Assessment in Action: Application FAQs

Below are frequently asked questions by prospective applicants. The online application to participate in the second year of “Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success,” made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 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.

What made for strong applications in the first year?
We can characterize the strongest applications in several ways:

  • They were distinguished by the team composition and their readiness.
  • They contained clear project goals with specific topics to investigate and close alignment with institutional priorities.
  • They had the most potential to contribute to the greater library and higher education community.
  • They contained statements of specific institutional support to help the teams see their projects through to completion.
  • Librarian team leaders of the most robust applications provided evidence of how they would contribute to a collaborative learning experience for the good of all.

Can institutions that participated in year one apply to participate again in the second or third years?
No. According the IMLS grant, we will take 300 institutions through the 14-month long program, so we are seeking 100 additional teams from new institutions for year 2 and 125 additional teams from new institutions for year 3. Because the AiA program supports an institutional team and is not a personal professional development event, we hope participating in one year builds capacity within your library to continue assessment work independently.

I am the library director and my supervisor is the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs. She works closely with the chief academic officer, the Vice President for Academic Affairs. For the second statement of support, is something by the AVP sufficient for the application?
You could do this, however your application may not appear as strong as others. One option would be to have a statement from your AVP indicating she has discussed this with the VP and has received full support. It could explain why you feel a statement from the AVP is stronger/more pertinent than one from the VP. That being said, it is possible that the review team may not rate your institutional application as highly as other applications that do have a letter of support from the chief academic officer.

I know that I have a conflict with some of the in-person meetings but see that librarian team leaders can identify a substitute in extreme cases. Can you say a little more?
Being a librarian team leader is a serious commitment to both leading your team and actively providing peer support for the other librarians in the AiA learning community. This is a continuous year-round commitment, including the summer. That being said, we understand that during the 14-month long program unexpected events may occur; a librarian team leader may leave for a job at another institution, experience a medical emergency, or have a family crisis. It is only in cases such as these that it should be necessary to identify a substitute. If you know in assembling your application that you are not able to meet all of the expectations of librarian team leaders and expectations of librarians as members of a community of practice, then you should find another person who can or wait to apply until the next year.

We plan to apply for the third year of the AiA program. Will the application deadline be March 2015?
Yes, we expect to follow the same schedule and have an early March deadline. Stay tuned for an announcement in December 2014/January 2015 with more details on the next round of applications.

I am the library director and would like to submit an application where I am the team leader. But I see that the statement of support must come from the library director. Does this mean that the librarian team leader should be someone other than the library director, or are library directors eligible to participate as team leaders?
You certainly are eligible, as the library director, to be a team leader. We expect a number of applications from institutions where the library director will apply as both team leader and provide a letter of support. I would suggest that you write each of the pieces (the essays and the letter) from the particular perspectives required at that moment. Another way to say this is that you should put on a different "hat "and write from that place.

I am an assessment librarian and we already have a program at our library. I have a good project in mind and feel like I would benefit by being part of the AiA community. But I wonder if I should save space for smaller institutions that are just getting started?
You should most certainly apply. While some teams will undertake projects that are a first step towards assessing the impact of the library on student learning and success, we encourage applications from teams that have undertaken previous assessment projects. It is important to have a diversity of experiences, projects, and perspectives as this will make the entire AiA community stronger. As a more seasoned practioner, you will have much to offer as you provide peer support to other librarian leaders in the program.

Our proposed project will be to assess the impact of a yet-to-be-formed program, which won't be underway until the fall. Is that OK for the purposes of the AiA program?
Perhaps. Is your program definitely going to happen or still a tentative idea being formed? Will you accomplish enough during the time of the AiA program to actually assess the impact of your work? We expect the middle phase of gathering and analyzing evidence to take place August 2014 - February 2015. If you feel confident that your library's program will be up and running and that you will have evidence to gather/analyze, then you should make your case in essay #1. As a reminder, we will offer the AiA program again in a year from now, in case you wish to wait.

