ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award

Pierce College Library

Pierce College District is experiencing a wave of innovation and energy, and the Library is a key component, pioneering new directions and acting as a catalyst for change. The Library’s goal is to capitalize on each opportunity for a "learnable moment," whether that be for our students, our faculty and staff, our community, or ourselves. The core beliefs that guide our actions are:

  1. a learner-centered library
  2. access to ideas as a dominant force in learning
  3. assessment as a tool for change
  4. Information Competency as enabling lifelong learning

Pierce College Fort Steilacoom and Pierce College Puyallup are two of the 34 community and technical colleges in the state of Washington. The District enrolls over 13,000 students per year and is one of the largest degree-granting community colleges in the nation. The two colleges and nine additional instructional sites--including a prison, correctional sites, a state mental hospital, a mall storefront, and two military bases--operate as a district with a unique administrative organization. Library/Media serves all of these constituents, creatively meeting the needs of our diverse student body.

I. Creativity and Innovation

We provide leadership for our colleges. In 1994, Pierce College faculty adopted an abilities-based model of education. This model focuses on what students can do with the knowledge and information garnered in the classroom. Because of the library’s influence, Information Competency became one of the five core elements of a Pierce education, along with Multiculturalism, Critical Thinking, Effective Communication, and Responsibility. This means that the college’s commitment to Information Competency has cemented the library as a center of learning and ensured its key role in instruction. The Information Competency ability, along with our core beliefs, informs all that we do. (See Appendix A)

Information Competency is a guiding force in our college. Recognizing that Information Competency has its strongest meaning when it extends beyond the library, we achieved a significant milestone last academic year when an interdisciplinary team of our colleagues developed the most recent Information Competency Rubric. We are proud of this assessment tool because it demonstrates that the college—not the library—owns Information Competency.

Our "One Library in Two Places" service motto provides students with consistent service across the District. While we are two individual colleges and 9 distinct sites, the library is organized as one district unit. Instead of asking students to be flexible, we shift materials and personnel between locations as curriculum demands, and Library faculty and staff trade locations for days or entire quarters in order to meet faculty and student demands. This creates a synergy that enables us to achieve more as a single entity than we could if we operated separately. It also provides consistency of service for students and faculty.

Our service model embraces first generation students and students who lack confidence about whether college is for them. First-generation college students or those returning after a career or raising a family often find college-level work daunting. We are mindful of the fact that if new students stay with us beyond the first quarter, it is likely they will complete a degree. To that end, we have linked sections of English 101 with our 2-credit course, "Library Research Methods," in a learning community format. Through such linking we are attempting to demonstrate the connection between Information Competency and student success and retention in this watershed course.

To ease the anxiety these students may feel in an academic library, we have located our magazines, reading lounge, and paperback collection near the front door. Since it is a familiar, comfortable area to many of our more apprehensive students, we hope that when they pick up Car and Driver, they may notice an anthropology journal next to it and elect to explore its contents. It is another way of assuring accessibility.

We ensure access to our services for all students. Library/Media Services has always covered the cost of photocopies from reference books and paper copies from databases and microform for our students. With the advent of full-text journals, the increased costs put that service in jeopardy. Our students have demonstrated how they value the library by allocating funds from the Student Technology fee for paper and toner for the past four years. Supplies such as hole punches, staplers, paper cutters, scissors, etc. are offered to our students who sometimes find campus their home away from home. Students can check out graphing as well as regular calculators. We have a large circulating collection of dictionaries, thesauri, and study manuals.

The library provides access to distance learners through our email reference service and our web page. From our website students can obtain research assistance through our "Subject Starting Points" page and "Quick Tips," a set of 23 research guides and pathfinders on everything from Boolean searching to evaluating internet sources.

