Standards for Distance Learning Library Services

Approved by the ACRL Board of Directors, July 2008. Revised June 2016.

Standards for Distance Learning Library Services Worksheet (.XLSX, 2018 Supplemental Worksheet)


Part I Foundations
Executive Summary: The Access Entitlement Principle
Introduction: A Living Document
Changing Nature of “Distance”

Part II Fundamental Requirements
A Bill of Rights for the Distance Learning Community
Institutional Requirements
Library Requirements
Adaptations for Lack of Library Facilities
Gateway to Other ACRL Guidelines and Standards
DLS Bibliography

Part III Specific Requirements
Fiscal Responsibilities
Library Education
Facilities and Equipment

Appendix A
The Standards Provenance

Part I Foundations

Executive Summary: The Access Entitlement Principle

All students, faculty members, administrators, staff members, or any other members of an institution of higher education are entitled to the library services and resources of that institution, including direct communication with the appropriate library personnel, regardless of where they are physically located in relation to the campus; where they attend class in relation to the institution’s main campus; or the modality by which they take courses. Academic libraries must, therefore, meet the information and research needs of all these constituents, wherever they may be. This principle of access entitlement, as applied to individuals at a distance, is the undergirding and uncompromising conviction of the Standards for Distance Learning Library Services, hereinafter designated as the Standards.

The access entitlement principle applies equally to all affiliated individuals, whether on a main campus or away from that campus, including both national and international locations, and to those in designated distance learning programs, or on branch or regional campuses, or in the absence of any physical campus. The principle applies to all public, private, profit, and non-profit academic institutions. The principle likewise applies to courses taken for credit, non-credit, and through continuing education programs, and to courses taught face-to-face in classrooms in remote settings, or via any medium, technology or platform - or through any other means or scale of distance learning. The Standards delineate elements necessary to achieving this and the other closely related principles provided in Part II Fundamental Requirements.

Introduction: A Living Document

Since their inception as Guidelines (see Appendix A, Provenance) in 1963, and throughout their half century of revision, expansion, and use, the primary motivation for establishing and maintaining the Standards has indeed been concern for ensuring the delivery of equivalent library services and information resources to college and university students, faculty, and other personnel in remote settings. The Guidelines, from which the Standards evolved, had been under a decade of frequent revision and expansion, which led to the completion of their transition to Standards in 2008. These Standards, like the Guidelines before them, have been prepared by the Standards Committee, formerly the Guidelines Committee, of the Distance Learning Section (DLS) of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

Incentive to adapt and expand the Guidelines, leading to their evolving into today’s Standards, stemmed from the following increasingly critical factors: the rapid growth of  higher education learning opportunities that take place outside the traditional classroom; greater recognition of the need for library resources and services at locations other than main campuses; growing concern and demand for equitable services for all students in higher education, no matter where the “classroom” may be, or in the absence of a classroom at all; a greater demand for library resources and services by faculty and staff at distance learning sites; and the expansion and advancement in technological innovations in the transmittal of information and the delivery of courses.

To these changes may be added shifts away from central campus enrollments, the search for more cost-effective sources for post-secondary education, the appearance and rapid development of the online, or virtual, university, having no physical campus of its own, the concomitant development of entire virtual university programs by traditional campus-based institutions, and the development of large scale virtual course offerings that may or may not be directly linked to any specific institutions.


The intended audience for the Standards includes administrators at all levels of post-secondary education, librarians planning to manage and provide distance learning library services, other librarians and library personnel serving distance learning students or working with distance learning program staff, distance learning faculty, funding sources, accrediting organizations, licensure agencies, and the faculty and students at schools of library and information science.


The following terms are used at strategic points in the Standards, and are here defined both in accordance with their usage in the document, and to the extent possible, their broader usage in the practice of distance learning library services.

Computer literacy: Effective screen navigation and interpretation skills, including the ability to recognize and follow screen prompts leading the user from screen to screen in order to achieve desired results. Includes, but is not limited to abilities to recognize and understand the basic operations of personal computers, or other similar electronic devices, in order to understand and interact with them to solve problems or to achieve desired results.

Digital literacy: Effective knowledge, skills, and behaviors utilized to learn, live, work, communicate, adapt, and play; and to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content in the dynamic networks of information technologies.

