Chapter 14: Standards & Guidelines
ACRL establishes criteria for standards and guidelines for academic librarianship.
“ACRL is the source that the higher education community looks to for standards and guidelines on academic libraries. ACRL promulgates standards and guidelines to help libraries, academic institutions, and accrediting agencies understand the components of an excellent library. These standards, guidelines, and model statements are reviewed and updated by the membership on a regular basis.” (Source: ACRL Standards Web page.)
Standards are policies that describe shared academic library values and principles of performance for a library serving a Carnegie-classified institution. In order for a document to be classified as a standard it must:
1. Present goals for library programs, services, and staffing.
2. Serve as a rule or model for quantity, quality, extent, and level of suitability.
3. Support criteria that are qualitative and/or quantitative, both of which are in the process of continuing review.
4. Act as a criterion for decision and actions in the academic community, confirming the planning and administration of library programs and services with regard to value, quality, and suitability.
5. Suggest outcomes to be achieved by academic libraries in the areas described in the standard.
6. Include statements expressed in relative terms, relating performance to norms derived from a reference population.
Guidelines consist of procedures that will prove useful in meeting the standards. In order for a document to be classified as a guideline it must:
1. Be specific to programs, services, or staffing.
2. Identify a framework for developing policies and procedures.
3. Define qualitative criteria; generally exclude quantitative criteria.
4. Identify factors contributing to effectiveness.
5. Incorporate benchmarks by which programs, services, and staffing may be assessed.
The final versions of all approved standards and guidelines are printed in C&RL News and are available free-of-charge from the ACRL Web site. (Source: ACRL Board, June 1994.)
See Section 14.9 for information regarding policy statements, checklists, model statements, and other documents that are not standards or guidelines.
The Standards and Accreditation Committee (SAC) is a standing committee of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association. It is “the umbrella committee to which the ACRL Board of Directors has delegated the responsibility for the development of standards and guidelines adopted and promoted by the Association, and for establishing and maintaining appropriate liaisons with accrediting agencies and other organizations that monitor and evaluate the performance of academic libraries. The authority to adopt, revise, or rescind standards, guidelines, resides with the ACRL Board of Directors.” (ALA Handbook of Organization). Authority for other types of statements also resides with the ACRL Board of Directors.
SAC consists of approximately ten members serving two-year staggered terms, including a chair and a vice-chair each serving a one-year term, appointed by the ACRL President. The vice-chair becomes the chair following his or her one-year term as vice-chair. The names and contact information of the chair, vice-chair, and members of the current committee are listed on the ACRL Web site.
An appointed ACRL staff member is an ex-officio member of the Committee. A member of the ACRL Board serves as a Board liaison for the Committee, also in an ex-officio capacity.
1. Monitors existing ACRL standards and guidelines and recommends to the ACRL Board revision, or rescission when appropriate.
2. Recommends new standards or guidelines as needed.
3. Assists ACRL units in developing standards and guidelines.
4. Recommends to the ACRL Board the acceptability of proposed standards, guidelines and related documents.
5. Holds, or delegates the holding of, open hearings if desired and/or solicits via electronic dissemination, or delegates the solicitation of, commentary on ACRL standards and guidelines before they are recommended to the ACRL Board.
6. Develops and implements plans to improve the quality of academic libraries through the publication and implementation of ACRL standards and guidelines.
7. Works with organizations and accrediting bodies to strengthen and sustain the quality and significance of academic libraries.
(Source: ACRL Board of Directors, 1984. revised 1987. revised 2003.)
The SAC reviews and revises the organization and arrangement of the Standards and Guidelines Web page http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/index.cfm and recommends any needed changes.
In addition to SAC, the following ACRL units have responsibilities for the development and promotion of standards and guidelines:
- Committee on the Status of Academic Librarians
- College Libraries Section
- Community and Junior College Libraries Section
- Distance Learning Section
- Instruction Section
- Rare Books and Manuscripts Section
- University Libraries Section
The names and addresses of current committee and section chairs are listed on the ACRL Web site.