Throughout their experience at Pierce College, students interact with librarians beyond the realm of the library. During their time at Pierce College, students connect with librarians in unusual and wide-ranging way--often outside of the library. During the first week of every quarter library faculty and staff work at the information tables throughout campus in order to provide individualized service and direction at the time when students need it most. In the same week, librarians lead orientations and teach workshops for new students, including academic success workshops aimed at introducing students to college libraries with titles such as "Style Manuals and Citations," "Electronic Databases," "Evaluation of Internet Resources," and "The Library Catalog." Librarians are academic advisors and teach non-library credit courses, including Education 110, English 101, and English 103. Librarians also serve as faculty advisors to student groups, including the honor society Phi Theta Kappa and HERS (Helping Each other Reach Success), a support group for women returning to college. We have also supervised three students carrying out independent study projects on information literacy. Librarians host a colorful table at "Club Day" with displays aimed at stimulating students’ interest in the library.

Professional and technical program graduates leave with strong information research skills to help them succeed in the workplace. Students in professional and technical programs make extensive use of the library's collection. The faculty have put into place a rigorous course-integrated instruction program teaching students how to access the literature of their trades and professions. Seeing the importance of this library endeavor, the professional/technical programs chose to fund a new FTE library faculty position specifically focused on information literacy for the professional/technical programs. These programs support the work of students by allocating funds each year for materials as well.

Staff members are involved. Our staff members are active and frequent members of college committees, developing relationships with administrators, faculty, and other staff. Staff members have contributed to the following committees: Strategic Planning, President’s Advisory, Educational Facilities, New Building Design, Graduation, Safety, In-Service presentations, Scholarships, and Accreditation.

We foster faculty and student creativity. Our media services unit encourages students and faculty to explore their creativity and supports it actively. The "Lava Java" media workroom for faculty is equipped with the latest hardware and software and staff to help faculty incorporate multimedia in the classroom. Lava Java (where hot ideas are brewing!) offers quarterly workshops as well as 1:1 assistance to help faculty develop their technology skills.

The students use a 10-station state of the art Multimedia Center located in the library. It is equipped with a variety of software and hardware so that students can digitally create, edit, and enhance their own multimedia presentations. Couches and tables encourage collaboration and sharing, and students are able to move fluidly between library resources and their projects. Students receive individual help and guidance that matches their skill level. Our goal is to expand students’ opportunities and thinking about how to display, format, and present information in their papers and projects. Because of this facility, faculty are able to give more creative assignments.

We develop creative collections. Concerned about students with limited reading skills, we sought and received grant money to develop a New Reader collection at both of our campuses. Together with our developmental education faculty, we worked to build up a collection of appropriate works. Books are labeled with colored tape to help students identify books at their reading level. Instructors tell students to look for the books designated with the appropriate color of tape, thereby reducing stress and confusion for students new to the college and the library.

We send students to the University of Washington slated for careers in library and information science. Even though graduate school is between two and four years away, we have recruited several of our students to join our profession. We have identified gifted students, as well as mentored students who have inquired about becoming a librarian. Two of our students have returned to do their Information School internships at Pierce College!

We reach beyond the expected. Emphasizing the word "community" in community college, Pierce College Library became the first (and only) college library in the nation to support an INTEL Computer Clubhouse. In cooperation with the Pierce College Foundation, the Library became the lead partner in an innovative collaboration with our local school district and city government. Funded by a $300,000 grant from the Intel Corporation, the Clubhouse provides members ages 10 to 18 an opportunity to explore their creativity and learn how to learn. The Computer Clubhouse is a successful model developed by Boston’s Museum of Science and the MIT Media Lab that uses technology creatively to enable underserved youth to acquire the tools, problem solving skills, and confidence needed to lead successful lives. The "Learning-by-Design" philosophy helps us to teach information literacy in new and exciting ways. Young people who might never have envisioned themselves in college see higher education as part of their future because of their comfort and familiarity with the college and the library. With a clubhouse-to-career, clubhouse-to-college philosophy, we offer workshops highlighting library resources to high school Clubhouse members. These workshops cover how to select and apply for college, financial aid, and other aspects of college entry.

We connect with our community.

Information Literacy at the State Fair. Pierce College Library seeks new ways to connect with the community. By collaborating with a local computer vendor to set up a classroom at the State Fair, we were able to teach Information Competency to a new audience. Instruction included Internet use and website evaluation in thirty-minute classes for the two-week run of the Fair and introduced novice computer users to local library websites. Our President backed us with funds and made the booth the primary Pierce College exhibit.

