Guidelines for Instruction Programs in Academic Libraries

Approved July 9, 1996


In 1977 ACRL approved the "Guidelines for Bibliographic Instruction in Academic Libraries" as the standard and guideline for instruction programs generally. This first document was intended to provide a framework for developing, evaluating and ultimately institutionalizing instructional programs and services in college and research libraries and to assist any library or librarian seeking to build or maintain an instructional service. The 1977 "Guidelines" were written by the then Bibliographic Instruction Task Force and published in the BIS Handbook.

In 1987 the revision of the "Model Statement of Objectives for Academic Libraries" made the BIS Handbook obsolete. The 1977 "Guidelines" were maintained as a separate and important document which sought to outline the programmatic needs, including staffing, facilities, and budgeting of instructional services. In 1993, after a survey of membership, it was determined that the "Guidelines" should be revised to reflect the maturation of instruction programs generally and, perhaps more importantly, the impact that new technologies and changing campus environments have placed on instruction programming. A task force was formed at that time to incorporate these new concerns into the "Guidelines." which recognizes the need to assess achievement of instructional goals.

In the development of the revised "Guidelines" which appear below, the task force was guided by the following principles:

  1. Instruction programming is an essential and fundamental educational service which should be made available by academic libraries to their primary clientele;
  2. Advances in technology should augment and enhance, not replace, the instruction department and programming of an institution;
  3. The diversity of clientele mandates that issues such as the format, mode of instruction, content, method of delivery, and assessment of programs should be decisions that are made at the institutional level and reflect the heterogeneous nature of that clientele.

    As such, the "Guidelines" do not delineate specific recommendations for types of programming. Rather they focus on the process and support procedures that should be used to make these decisions.

The "Guidelines" were the focus of an open forum held Midwinter 1996, and were approved by the ACRL Board at Annual 1996.


Libraries work together with other members of the education community to participate in and realize the educational mission of the institution by teaching the identification, structure, intellectual access, and physical access of information, information sources, and information systems through the design and development of instruction programs and services. Planning for the systematic delivery of instructional services should be incorporated throughout the library's activities, including the library's comprehensive planning and budgeting process.

In order to best assist academic and research librarians in the preparation and development of effective instructional programs, the following guidelines are recommended.

I. Program Design

A. Statement of Purpose

The library should have a written statement of purpose for its instructional program that:

  • articulates its purpose of the instruction program with respect to the educational mission of the institution and the needs of the learning community;
  • involves the academic community in the formulation of these goals;
  • recognizes the heterogeneous nature of the learning community through the identification of varieties of learning styles, attitudes, education levels, and local settings and environments;
  • recognizes that instruction programs not only prepare learners for immediate curricular activities, but also enable them to be effective lifelong users of information in its many forms and contexts; and
  • reflects changes in the institution and learning community through periodic revision.

B. Identification of Content of Instruction

While each institution will determine instructional content based on the needs of its clientele, the library should have a clearly articulated focus with projected outcomes. For guidance in the selection of content of instruction, see the "Model Statement of Objectives for Bibliographic Instruction," (C&RL News, May 1987).

C. Identification of Modes of Instruction

Instruction takes place in many ways using a variety of teaching methods. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • advising individuals at reference desks,
  • in-depth research consultations,
  • individualized instruction,
  • electronic or print instruction aids, or
  • group instruction in traditional or electronic classroom settings.

The mode(s) selected should be consistent with the content and goals of instruction. Where appropriate, more than one mode of instruction should be used in recognition of the wide variety of learning styles of individuals. For suggestions and explanations of modes of instruction, see the "Sourcebook for Bibliographic Instruction."

D. Evaluation and Assessment

Evaluation and assessment are systematic ongoing processes that should gather data to inform decision-making regarding the instruction program. Data gathered should give an indication that the instruction program is supporting the goals set forth in its "Statement of Purpose for Instruction."