SAC may also request the ACRL Board to appoint ad hoc task forces to review and revise standards for which there is no unit that can be readily assigned this responsibility.
"Standards for subject-oriented divisions, departments, or branches of college or research libraries will not be adopted (with the exception of discipline-specific information literacy standards). The ACRL SAC believes that the ACRL Standards for Libraries in Higher Education can be successfully applied to most evaluations for accreditation by either regional or subject-oriented bodies." (Source: ACRL Board, June 1984; revised 2006.)
The Information Literacy Standards Committee (ILSC), a component committee of the Information Literacy Coordinating Committee, oversees the development of discipline-specific information literacy standards. Once approved by ILSC, these IL standards are sent to SAC for review (see section 14.5.3).
1. SAC fulfills its charge by ensuring that every standard, guideline, and policy statement approved by ACRL is reviewed every five years. The review process begins five years after the date that the document was last approved.
2. SAC assigns a liaison to the ACRL committee or section that is responsible for the preparation or review of the standard, guideline, or other statement. The liaisons respond to questions, attend meetings of the committee or section (as needed), and provide support through the process of preparation or review of the standard or guideline. SAC liaisons may contact the SAC chair as needed for additional guidance.
3. Liaisons assist the SAC chair by conveying information regarding SAC policies and procedures to ACRL units responsible for standards and guidelines. The liaisons for those documents due for review in the next 12 months contact the appropriate units and make them aware that these documents will be up for review soon. They should follow up with the sponsoring unit for any document that is past due for review.
4. Standards or guidelines for approval or review are submitted to the SAC chair. The document must be accompanied by the SAC Transmittal Sheet following the steps listed on the Transmittal Sheet, and adding the date when each step is completed. Careful record keeping assists the originating unit, SAC, and the ACRL Board.
5. Upon receipt of a new or revised standard or guideline from an ACRL unit, SAC reviews the document and the Transmittal Sheet to determine if it is consistent with other ACRL standards and guidelines. If SAC has any concerns, it responds to the unit with specific comments or suggestions before the next ALA conference or midwinter meeting.
6. Upon receipt of a final draft of a standard or guideline, and after a final review in relation to current ACRL standards and guidelines, SAC recommends acceptance or non-acceptance of the standard or guideline to the ACRL Board and, at the same time, notifies the committee or section that initiated the standard or guideline.
7. The ACRL Board either approves the standard or guideline or returns it for revision.
8. When the ACRL Board approves, the standard or guideline is published officially in C&RL News and is listed on the ACRL Web site.
ACRL itself or ACRL units will generally appoint a committee or task force to oversee the process of developing or revising standard and guidelines, herein referred to as the originating committee or task force. These procedures are defined to assist originating committees and task forces in developing standards and guidelines. Identification of needs and an attempt to maintain contact with the audience to whom the document is directed are very important. This step-by-step outline focuses on the tasks of groups developing new standards or guidelines. To develop or revise standards or guidelines, originating committees or task forces are expected to:
1. Identify the audience to be served by the standard or guideline and its needs.
2. Conduct a point-by-point review of existing ACRL standards and guidelines for coverage related to needs.
3. Collect and analyze field experiences and evaluations of existing standards and guidelines, including ones from other organizations if applicable.
4. Review research covering existing standards and guidelines, including ones from other organizations if applicable.
5. Contact the SAC chair, who will provide the name of the SAC committee member designated as the SAC liaison for the project.
6. Develop a working paper defining the goals of the standards or guidelines project, the structure of the proposed document, the timetable for its development, and its supporting requirements (staff, funding, etc.). Topics often addressed in this draft include purpose, audience, type of standard (service, performance, or procedural), content and organizational outlines, methodology, terminology, qualitative principles, quantifiable instruments, performance measures, levels of detail and key references.