Book discussions. We host gatherings of community members every year for the "Lakewood Reads" project, in which an entire city reads the same book.

Banned book readings . Each year we partner with Student Programs to produce an event celebrating the freedom to read. Students volunteer to select their favorite banned book, read from it, and summarize why it was banned.

We partner with our constituents: The Business Resources Collaborative Grant. Seeking to enhance the resources available to small business owners in our community, the two major public library systems and the two community colleges collaborated on the "Biznet" grant to place business resources in all of the libraries. Funds were received to employ a cooperative collection development strategy. Special business resource workshops were conducted and were well received. Librarians from these different systems worked at various reference desks in an effort to enhance understanding, make personal connections, and foster professional collaboration. This experience built a strong resource network throughout our county.

We reach out to engage our faculty colleagues. We design and deliver popular faculty workshops that not only teach information literacy, but result in faculty producing assignments for their courses. These assignments integrate class content with Information Competency while also assessing comprehension and application.

II. Leadership in Developing and Implementing Exemplary Programs

Leadership in Assessment

Pierce College Library is a national leader in Outcomes Assessment. As one of the first colleges to adopt Information Competency outcomes in 1994, quite early in the assessment movement, our handouts, outcomes, and assessments have served as models for many other libraries across the country. Each library faculty member incorporates assessment into library instruction sessions based on these Information Competency outcomes. In addition, all library departments have developed outcomes, indicators, assessments, and criteria for their work (see example in Appendix B). The Library undertook the project because we feel everyone in the library, regardless of position or role, contributes to student success.

Outcomes and assessments were collaboratively developed from 2001-2003, and assessments began in 2003. Each department has designed both strategic (long-term) outcomes, as well as annual outcomes that are geared toward immediate improvement. The library budget is integrated into the process and developed based on what is identified in the assessments. In addition to productivity outcomes, each department has outcomes pertaining to its role in student success and communication with other units. These provide answers to questions such as "What does it mean for the student that our materials are processed in a timely way, and how does that contribute to student learning?" For example, the outcome in technical processing is not merely to place spine labels on books, but to assist students in navigating an academic library’s organizational structure. With a similar emphasis on student learning in mind, the Periodicals department is seeking to determine if students incorporate more periodical citations into papers and projects because of their work.

Librarians have contributed workshops and presentations at national conferences so that our assessment work can be built on and developed in other settings. Within the past four years, we have presented at:

  1. 2 ACRL national conferences
  2. 3 ACRL national pre-conferences
  3. 6 national and regional library conferences
  4. 2 national education conferences
  5. 1 national LOEX conference
  6. 3 Washington state assessment conferences
  7. 1 statewide conference for new community college faculty and administrators.

Our active and vital instruction program is at the center of our library mission. We chose to highlight it under the Relationships with Students and Faculty Section rather than discuss it as a program because it is integrated into the fabric of the college.

Leadership in the Profession


  1. Debra Gilchrist, Lynn Olson, and Christie Flynn wrote a book chapter entitled "Connecting the Dots: Fostering Student Success through Collaborative Assessment" to be included in the book Resource Sharing and Information Networks by Hayworth in 2004. The chapter grew out of a national, highly regarded ACRL conference presentation developed by these librarians and Associate Dean for Accreditation and Assessment, Judy Kvinsland.
  2. Librarian Kathy Swart collaborated with anthropology faculty member Dr. Susan Dobyns to write a book chapter entitled "Enhancing Productivity through Teaching Research as Process and Product." The chapter grew out of their work on an assignment designed to enhance student learning of prehistory content. The chapter is being published in Enhancing Productivity in Higher Education, by Anker Publishing, in spring of 2005.

Regional : Librarians are officers in CLAMS (Washington State College Librarians and Media Specialists) and the Washington-Oregon ACRL Chapter. They also participate on committees and in statewide learning efforts such as the State Assessment Program, information literacy initiatives from the State Library, and the Washington Center for the Improvement of Higher Education. Librarians have presented workshops at both local and state conferences, including the statewide conference for new community college faculty.