I have a question about the monetary support that IMLS is providing for the program. Is ACRL sub-granting to the participating institutions? Should we be including a budget for our action learning projects in our application?
IMLS provided a grant to ACRL to develop the AiA program. The grant funds cover our expenses for items such as a modest stipend to our design team, honorarium for expert speakers, the software to support the application process, the technology for the webcasts, meeting room rental, a.v. during the meetings, refreshment for librarian team leaders during working breaks, etc. ACRL also is funding part of the AiA program by providing a one-third match to the IMLS grant funding. This is not a pass-through grant, however, and participating institutions do not receive direct funding from ACRL. For the first two years selected team members will receive access to the educational program and learning community at no charge. In the third year of the AiA program, we will make a transition to cost recovery and begin charging a registration fee.

If we are not a research library, will our team be at a disadvantage in applying for the AiA program?
Absolutely not. The institutional teams for AiA are being selected through a competitive application process designed to ensure representation from an array postsecondary institutions (i.e., community colleges, colleges, and universities).

My library consortium is considering applying. Would you accept a consortial team?
The intention of the program is to support librarians in leading campus teams as they develop and implement a project on their campuses. This is not an individual professional development experience, per se, for academic librarians. Therefore, we would expect that the review team would rate a consortial team of librarians at different institutions much lower than a single institutional team. Individual colleges/universities within a single consortium should apply, but applications won’t be given higher priority based on consortial affiliation.

We are a branch campus of a U.S. university in another country and are interested in participating. Would we qualify to apply?
Yes, however you should have conversations with your home institution as others in the library may also be interested in applying. It could be difficult to secure support for more than one application from the library dean and provost. Also, it is not likely that reviewers would accept two applications from the same university.

Will we need to have a project formulated prior to applying, or is that something the team establishes during the program?
While you do not need to have your project formulated in full, you should explain in the first essay what you are thinking, based on the conversations you had with your team in preparing the application. You should describe the direction you plan on taking because applicant readiness is a criterion for selection.

Do we need to have team members selected prior to applying?  Or is the idea really to coach the librarians through the process of coming up with the question and forming a team?
In order to have the strongest possible application, we recommend you have all team members on board before applying. Reviewers will not rate an incomplete application, with a team member yet to be determined, as highly as a complete application.

Can my additional team members be librarians?
Many teams may rely on additional librarians and library staff members to provide specific skills/expertise over the course of completing the projects. However, for the purposes of this application you should indicate only one librarian team leader. This person will be our main contact, and there is only one seat available at the in-person meetings. On this application you should indicate at least two team members from other campus units. Reviewers will not rate an application with more than one librarian on a team as highly as an application with team members from other campus units.

How do we decide who should be applying from our institution?
Every institution will have different priorities, needs, and skills. The AiA program design team is committed to creating an experience that allows people with varied expertise to explore issues together. The goal is to have the cohort represent a wide range of professional backgrounds, types and sizes of institutions, and roles within the institutions. For the librarian team leader, examples of institutional roles include:

  • Librarians who work directly with students on campus.
  • Library administrators.
  • Librarians responsible for information literacy programs.
  • Librarians with assessment responsibilities.
  • Librarians with responsibility for faculty development via Centers for Faculty Development, Writing Centers, or other similar campus units.

The additional team members will vary widely, based on the area of focus for the project. Some potential teammates may be faculty members, student affairs representatives, institutional researchers, or academic administrators. Be sure to read the advice from first year librarian team leaders in the section expectations of campus team members.

Who will be the facilitating the AiA learning community?
The AiA program design team is led by project leaders 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, Instruction/Information Literacy Librarian at Palomar College in San Marcos, CA; Carrie Donovan, Head of Teaching & Learning for the Indiana University Libraries in Bloomington, IN; 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. A community of practice expert is advising the team during the design process. Project analyst Karen Brown, Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University, IL, is working with the team to document projects. Expert speakers, selected to augment the program, will present briefly at key junctures. Read more about the design team members in their biographies.