7. Distribute the working paper for comment in committee and section publications where applicable, or in other venues appropriate to the specific standard or guideline. Include the SAC chair, SAC liaison and the ACRL staff liaison to SAC in this distribution.
8. Review comments and determine project's feasibility.
9. Prepare a schedule and assign responsibilities for producing a draft.
10. Prepare the draft.
11. Distribute the draft to the group(s) that will be affected for comment. Include the SAC chair, SAC liaison and the ACRL staff liaison to SAC in this distribution. Contact the SAC liaison and review future plans.
12. Ensure wide and timely distribution through appropriate vehicles to provide ample opportunity for comments from all interested parties. Drafts of new and revised standards and guidelines will be published on the ACRL Web site with the URL for the draft published in C&RL News. Revised standards may be published by conferring with the SAC liaison and the ACRL’s staff liaison to SAC. Suggestions for distribution for new or revised drafts include:
- ACRL Web site
- ACRL Insider blog
- ACRL Update email newsletter
- email distribution lists (such as listservs) consulted by practitioners in the area covered by the standard or guideline
13. Review comments and identify any needed revisions.
14. Prepare a schedule and make assignments for producing the second draft.
15. Prepare the second draft. If second draft represents a substantial departure from the first, steps 11-15 should be repeated, and a third draft prepared.
16. When the originating committee or task force is confident that the draft is acceptable to the audience it serves, submit the draft together with a summary of its proceedings, and where a revision is involved, a statement of justification for changes made to the SAC chair for action. A completed copy of the Transmittal Form is submitted along with this document. Those groups developing or revising standards should use the form “Transmittal Sheet of Draft Standards and Guidelines” as they proceed so that all documentation and records of the process are noted. A completed form must accompany any standard or guideline being considered. The form is found on the ACRL Web site at http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/resources/policies/draftform.cfm.
17. Upon receipt of the document from the originating group, SAC forwards to the ACRL staff liaison for copyediting. Copyediting will include making the document and citations conform to Chicago style, along with reviewing the text for consistency, clarity, and ambiguity. The copyeditor will return the edited draft to the ACRL staff liaison along with any questions. ACRL staff liaison sends the copyedited version to SAC and the chair of the originating group for review and to respond to any questions from the copyeditor. The chair of the originating group, SAC, and ACRL staff liaison will work with the copyeditor to resolve further questions until there is agreement on a final copyedited draft.
18. In most cases the SAC will then review the document at an ALA conference or midwinter meeting for final approval. The chair of the originating committee or task force or a designated representative should attend the SAC meeting to authorize any changes recommended by SAC in the final review.
19. The SAC chair will submit the final draft of the document to the ACRL Board with its recommendation. SAC may now also submit items for the ACRL Board to vote on between ALA conferences and midwinter meetings.
20. A final copy of the approved standard or guideline is forwarded to the ACRL staff liaison for distribution.
ACRL recognizes the assessment of outcomes as an integral means of determining the adequacy and quality of libraries and their programs. The association directs its constituent bodies to incorporate this concept into their various activities and policies, including the drafting of ACRL standards and guidelines. (Source: ACRL Board, June 1998.)
The first page of the standard or guideline should begin with the title of the document and a summary listing of its history in reverse chronological order, including the date of first approval by the ACRL Board and dates of subsequent reviews and revisions.
If the document contains a section outlining the history or development of the document and acknowledgements, it is usually written after the outcome of the approval process.
Procedures for subject-specific Information Literacy (IL) standards differ from those for other standards and guidelines in that these standards are first approved by the Information Literacy Standards Committee before being submitted to SAC. These standards come to SAC to be vetted for format and consistency but not for content.
Procedures for the development and review of subject-specific Information Literacy standards are outlined in detail in a tip sheet.
Committees or task forces submitting Information literacy standards through the Information Literacy Standards Committee should contact the SAC chair in advance to obtain the name of the SAC liaison assigned to the project.