Statewide Information Literacy Grant : Pierce College has taken the lead in an LSTA grant received by the Library Media Directors Council, comprised of directors from all 34 of Washington’s community/technical colleges. Interdisciplinary teams of librarians and faculty from the colleges will collaboratively develop and implement programs that utilize Information Literacy as both a lifelong skill and an instructional strategy, in addition to designing classroom assessments. Between two and six library faculty from each of the 34 colleges will have the opportunity to attend the ACRL Immersion program; it would be impossible for most of these librarians to attend Immersion were it not for the grant. This statewide collaborative approach will enhance our ability to integrate Information Competency across the system and gain efficiencies by together designing assessments for common courses.

National : Library faculty attend and/or present at an unusually high number of conferences and participate actively in multiple professional organizations. Five of our seven library faculty are currently serving or recently served on ACRL committees, including the ACRL Membership committee, Best Practices, Focus on the Futures Taskforce, and the ACRL National Conference Program Committees for the Charlotte Conference. Our Dean, Debra Gilchrist, is Dean of the Faculty for ACRL’s Institute for Information Literacy Immersion Program. Library faculty have served on ALA committees such as ALA Council, Library Services to the Deaf, CJCLS Instruction Committee, ASCALA, Membership Committee, Feminist Taskforce, and Barbara Ford’s Presidential Advisory Committee.

Pierce College

Curriculum Development

Librarians are involved in the entire curriculum process. A library faculty member serves as a voting member on the Council for Learning and Student Success (CLASS), the college’s curriculum committee. As a result, we have a voice at the decision-making level and play a part in significant conversations that impact teaching and student learning.

The library is recognized as an equal partner at the educational table. The Library participates on the Assessment Committee that guides the College’s work with the Core Abilities. We work with Program Review Teams as each department in the College goes through the evaluation process and on Program Design Teams that are creating and sketching out new programs.

We have succeeded in passing on Information Literacy to our community. Knowing that information literacy must belong to the College and not be confined to the library, we collaboratively developed our Information Competency ability. A twelve-member, interdisciplinary committee representing a cross-section of both campuses created a description that identifies seven elements of Information Competency, some behaviors that illustrate their presence, and outcomes that can be assessed. Using this definition, faculty can view their teaching and assignments in an Information Competency context. A member of the English department chaired the committee, and a discipline faculty member shepherded the ability through the College’s curriculum committee. As library faculty, we use the definition as a springboard for conversations about how assignments and instruction can be structured to help students achieve higher levels of Information Competency.

Our approach to developing a "real world" definition of the IC ability and demonstrating its application so impressed the college Assessment Team that it served as the model for the rewrite of the other four college Core Abilities.

IV. Substantial, Productive Relationships with Classroom Faculty and Students

We reach students through our multi-dimensional Information Competency program. Our relationship with students is fostered through our instruction program and energetic assessment program. In designing and delivering Pierce College’s Information Competency curriculum, we focus on discovery, evaluation, and application. Our multi-faceted instruction program increases our visibility to the College community and includes course-integrated instruction, credit courses, reference, and student success workshops.

  1. Course Integrated Instruction : Over the last five years, course-integrated instruction has increased 257%. This is the mainstay of our program and reaches nearly every department. Library faculty teach an average of 147 classes per quarter. Our assessments to demonstrate Information Competency are aimed at providing students with authentic experiences and assessing the research process over the research product. For example, students in an anthropology course locate articles on the Macah whale hunt issue in Washington state in both Ethnic NewsWatch and the Seattle Times or ProQuest. Then they compare and contrast the language in the Native American publication and the newspaper as well as the types of information and articles found in the two databases. Students in a speech course submit a topic worksheet and bibliography to a librarian and discuss it at an appointment. The worksheet documents their search vocabulary, topic development, and rationale for selecting the resources. The worksheet becomes part of the grade for their speech.
  2. Credit Courses : The library’s two-credit English 114 (Library Research Methods) and 5-credit Humanities 201 (Ideas, Issues, and Inquiry in the Humanities) courses afford another way to relate to students. These classes provide more thorough learning of Information Competency because they allow time for covering the intricacies of the research process and more opportunities for active learning and assessment. They are included in several learning communities, such as "American Dreams," which combines an English course and Political Science course with English 114 to study cultural ideas through politics and literature from the end of World War II through the Vietnam War.
  3. Reference: Reference is an extension of classroom instruction. We teach to the same Information Competency outcomes as we do in classroom instruction, and reference interactions are assessed for student learning. Rather than waiting for students to come to us, we actively encourage dialogue with them and share responsibility for their progress while they are in our personal library "classroom."
  4. Credit courses in other departments : Librarians teach credit courses in other departments. Courses include English 101, English 103, Education 110 (College Core), English 113 (World of Learning), and Theater 150 (Introduction to Theater Arts). This instruction provides additional opportunities to incorporate Information Competency into the curriculum and to understand classroom and departmental dynamics.
  5. Staff Workshops : Recognizing the importance of our staff and administrators being information literate, the library offers workshops specifically designed for this group. Learning to search the catalog and databases and develop a search strategy for finding information in their daily work means a more effective workplace.