Distance learning community: All individuals, institutions, or agencies directly involved with academic programs or extension services offered away from, or in the absence of, a physical academic campus, including students, faculty, researchers, administrators, sponsors, and staff, or any of these whose academic work otherwise takes them away from on-campus library services.

Distance learning librarian: A librarian holding a Master’s degree from an ALA accredited program, or the equivalent for librarians from outside the U.S., who specializes in distance learning library services and is directly responsible for the administration and supervision of those services, either centrally located or at an appropriate site, and who is the principal and direct agent for implementation of library services and resources in support of distance learning programs, as funded by the chief administrative officers and governance organizations of the originating institution, and as framed through the active leadership of the library administration. As an agent of both the originating institution and the library, the distance learning librarian practices the full range of librarianship in managing and providing services, including instruction, and in providing access to resources for the distance learning community.

Libraries using innovative staffing models or distributed service models, which do not have a single specified distance learning librarian, must assign portions of that position among librarians with the requisite expertise throughout the library operation in order to carry out all the duties and responsibilities specified for the distance learning librarian in these Standards.

Although, in the last decade, many institutions have moved away from designating one person as distance learning librarian, campuses do need a designated person to bring focus, to function as an advocate, and to coordinate distance learning librarians and services across a range of departments and services.

Distance learning library services: Library services in support of college, university, or other post-secondary courses and programs offered away from a main campus, or in the absence of a physical campus, and regardless of whether or where credit is given. Courses thus supported may be taught in a variety of formats or media, may or may not require physical facilities, and may or may not involve live interaction of teachers and students. The phrase is inclusive of services to courses in all post-secondary programs designated as: extension, extended, off-campus, extended campus, regional or branch campus, distance, distributed, blended, open, flexible, franchising, virtual, massive, synchronous, or asynchronous.

Embedded librarian: A librarian who actively participates with the course instructor in the delivery of an online course and who is identified and made accessible in the course management system. Depending on course design and instructor preferences, the level of involvement for the librarian varies from a full instructional partnership to a viewing and commenting role.

Library: Denotes the library operation directly associated with the originating institution. In the case of regional or branch campuses, the library may or may not have direct administrative linkage to the main campus library. In the absence of such administrative linkage, the regional or branch campus library fulfills the function of the directly associated library operation. In the case of online or virtual universities, the library itself may be entirely online, or it may be the library of an existing physical institution, contracted for services and materials to the students, faculty, and other personnel of the online institution.

Originating institution: The credit-granting body; that is, the entity, singular or collective, and the chief administrative officers and governance organizations responsible for the offering, marketing, and/or support of distance learning courses and programs. Each institution in a multi-institutional cluster is responsible for meeting the library needs of its own students, faculty, and staff at the collective site, unless other contracts are in place to provide these services.

Changing Nature of “Distance”

Online access to library resources has blurred the distinctions between main campus online users of library resources and distance learning online users. Main campus online users are typically enrolled there, or employed there, and are using online library resources in their dorms or offices, in their apartments, in their nearby family homes, or anywhere they can obtain Internet access. These individuals function very much like distance learners and faculty in their online use of library resources and require some of the same kinds of interactions with library personnel. Some main campus online users literally become distance learners, or distance learning personnel, by dual enrollment, or through dual employment, in both main campus courses and the institution’s distance learning courses.

Contrasted with the main campus online users and nearby distance learners are those distance learners or instructors who are truly geographically isolated from the originating institution, often hundreds or thousands of miles away. Such individuals typically have special needs for the services and resources their institutional libraries can supply and are therefore targeted for services to supply those needs.

These categories of main campus online users and distance learning online users differ primarily because of variations in their degree of separation from the originating institution and the library. Added to these categories of online users are those at branch or regional campuses of university systems. These users typically have online access to a mix of main campus and regional campus resources. The Standards are designed to apply to all categories of distance users of their institutional libraries.

Although often informally used interchangeably, distance learning and online learning are not synonymous, since online learning can be used as a tool in settings that do not involve distance learning at all, as noted above, such as main campuses, or even commercial learning facilities. Similarly, as also described above, online learning can occur as a tool of distance learning.