Information literacy standards submitted to SAC must be accompanied by the SAC Transmittal sheet as described above.
The 'Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education' and any subject-specific information literacy standards are learning standards for students rather than standards for the profession. As such, while the ACRL Standards and Accreditation Committee will conduct a review of subject-specific information literacy standards, that review pertains only to the non-content editorial reviews and process used to develop the standards, not to the content of the standards themselves. The ACRL Standards and Accreditation Committee will receive the subject-specific document and comments from the ACRL Information Literacy Standards Committee, and submit their recommended actions to the ACRL Board, ACRL Information Literacy Standards Committee, and ACRL unit that created the document.
Information Literacy Consultants should review the detailed information about serving as an Information Literacy Consultant available as a tip sheet.
A checklist for reviewing Subject Specific Information Literacy Standards is also available.
Each standard and guideline approved by ACRL is reviewed for currency every five years after approval. After review, the standard or guideline may be (1) continued in force without change, (2) revised to address current needs, or (3) rescinded.
SAC will enlist the advice and assistance of the ACRL committee or section whose primary interests are covered by the standard or guideline. The assigned SAC liaison contacts the chair of the committee or section to remind them of the five year review requirement. If the originating group no longer exists and a suitable replacement cannot be identified, SAC will refer the standard or guidelines to the ACRL Board of Directors.
Procedures for the five year review of standards and guidelines are essentially the same as for new standards and guidelines as outlined in section 14.5 unless an expedited review is appropriate (see section 14.7).
Each approved standard and guideline should be reviewed annually for currency of Web links prior to ALA Annual.
1. ACRL staff run a link check for broken Web links on standards and guidelines.
2. ACRL staff send the report to the SAC chair.
3. The SAC chair delegates portions of the report indicating broken links to the appropriate SAC liaison.
4. The SAC liaison works with the committee responsible for the standard or guideline to update or remove the links and then reports these changes to ACRL staff.
When a standard or guideline is referred by SAC to an ACRL committee or section for review and the unit concludes that the document can be renewed with only minor changes, the unit may request expedited review. Source: ACRL Board, June 1994.
Expedited review is intended for limited changes to ACRL standards and guidelines which do not, in the view of SAC or the ACRL Board, modify the intent or focus of the existing document. Expedited review is appropriate for minor wording or editorial changes, clarification of errors in syntax that may make interpretation difficult, adding new wording to clarify the text, adding references to other documents, updating editions of references, and other changes that make the standard or guideline easier to use and interpret. Both SAC and the ACRL Board retain the right to deny the use of Expedited Review.
The chair of an ACRL committee or section desiring to use expedited review forwards a proposal to the SAC chair outlining the changes to be made to the policy or guideline and listing the persons and groups consulted in making the determination that only minor revision is needed. This proposal also includes a description of how the unit intends to notify the membership of the changes and collect their comments.
After the SAC chair determines that the changes warrant or do not warrant expedited review, the chair notifies the originating unit of the decision. The chair may decide to confer first with the SAC membership either via email or at the next SAC meeting. The SAC chair has full discretion to make this decision.
The ACRL committee or section seeking expedited review notifies the membership of the proposed changes by publishing the revised version (or a notice) in C&RL News and on the ACRL Web site with a brief background statement which also explains how the membership may comment. Feedback may take any form, including a formal hearing, mail, email, or discussion on an Internet list.
Using gathered comments, the ACRL committee or section prepares a second draft if necessary. If the second draft is very different, the SAC chair may determine that expedited review is not indicated and the full review procedure will be followed.
SAC reviews the final draft and makes its recommendation to the ACRL Board.
The ACRL Board either approves the standard or guideline or returns it for revision.
When the ACRL Board approves, the standard or guideline is published officially in C&RL News and is listed on the ACRL Web site.
When an ACRL committee or section determines that the useful life of an ACRL standard or guideline has ended, the following procedures are used to officially rescind the document. These procedures apply only to rescinding a standard or guideline when no revision of the existing document is planned.