Assessment is part of the library’s culture. Library instruction sessions systematically include assessment of student learning that is tailored to individual courses and assignments. We use this data to demonstrate to our faculty and administrators the library’s contributions to student success. From the data, our instructional decisions are based on observable behavior instead of librarian perception. The components of our assessment program are:

  1. We have clearly defined student-learning outcomes for our integrated instruction programs, our credit courses, and our individual sessions. Learning outcomes specifically state what we want the students to be able to do after the session or course.
  2. We develop a method or instrument for determining if students can actually perform the outcome, and we assess a large percentage of our classes.
  3. Criteria are designed in advance for how we will determine if students met the outcome. These criteria are shared with students.
  4. We include an analysis process so that the feedback we gather from student work is thoughtfully considered, whether on an individual level with our colleagues on the instruction team, or interdepartmentally with discipline faculty.
  5. Change occurs as a result of our analysis. We complete the process by using the results to revise our teaching methods and increase student learning the next time.

Relationships with Faculty

The partnerships we have developed with other faculty and departments have led to increased student learning as we work with faculty to envision what assessment of Information Competency concepts could look like in their assignments.

  1. Creating a learning community . Library faculty member Christie Flynn collaborated with English and Political Science faculty in the previously mentioned learning community, "American Dreams." Christie Flynn’s contribution to the instruction involved having students focus on issues of intellectual freedom, intellectual property, censorship, and the Patriot Act. In doing so she supplied students with a context for their research and helped them apply critical thinking and high-level information literacy skills to their projects.
  2. Developing linked courses . For the past two years, Jo Davies has linked her Library Research Methods course to an English 101 section taught by Sharon Russell, Chair of the English Department. (Linked courses require joint enrollment.) Sharon Russell reports that student papers take on an added depth, and that students have been successful at finding support for their arguments and opinions. Jo Davies has finished her first year of linking Library Research Methods with a 5-credit criminal justice course required of all majors and has also taught a 1-credit course for the Business department. This year librarians are partnering with English faculty to link Library Research Methods with the introductory literature course, English 102, and American Literature. Our hope is that our assessments of student learning in these courses compared to non-linked courses will lead to an informed decision about where and how to best integrate Information Competency.
  3. Presenting faculty workshops . We are regularly featured speakers/workshop facilitators at our quarterly part-time faculty orientations. Through these sessions, we introduce new faculty members to the Information Competency ability and the role the library can play in their students’ lives. Since part-time faculty comprise a large portion of Pierce College’s faculty, we have received several mini-grants to pay them stipends so that they can revise their assignments to include assessment of Information Competency. Responding to faculty and staff input, we have developed other workshops on topics such as using library resources, digital research, and detecting plagiarism. Our approach to dealing with plagiarism emphasizes educating students about research and breaking the process into manageable steps with opportunities for assessment throughout. This "show your work" approach eliminates much of the motivation to plagiarize.
  4. Service on committees . Librarians participate in hiring, tenure, and scholarship decisions. We serve as faculty advisors to various student clubs and endeavors and are active members of the college’s seven academic divisions. Librarians are active on committees as diverse as the President’s Advisory Committee and the editorial board of SLAM (Student Literary and Arts Magazine). We are key members of the Technology Advisory Committee.
  5. Video shows for faculty . Jo Davies, who facilitates video collection development, regularly hosts "Jo Shows" to give faculty the chance to view videos we have recently added to the collection. This provides collegial time for faculty to discuss videos and their applications while becoming more familiar with our collection. Christie Flynn has begun similar video shows at the Puyallup campus.