What topics will be covered over the course of the year-long AiA program?
While we will be presenting material on value and assessment (i.e., outcomes and criteria, methods, tools, analysis, and interpretation), being part of the AiA learning community is much more than learning new content. Librarians who participate will improve their skills as effective leaders when they facilitate their campus team in completing an action learning project. Furthermore, librarian team leaders will dedicate themselves to engaging with each other as a learning community and providing one another peer support.

How many people will be accepted for the AiA program?
Three hundred colleges and universities 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). AiA will result in training for 300 librarians, along with instructional engagement and resources for an additional 600-900 campus representatives on the teams.

Why are these termed “action learning projects” and not “research projects”?
The 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. We 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. We do expect that projects will be important to their institutions and that many projects will be  replicable at other libraries or contain elements which will be transferable to other settings. Additionally, while not all projects will demonstrate that there is in fact a library impact, our key criteria for “success” are a bit 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. For those reasons, we are intentional in describing the work you will undertake as “action learning projects” and not “research projects.”

Will the AiA program support only projects with a quantitative focus? Using survey data?
No. We do expect some projects will use quantitative data, and may connect existing library data (from surveys, swipe cards, database logins, instruction sessions, or the like) with institutional data on G.P.A., retention, or other measures. However, we welcome projects that explore questions best answered with qualitative data from focus groups, interviews, and other means.

Do the projects all have to be on a topic related to information literacy?
Not at all. We welcome projects that consider any aspect of the library (e.g., collections, space, instruction, reference, etc.) as long as they are tied to student learning (e.g., course, program, degree) or success (e.g., retention, completion, persistence).

We are interested in focusing on graduate students. Do you expect the projects to be focused on undergraduate students only?
No. We advise that you explain why you’ve chosen a particular student group for your project’s focus, in the context of your institution’s priorities, as that will help make a stronger application.

We are interested in looking at library impact on faculty. Will that fit for a project focus?
For the AiA program, we are focusing on student learning outcomes and student success, in direct response to the needs we heard articulated during our planning grant (see more about the genesis of the AiA program and its scope on the program homepage). Reviewers may look favorably on a project that would consider the impact of the library on faculty interactions with students or the ways in which faculty engagement with the library is related to student learning outcomes or student success.

Why do we need to provide two statements of support?
One key to a successful campus-wide project is organizational support and engagement. We require that your institution make a strong commitment to your team and demonstrate that in two statements of support, each field on the application form will accept up to 500 words.

Where should I fax my two statements of support? Or should I email PDFs instead?
You do not need to include statements of support on formal letter head. Simply copy and paste the final text of the statements provided to you into the online application form.

Are there any restrictions on the application?
Yes. Please note that each of the essay fields will accept up to 300 words and each of the statement of support fields will accept up to 500 words.

What can we do to improve our chances of being accepted for the AiA program?
Submit a complete application before the published deadline. Offer clear, succinct, and thoughtful statements regarding your team’s goals for participating and your personal goals as a librarian team leader. Make sure your statements of support are included and explicitly address the evaluation criteria listed.

Will you accept participation from outside the US?
As you might guess, because the AiA project is funded by IMLS, the majority of participation and benefit must be by and for U.S. citizens. However, because international and diverse perspectives are valuable, a limited number of teams from outside the U.S. may be selected.

What will I need to do, as a librarian team leader, to prepare for the program if our team's application is accepted?
The kickoff webcast to be held in May, will be particularly useful for asking questions and seeking clarification about participating in the AiA program

What if my institution applies but is not accepted?
We expect that applications for the AiA program will be very competitive with applicants significantly exceeding the number of available spots. Because selection is partly determined by the size and overall composition of the applicant pool, it will vary from year to year. We encourage repeated applications and advise you to keep a copy of your application materials in your own files. We ask that you resubmit your application and will not roll over applications. Applicants may wish to make revisions to the essay or to identify new team members, for example. You may be able to repurpose much of your previous application material, however, such as the statements of support. The review team will not offer feedback on individual applications.