1. The committee or section that promulgated the standard or guideline may forward a request to rescind the document to the SAC chair at its own initiative or as a result of a contact from the SAC liaison.
2. Before the next ALA conference or midwinter meeting, the committee or section executive committee distributes the announcement of the intended rescission through those email distribution lists consulted by practitioners in the area covered by the standard or guideline. Should the committee or section chose to do so, it may also schedule a discussion period at its meeting at the next ALA conference or midwinter meeting.
3. To ensure wide and timely notice to the membership, the committee or section seeking rescission will publish an announcement of its intent in C&RL News and in electronic media, including: (1) the reasons for the decision to rescind, (2) the name and email address of a contact person to receive comment in advance of the next ALA conference or midwinter meeting, and (3), should the committee or section choose to hold a hearing, an invitation for comment at the hearing during the next ALA conference or midwinter meeting.
4. Having gathered member comments in this manner, the committee or section forwards a report of the discussion with a final recommendation to the SAC chair and SAC liaison.
5. The SAC acts on the request for rescission at the next ALA conference or midwinter meeting. If the SAC approves the rescission, this recommendation is forwarded to the ACRL Board for final approval.
6. The ACRL Board either approves the rescission, or the Board directs SAC to work with the responsible ACRL unit to ensure that the information in the standard or guideline is somehow retained, publicized, and made available.
ACRL has well-established procedures for the development and maintenance of standards and guidelines documents. There are, however, a number of statements that have been developed by ACRL units that articulate a policy statement, or serve as a checklist or model statement. The SAC recommends the following process for the development and maintenance of statements that are neither standards nor guidelines:
1. ACRL committees or sections developing documents specify the purpose and audience for the document. The committee or section should decide early on in the process whether it is developing a standard, guideline, or policy statement. If there is doubt as to whether the document might be a standard or guideline, the committee or section should consult the SAC.
2. If the document is to be a standard or guideline, the procedure in ACRL’s Guide to Policies and Procedures, section 14.5 should be followed.
3. If the document is to be a policy statement, it is first approved by the unit and then sent to the SAC for review. a. After review the SAC will send the document, along with recommended action, to the ACRL Board of Directors. b. Each policy statement approved by ACRL is reviewed every five years for currency. After review, the statement may be (1) continued in force without change, (2) revised to address current needs, or (3) rescinded. (Source: ACRL Executive Committee, Spring 2007.)
ACRL or ACRL committees and sections may wish to collaborate with outside organizations and groups to develop and/or revise standards or guidelines. This situation does not include the development or revision of information literacy standards for which procedures are already established.
In the case of ACRL itself, the ACRL Board or the ACRL Executive Director initiates the connection with the other organization or group. An ACRL committee or section wishing to develop standards or guidelines in concert with another organization or group must first contact the ACRL Executive Director in order to seek approval from the ACRL Board before formalizing a collaboration with an outside organization or group. In such cases, the ACRL Board refers the process to the SAC chair, who will designate a SAC liaison to work with both parties. For new standards and guidelines, relevant procedures from Section 14.5 will apply.
ACRL may sometimes endorse documents written by other organizations and groups. In these cases, the ACRL Board or the ACRL Executive Director contacts the other party. If an ACRL committee or section wishes to endorse documents written by other parties, its executive committee must first contact the ACRL Executive Director who will bring the issue to the ACRL Board for approval. The ACRL Board may then refer the matter to the SAC chair for input from SAC.
Other organizations and groups may wish to adopt ACRL approved standards and guidelines. ACRL committees and sections must refer all requests of this nature to the ACRL Executive Director who will seek approval from the ACRL Board. The ACRL Executive Director will inform the SAC chair when the ACRL Board gives approval for other organizations and groups to adopt ACRL approved standards and guidelines.