Part II Fundamental Requirements

A Bill of Rights for the Distance Learning Community

Along with the Access Entitlement Principle, the Standards are founded upon the following additional precepts:

Institutional Requirements

Financial Support: The originating institution must, through the active leadership of its chief administrative officers, governance organizations, and library administration, provide funding and other resources to appropriately meet the information needs of its distance learning programs in support of their teaching, learning, and research. This support must facilitate access to immediate and equivalent library services and learning resources to all of the institution’s library users regardless of their location. This support must be funded in addition to, rather than drawn from, the regular funding of the library. Innovative or distributed staffing systems should not be used simply to provide distance learning library services in avoidance of making any additional separate investments in these services. In growing and developing institutions, funding should expand as programs and enrollments grow.

More specifically, when an institution expands, whether through new course offerings, a new physical branch location, a MOOC, or a whole new distance program, to name but a few possibilities for institutional expansion and increased enrollment, sufficient additional library resources and services, including librarians, must be provided to meet the needs of those additional students, wherever they are.

The originating institution must involve the library in all stages of the planning, development, evaluation, analysis, and revisions to its distance learning programs in order to ensure adequate funding.

Additional Investment: Above all, existing on-campus library services and personnel cannot simply be stretched in an attempt to meet the library needs of the distance learning community without any additional investment. Even with technological developments rendering location less relevant than in the past, distance learning students and faculty still face distinct and different challenges involving library access and information delivery. Special funding arrangements, specialized staffing, proactive planning, and promotion are necessary to deliver equivalent library services and to achieve equivalent results in teaching and learning, and generally to maintain quality in distance learning programs. Equitable distance learning library services are often more personalized than might be expected on the main campus, as students and faculty in distance learning programs do not have direct access to a full range of library services and materials.

Technical Infrastructure: The originating institution must provide for service, management, and technical linkages between the library and other complementary resource bases such as computing facilities, instructional media, telecommunication centers, and support services for people with disabilities.

Written Agreements: The originating institution is responsible, through the library, for the development and periodic review of formal and documented written agreements for compensation when resources and services from unaffiliated local libraries are to be used to support information needs of its distance learning community. Such resources and services are not to be used simply as substitutes for supplying adequate materials and services by the originating institution.

Meeting Other Standards, Guidelines, Laws, and Regulations: The originating institution must ensure that its distance learning library programs meet or exceed national and regional accreditation standards and professional association standards and guidelines, as well as the mandate for equal program and service access for users with disabilities and compliance with appropriate federal and state laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Programs offered in other nations must likewise meet all relevant local and national laws and regulations.

Library Requirements

Availability for All Users: The library has primary responsibility for making its resources, services, and personnel available to its users regardless of their physical location. Therefore, the library identifies, develops, coordinates, implements, and assesses these resources and services. The library's programs must be designed to meet not only standard informational and skills development needs but also the unique needs of the distance learning community. The requirements and desired outcomes of academic programs should guide the library’s responses to defined needs. Innovative approaches to the design and evaluation of special procedures or systems to meet these needs, both current and anticipated, are encouraged. 

Academic Excellence: Access to appropriate library services and resources is essential for the attainment of superior academic skills in post-secondary education, regardless of where students, faculty, staff, and programs are located. Members of the distance learning community, including those with disabilities, must therefore be provided effective and appropriate library services and resources, which may differ from, but must be equivalent to, those provided for students and faculty in physical campus settings.

Direct Human Access: Library personnel must be made directly available to the distance learning community through instruction, interaction, and intervention in the provision of library services and in facilitating successful use of library resources, particularly electronic resources requiring computer and digital literacy, and information literacy skills.

Instruction: The library must provide information and digital literacy instruction programs to the distance learning community in accordance with the ACRL standards and other ACRL documents relating to information literacy. The attainment of lifelong learning skills through general bibliographic and information/computer/digital literacy instruction in academic libraries is a primary outcome of higher education, and as such, must be provided to all students.

Strategic Planning: The library must maintain a current strategic plan and vision for serving distance learners, which ideally should be integrated into the overall library strategic plan. Strategic planning should be an iterative process that includes evaluation, updating, and refinement. The library must likewise include distance learning library services in its mission statement and goals, which serve as a framework for all its activities. Further, the mission and goals should be compatible and consistent with those developed by the originating institution.