  1. The evaluation or assessment plan should delineate exactly what measures are taken and who is involved in the assessment. The program should consider as many measures as possible. These measures may include, but are not limited to needs assessment, participant reaction, learning outcomes, teaching effectiveness, and overall effectiveness of instruction.
  2. The criteria for evaluation should be articulated.
  3. The assessment program should incorporate a variety of methods and instruments.
  4. The data should be gathered at intervals consistent with the revision process so that current information is cycled into the ongoing planning process.

II. Human Resources

To achieve the goals set forth in the library's instruction statement of purpose, the library should employ or have access to sufficient personnel with appropriate education, experience, and expertise to:

  • teach individuals and groups in the campus community;
  • design a variety of instruction programs and services;
  • promote, market, manage, and coordinate diverse instruction activities;
  • collect and interpret assessment data to evaluate and update instruction programs and services;
  • integrate and apply instruction technologies into learning activities;
  • produce instructional materials using available media and electronic technologies;
  • participate in campus and faculty groups, committees, and departments that plan and execute educational activities; and
  • respond to changing technologies, environments, and communities.

III. Support

Support for a successful instruction program has many interdependent facets. The level of support necessary will depend on the scope and size of the program.

a. Instructional Facilities:

  1. The library should have, or should have ready access to, facilities of sufficient size and number that are equipped to meet the goals of the instruction program and reach the instructional learning community.
  2. The instructional setting(s) should duplicate the equipment and technology that is available to users. At minimum, the facilities should allow the instructor to demonstrate information systems available to the library's users. It is desirable that the facilities provide individual hands-on experience for those being instructed.
  3. The instructional setting should be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of teaching methods and learning styles.

b. Staff Work Facilities

  1. The library should provide convenient access to the equipment and services necessary to design, produce, reproduce and update instructional materials in a variety of formats.
  2. The library should provide sufficient space for the preparation and storage of instructional materials.

c. Financial Support

  1. The instructional program should have adequate funds identified to attain the stated goals of the program.
  2. The funding for an instruction program should cover all personnel costs connected with the program, including but not limited to student, clerical and technical assistance.
  3. The funding should cover supplies and materials; equipment or access to equipment; design, production, reproduction, and revision of materials; promotion and evaluation of the instruction program; as well as other identified costs.
  4. The allocation process should allow for equipment and software replacement and enhancement as changes occur.
  5. The funding should provide for training and continuing education of those involved in the instruction program.

d. Support for Staff Continuing Education, Training, and Development

Nonmonetary support for continuing staff development helps to establish an atmosphere conducive to innovation and high morale.
It is recommended that the library:

  • provide staff members with a written description of the scope of their instructional responsibilities;
  • provide a structured program for orientation and training of new instruction personnel (see the publication "Learning to Teach" for suggestions); and
  • develop a program of continuing education or make available continuing education opportunities.

Supporting Documents of the Instruction Section:

Learning to Teach: Workshops on Instruction, edited by Ellen Broidy, Joan Kaplowitz, Kari Lucas, Susan Miller, Billie Peterson, and Thomas Zogg, Chicago: ALA, ACRL, BIS, 1993.

"Model Statement of Objectives for Academic Bibliographic Instruction: Draft Revision," edited by Lori Arp, Barbara Beaton, Joseph Boisse, Julie Cizny, David Ginn, Roland Person, Jan Rice, and Beth Woodard, C&RL News (May 1987) 48(5): 256-261.

"Model Statement of Objectives for Academic Bibliographic Instruction," in Read This First: An Owner's Guide to the New Model Statement of Objectives for Academic Bibliographic Instruction, edited by Carolyn Dusenbury, Monica Fusich, Kathleen Kenny, and Beth Woodard. Chicago: ALA, ACRL, BIS, 1991.

Sourcebook for Bibliographic Instruction, edited by Katherine Branch, Carolyn Dusenbury, Barbara Conant, Cynthia Roberts and Kimberly Spyers-Duran, Chicago: ALA, ACRL, BIS, 1993.

The ACRL Instruction Task Force included: Beth S. Woodard, chair, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Carolyn Dusenbury, California State University-Chico; Keith Gresham, University of Colorado, Boulder; Frances Jacobson, University High School Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Poping Lin, Purdue University; Linda Parker, University of Nebraska at Omaha.


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