ACRL standards and guidelines are copyrighted by ALA/ACRL. They are available for educational purposes with no permissions under fair use. A Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License is provided on the ACRL Standards and Guidelines Web page. Requests to make commercial reprints of standards and guidelines should be made to the ACRL Executive Director.
Other than English ACRL encourages dissemination of its standards and guidelines, including translation into languages other than English. Requests to translate standards and guidelines and to obtain current English copies should be made to the ACRL Executive Director. Translations will be made according to the following policy guidelines:
1. No financial profit will derive from the translation and publication of ACRL standards and guidelines.
2. If the translation is to be part of a larger published work, permission should be sought from ACRL. It must be specified where the translations are to be published or linked on Web sites.
3. Full credit must be given to ACRL/ALA copyright and an accurate citation of the source provided.
4. A final copy of the translated Standard or Guideline must be provided to ACRL. (Source: ACRL Board, May 2010.)
1. Requests for ACRL approval of translations of standards and guidelines should be made to the ACRL Executive Director. The ACRL Standards and Accreditation Committee staff liaison will then manage the process.
2. Translated versions of ACRL Standards and Guidelines should be submitted to the ACRL Standards and Accreditation Committee staff liaison and should include the information in items 3 through 5.
3. A Translation Coversheet in English including: a. Title of the standard or guideline being translated, including the date on which it was approved by the ACRL Board. b. Language of the translation. c. Name of the translator, contact information (email address, phone number, fax number, postal address). d. Name of the organization or association sponsoring the translation and its contact information where appropriate. e. If the translation is to be published other than on the ACRL website (e.g., a published work), where the translation is to be published and anticipated date of publication.
4. Curriculum Vitae (CV) and/or letter in English outlining the translator’s pertinent qualifications.
5. Copy of the translation in digital form accompanied by all pertinent information about the digital files (e.g., file format, special character sets). New footnotes or other notes must not be added to the translated text. A bracketed reference in the text may refer to an appendix.
6. ACRL Standards and Accreditation Committee staff liaison reviews translator’(s’) qualifications.
7. If the translator’s qualifications are approved, the ACRL Standards and Accreditation Committee staff liaison sends the translated document to ACRL webmaster for posting on ACRL Website.
8. The translation is linked below the original on the ACRL Website.
9. All translations will be accompanied by the following disclaimer— "Non-English translations of ACRL standards and guidelines are contributed by individual volunteers from the library community and are not vetted by ACRL. Neither ACRL nor American Library Association is responsible for translation errors. If significant errors are discovered, ACRL would appreciate it if they were brought to the attention of the ACRL Executive Director." (Source: ACRL Board, May 2010.)
Organizations Since ACRL standards and guidelines are considered by the academic library community to be authoritative, and since paraphrases or models of these documents by external organizations may cause the academic community to question the jurisdiction and application of them, the SAC encourages external organizations to:
1. Endorse, and when appropriate, adopt an ACRL standard or guideline for use by their constituencies.
2. Develop additional statements respecting specific concerns and publish these statements when the endorsed or adopted ACRL statement does not address these concerns.
3. Consider working with SAC on the development of standards and guidelines.
All requests from organizations or accrediting bodies needing help or cooperation in establishing standards or guidelines for academic libraries in their areas of concern, or needing help or cooperation in related activities, shall be forwarded by the ACRL Board or ACRL Executive Director to the SAC chair. If for any reason the chair is unavailable for a period of time, he or she designates the vice-chair or another SAC member to conduct necessary business. Such requests go to that person during the designated period.
If the request does not require an immediate answer, the chair or designee responds that the matter will be discussed at the next SAC meeting or online, and a response can be expected following that discussion.
Should the request be of some urgency, the chair sends copies to SAC members so that members may forward to the chair their concerns or suggestions. The chair may also wish to contact members prior to responding. The matter is placed on the agenda for the next SAC meeting or addressed online.
Upon final approval by the ACRL Board, the ACRL Executive Director arranges for the distribution of all new or revised ACRL standards to each of the members of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
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