Needs and Outcomes Assessments: The distance learning community must always be represented in the planning and assessment activities of the library. These include, but are not limited to surveys, e.g., LibQual; focus groups; discussion forums and other formal and informal feedback mechanisms; usability studies; collection reviews; and instructional planning. The library must make needs and outcomes assessments a major component of distance learning library services. Needs assessments measure how adequately these services are being provided within the context of current ongoing teaching and learning activities. 

Outcomes assessment addresses the accountability of institutions to determine whether distance students have learned effectively and whether library services have effectively met their needs over time. As an active mechanism for improving the long term results of current library practices, outcomes assessment focuses on the achievement of outcomes that have been identified as desirable in the goals and objectives of distance learning library services and identifies performance measures, such as proficiencies, that indicate how well the library is doing what it has stated it wishes to do.

Needs and outcomes assessments of distance learning library services should take into consideration the greater dependence of libraries on technology, their increasing use of online services, their growing responsibility to provide information literacy skills, their increasing reliance on consortial services, and new developments in the ways in which scholarly information is published and distributed.

Adaptations for Lack of Library Facilities

Although some exclusively online, or virtual, institutions have created their own entirely online libraries, others have found it necessary to compensate for their lack of library facilities by contracting with libraries on academically respected physical campuses in order to provide their own students adequate library services and materials. Under this model, a librarian from the online institution is stationed at the physical library to coordinate the provision of materials and services to the students of the online university. Other combinations of online and physical libraries may also be undertaken. Whatever solutions are developed for providing library services and materials to students of online institutions, care must be taken to meet the requirements specified throughout these Standards.

Gateway to Other ACRL Guidelines and Standards

In addition to providing their own content, the Standards function as a gateway to adherence to other appropriate standards and guidelines of ACRL, to the extent that each document, or portions thereof, apply to services provided the distance learning community. The most recent editions of these ACRL standards and guidelines may be found at: Guidelines, Standards, and Frameworks.

It is further anticipated that additional guidance will be provided by checklists, guidelines, and standards from other divisions of ALA, or other organizations, such as professional accrediting associations, and the United States regional accrediting associations and commissions for educational institutions. Selected specific examples are provided where appropriate in later sections of the Standards.

DLS Bibliography

A comprehensive bibliography of recent literature on distance learning library services and information on earlier editions of the bibliography can be accessed from the DLS website.

Part III Specific Requirements

Fiscal Responsibilities

The originating institution must provide continuing, optimum financial support for library services to the distance learning community. This support must be sufficient to meet not only the specifications listed below, but also those given in other sections of the Standards, as well as specifications in other applicable ACRL standards and guidelines, and those of professional, state, and regional accrediting agencies, as noted earlier. This financing should be:

  • related to the formally defined needs and demands of the distance learning program;
  • allocated on a schedule matching the originating institution’s budgeting cycle;
  • designated and specifically identified within the originating institution’s budget and expenditure reporting statements;
  • accommodated to arrangements involving external agencies, including both unaffiliated and affiliated;
  • sufficient to support staffing as specified in Personnel;
  • sufficient to cover the type and number of services provided to the distance learning community;
  • sufficient to support innovative approaches to meeting needs.


As noted elsewhere in the Standards, the role of the distance learning librarian may be shared among several employees or library departments; however, when such functions are so dispersed among a number of librarians, care must be taken to ensure that all of the essential functions of the distance learning librarian, as provided in the Standards and other closely related documents, are included within this model.

Personnel involved in the management, coordination, and planning of distance learning library services should include library personnel directly providing those services, as well as key library administrators and supporting personnel from outside the library. These may include, but are not limited to, specialists in the provision of distance learning services or course design; ADA compliance officers; or specialists in the provision of services to the disabled.

The originating institution must provide sufficient professional and support personnel at the appropriate location(s) with the qualifications necessary to attain the goals and objectives for library services to the distance learning program. These individuals may be assigned to the library or in separately administered units, and should include:

  • a distance learning librarian to plan, implement, coordinate, and evaluate library resources and services addressing the information and skills needs of the distance learning community;
  • additional professional and/or support personnel with the capacity and training to identify informational and skills needs of distance learning library users and respond to them directly, regardless of location. The exact combination of central and site staffing for distance learning library services will differ from institution to institution.

Distance learning library personnel must have:

  • classifications, status, salary scales, and workloads equivalent to those of other comparable library employees, while reflecting the compensation levels and cost of living for those residing at distance learning sites;
  • written policies establishing their status, rights, and responsibilities. Policy regarding faculty librarians should be consistent with the ACRL Standards for Faculty Status for College and University Librarians;
  • opportunities for continuing growth and development, including funded training and continuing education, professional education, and participation in professional and staff organizations.

Library Education

Schools of library and information science should provide opportunities for students to study distance learning librarianship as an academic specialization within the framework of the 2015 Standards for Accreditation of Master's Programs in Library and Information Studies, with special emphasis on the provisions of Standard II: Curriculum.  These institutions should also provide ongoing Post Master’s professional development programs in which practicing librarians can gain an understanding of the challenges facing distance students. 


While the functions of the distance learning librarian may be distributed across several departments or individuals, care must be taken to ensure that all essential librarian functions e.g., planning and management, collection development, course design, research and educational services, resource access, and document delivery, and others, are well-functioning and beneficial to students and faculty who are at a distance.  In addition to the services just enumerated, the distance learning librarian (or team, depending upon the model) performs all of the following library management functions in order to support that distance learning community's successful teaching and learning.

1. Mission, goals, and objectives

The distance learning librarian:

  • develops and maintains a written statement of immediate and long-range goals and objectives for distance learning library services, which addresses defined needs and outlines the methods by which progress can be measured;
  • promotes the incorporation of the distance learning mission statement, goals, and objectives into those of the library and of the originating institution;
  • involves distance learning community representatives, including local administrators and on-site faculty and students, in the formation of the objectives and the regular evaluation of their achievement;
  • participates in the strategic planning processes of the originating institution and the library;
  • provides advocacy for distance learners at the institutional administrative level;
  • advocates to establish cross-departmental communication channels in support of distance learners;
  • endeavors to increase the representation of library personnel on university committees to advocate for distance learners;
  • endeavors to establish an institutional culture of support for distance learners.

2. Needs and outcomes assessments

The distance learning librarian is responsible for ensuring and demonstrating that all requirements for distance learning library services are met through needs and outcomes assessments, and other measures of library performance, as appropriate.

The distance learning librarian assesses the existing library support for distance learning, its availability, appropriateness, and effectiveness, using qualitative, quantitative, and outcomes measurement devices as well as a written profile of needs.

The distance learning librarian regularly surveys distance learning library users to monitor and assess both the appropriateness of their use of services and resources and the degree to which needs are being met and skills acquired.

Assessment instruments may include surveys, tests, interviews, and other valid measuring devices. These instruments may be designed specifically for the function being measured, or previously developed instruments may be used. It is critical, however, to choose carefully the instrument, the size of the sample, and the method used for sampling. The instrument should be valid, and the way it is used should be appropriate for the task.

These planning and evaluation processes are ongoing and should be conducted in cooperation with the library and the originating institution.

The distance learning librarian should employ inputs, outputs, outcomes and assessment strategies, as detailed in Standards for Libraries in Higher Education. Data collection methods may include library instruction evaluation checklists; tracking student progress via student journal entries or information literacy diaries; and focus groups of students, faculty and alumni. The exact number and mix of tasks will vary with circumstances from among the following;

The distance learning librarian:

  • prepares, at regular intervals, a written profile of the information and skills needs of the current and potential distance learning community. Such profiles may include but are not limited to an assessment of resources, library instruction needs, facilities and technological needs of the current and potential distance learning population;
  • reviews specific library and information service areas or operations which support distance learning library services;
  • conducts general library knowledge surveys of students at the beginning, midpoint, and near graduation to assess the effectiveness of their information literacy instruction;
  • reviews accessibility of distance learning library services for the entire learning community;
  • considers distance learning library services in the assessment strategies related to institutional accreditation;
  • compares the library as a provider of distance learning library services with its peers through self-study efforts of the originating institution;
  • employs assessment and evaluation by librarians from other institutions or other appropriate consultants, including those in communities where the institution has concentrations of distance learners;
  • participates in continuous institutional assessment and effectiveness programs and processes.

3. Collections and services

The distance learning librarian:

  • prepares or revises collection development and acquisitions policies to reflect the profile of needs;
  • ensures the provision of both the electronic and hard copy resource needs;
  • develops methods for delivering library materials and services to the distance learning community;
  • ensures that needed services identified in the planning process are provided to the distance learning community;
  • promotes library support services to the distance learning community.

4. Cooperation and collaboration

The distance learning librarian:

  • participates in the curriculum development process and in course planning for distance learning to ensure that appropriate library resources and services are available in accordance with the purpose of each course;
  • ensures providing ADA compliance in the early planning stages of course development;
  • works collaboratively with teaching faculty in distance-delivered programs to integrate information and digital literacy into courses and programs in order to foster lifelong learning skills;
  • promotes dialogue between distance learning personnel and library administrators to ensure cooperation between the two groups;
  • initiates dialogue leading to cooperative agreements and possible resource sharing or compensation for unaffiliated libraries, including informal relationships and Memoranda of Understanding, where applicable;
  • develops where needed inter-institutional partnerships that ensure the necessary technology support for the distance learning community;
  • acts as an advocate for the distance learning community among colleagues in the library and on campus through presentations, committee work, etc.
  • collaborates with subject librarians to provide support to advanced discipline specific or graduate distance learning programs and to obtain data in support of distance learning assessment.

5. Change

When new forms of distance learning are introduced, the following are among the issues that should be addressed:

  • the context of ongoing organizational change, including changes in administrative structures;
  • challenges, implications, and adaptations to new initiatives, technologies, and forms of online instruction;
  • the technological competencies of library personnel;
  • the current state of institutional licensing and the potential need for additional campus licenses;
  • vendor charges for regional campuses;
  • adherence to publisher/vendor agreements;
  • identification of the clients served;
  • determination of whether or not specific clients are enrolled in the institution;
  • determination of whether clients are eligible for library services;
  • determination of whether some categories of students may need to pay more to receive services;
  • determination of whether unaffiliated learners, including alumni, may be granted access to all electronic resources within the provisions of vendor licensing.

6. Globalization

When new forms of distance learning are introduced through the globalization of education, including transnational education, the following issues must be addressed:

  • functional levels of cultural competence for distance learning library personnel;
  • serving foreign students who reside in their own countries while they are enrolled in courses offered by originating institutions in other nations;
  • the unique cultural and legal issues that stem from the use of language, intercultural communication, international intellectual property rights, and the sharing of published materials;
  • the necessity for an institutional policy for international shipment of interlibrary loans;
  • complex licensing and support issues both for the institution and the academic/distance librarians;
  • how texts and communications will be translated.

Facilities and Equipment

The originating institution must provide sufficient facilities, equipment, and communication tools to attain the objectives of the distance learning programs. The size, number, scope, and accessibility of these facilities and equipment must be sufficient to provide timely access for all students, including those with disabilities. Arrangements may vary and should be appropriate to programs offered. Examples of suitable arrangements include but are not limited to one or a combination of:

  • access to facilities through agreements with a nonaffiliated library;
  • designated space for consultations, ready reference collections, reserve collections, electronic transmission of information, database searching and interlibrary loan services, and offices for the library distance learning personnel;
  • a branch or satellite library;
  • online services, including Web-based virtual libraries, electronic communication tools, and course management software.


The originating institution is responsible for ensuring that the distance learning community has access to library materials equivalent to those provided in on-campus settings. Thus, the institution must provide or secure convenient, direct access to library materials in appropriate formats that are of sufficient quality, depth, number, scope, and currency to:

  • meet all students’ needs in fulfilling course assignments;
  • enrich the academic programs;
  • meet teaching and research needs;
  • support curricular needs;
  • facilitate the acquisition of lifelong learning skills;
  • accommodate students with varying levels of technological access (i.e. low bandwidth);
  • accommodate other informational needs of the distance learning community as appropriate.

When more than one institution is involved in the provision of a distance learning program, each is responsible for the provision of library materials to the students enrolled in its courses, unless an equitable agreement for otherwise providing these materials has been made. Costs, services, and methods for the provision of materials for all courses in the program should be appropriately comparable.


Library services offered to the distance learning community must be designed to meet a wide range of informational, instructional, and user needs, and should provide some form of direct user access to library personnel. The exact combination of service delivery methods will differ from institution to institution. Specific professional standards and guidelines which should be utilized in providing these services include, but are not limited to:

Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), American Library Association, 2000 (rescinded in 2016).

Standards for Libraries in Higher Education. