annual Conference.

Other costs to develop and implement projects will be carried by the institution (e.g., incentives for survey completion, printing of poster, etc.).

On the application form, applicants will be asked to affirm that, if their team is accepted, the institution will provide full financial support for registration in addition to travel funding for the librarian team leader to attend three in person events.

ACRL is now offering up to 20 scholarships that would underwrite half of the $1200 registration fee. Scholarships will be awarded to institutions that have demonstrated the strongest commitment to support the team’s project over the course of the AiA program and the clearest connection between the team’s project goals and institutional priorities.

On the application form, each applicant will be asked to indicate whether their institution is seeking a scholarship.

Preparing Applications
Begin the application process early and prepare and submit materials as soon as possible. It takes time to consult with colleagues in the library, meet with prospective team members across campus, secure commitment, scope out an area of interest for the team’s project, write the essays, arrange for travel funding, and request statements of support. The application requires two essays – the first describes the team’s project goals and the second describes the goals of the librarian team leader – and statements of support from the library dean/director and campus chief academic officer. Each piece is described in detail, below.

Essay #1 on the team’s project goals may be up to 300 words long. The essay should clearly explain the central question which would be investigated through this project, the goals the college/university has established for carrying out a project as part of the AiA program, and how the central question and the contributions of the library align with those goals. If the team has a particular method in mind for collecting data, include that briefly. Explain the ways in which the proposed project has the potential to make a contribution to assessment work in other libraries or higher education. Given what you know about existing assessment endeavors in other academic libraries, what is distinctive or unique about your proposed project? What could others learn? Some of the questions you may want to consider addressing in your essay could include things such as: What aspects of student learning or student success are most important at the institution? Has your college of university developed student learning outcomes/goals across the institution that the library has potential to impact? What aspects of the library (e.g., collections, space, instruction, reference, etc.) are related to the project? What connections would be explored as the basis for the action learning project? How has the library been involved in past assessment efforts? Why is this the right time for the institution to take on this project? Why are the chosen team members the right mix of people given the team’s area of interest? What do their positions and experience bring to this project? (Campus team members are identified fully by name and title/position elsewhere in the application.) These questions are simply a few examples, you do not need to answer each explicitly, but use them for guidance as you write your essay.

Institutions that participated previously in AiA may apply to participate a second time, or institutions applying for the first time may submit two applications for two teams and projects. In this first essay describing the proposed project, they should explain briefly why a second team/project would be helpful to their institution.

Essay #2 on the goals of the librarian team leader may be up to 300 words long. The essay should briefly explain the team leader’s professional background for undertaking the work described in essay #1 (i.e., attended conferences, webinars, presented papers, etc.) and length of time in the profession (newer and less experienced librarians will not be penalized). Explain the strengths, skills and attitude the team leader will bring to the collaborative learning community and to the role as team leader on campus. The essay should briefly state personal goals for professional growth in assessment competency and leadership acumen.

Statement of Support #1 from the library dean or director may be up to 500 words long and should address the commitment of the library to assessment, the dean or director’s role in that process, and indicate how the institution will support the team’s project over the course of the AiA program. The statement does not need to be uploaded or faxed on formal letterhead. Simply copy and paste the final text of the statement provided by the dean/director into the online application form.

Statement of Support #2 from the campus chief academic officer (i.e., provost or vice president for academic affairs) may be up to 500 words and should address how the team’s project goals are connected to institutional priorities. The statement does not need to be uploaded or faxed on formal letterhead. Simply copy and paste the final text of the statement provided by the chief academic officer into the online application form.

Application Instructions

The online application to participate in the third year of AiA is now available.

  1. Each application must identify a librarian team leader who will receive notification of the team's acceptance or rejection. If the team's application is accepted, the librarian team leader will serve as the main point of contact for the ACRL design team and staff for the duration of the program.
  2. Once the online application process has begun, statements can be revised as many times as needed until they are complete and ready to submit. No deadline exceptions will be granted.
  3. Have the following information prepared before beginning the online application form:
  1. Names, titles, affiliations (i.e. department, office, or school), and contact information for all team members.
  2. Two essays.
  3. Two statements of support.
  4. Whether your institution is seeking a scholarship.
  5. Indicate whether your institution will provide full financial support for registration in addition to travel funding or only if a scholarship is awarded.
  1. Incomplete applications can be saved and edited or additional information can be added before the submission deadline date. An ID number and password will be assigned when the proposal is submitted. Be sure to print the ID number and password and keep them in a safe place; these will be needed in order to edit the proposal at a future time.
  2. Please note that this is a team application process and acceptance into the program is based, in part, on who is identified as members of the team.

Application Deadline
Applications are due by Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 5pm Central.

The librarian team leader listed on the application will be ACRL’s primary contact. All applicants will be notified of their status via e-mail by Friday, April 17, 2015, 5pm Central.

See the application frequently asked questions for more details about applying.

Questions may be directed to ACRL Senior Strategist for Special Initiatives Kara Malenfant at or 312-280-2510.