Effectiveness Indicators

Students rate their library experience highly. In the most recent (2002) Community College Student Engagement Questionnaire (CCSEQ) administered by the college:

  1. Students reported being very satisfied with the library, rating our overall service at a 4.05 out of 5.
  2. There was a statistically significant correlation between student contact with a reference librarian and the GPA of those students. The more they worked with a librarian, the higher their GPA.
  3. Students reported that they made the most progress in the Information Competency core ability over any of the other four abilities. Respondents (66.7%) felt they made the most progress in assessing, evaluating, organizing, and applying information, followed by acquiring skills needed to use computers to access information.
  4. 52.7% of our students reported using the library at least several times per week; 15.9% reported daily use

We have demonstrated our value. Because of high gate counts, reference interactions, and classes taught, expansion of the libraries is in the master plan of both colleges. Pierce College Puyallup’s library opened six years ago and is a striking facility designed with the learner in mind. Capital funds have been approved to nearly triple the size of Pierce College Fort Steilacoom library. We are involved in a design process to creatively re-envision the space and determine what a teaching library looks like so that it does not simply contain a library classroom, but is a library classroom. All faculty and staff are contributing to help answer the question, "How can we use the space to change student’s minds about what the library is and does, and to immediately reframe their thinking about support for their academic success?"

Accreditation commendation. Our ten-year Accreditation Report cited the library as meriting one of the five college commendations. We were recognized for our leadership on campus, our integration into the college community, and our innovative instruction program.

Library use increased. We encourage input from staff and use this feedback to experiment with ways to best serve our students. Our statistics show that, compared to last year, circulation is up 9%, gate counts are up 39%, reference questions are up 17%. This is the ninth year in a row that growth has been high.

Database expansion. We participated in consortial database subscriptions with 34 colleges in the state. This new agreement resulted in adding four new databases, all of which are available remotely.

Students support our student workers. Students at the Puyallup College fund 100% of the student workers in the library from their Student Programs budgets. This keeps the library open more hours per week and promotes a tremendous amount of goodwill and understanding about our common mission.

Students fund our technology. For four of the six years that the Student Technology Fee Committee has existed, they have voted to replace all computers in the Library, expressing value in what we do and seeing themselves in our goals. We would not be able to keep pace were it not for student recognition of the library’s important role. Students vote with both their dollars and their feet to keep us one of the most popular spots on campus.

Librarian nominated for prestigious faculty award. Librarian Christie Flynn was nominated for the Distinguished Faculty Award in 2004, a high honor usually going to discipline faculty of longstanding.

Invited by the President. Librarians were among the first faculty members to be invited to represent the faculty of Pierce College at the President’s Breakfast, an event that introduces local leaders to our programs and events. According to our Foundation Director, "Librarians were chosen because of our desire to showcase the best and brightest, to emphasize the academic rigor of the college, and because few faculty articulate the value of infusing the core abilities like the library faculty."

Featured in video production. In order to introduce new and part-time faculty to the role of the abilities, outcomes, and assessment at Pierce College, the Assessment Team produced a video entitled "Heart of Learning," which includes two librarians discussing their experience of discovering what assessment means and how they incorporate it into their work.

Supported by Administration. We frequently receive money for materials from other departments, our Vice Presidents for Learning and Student Success, and Perkins, Workforce, and other grants. Pierce College Foundation chose the library as the first beneficiary of its initial development efforts in the early 1990s. We are thrilled that our 2 presidents truly understand information competency and publicly mention its value.


The multi-faceted approach of the library is in the vanguard of progressive education at Pierce. Our shared values and passion for teaching the students we serve help us manage our many challenges. We aim not for perfection, but for the constantly moving target that is student learning. For inspiration we continually return to our goals of fostering a learner-centered library, empowering students through access to ideas and information, and assessment as a tool for ongoing growth, both for our students and for ourselves.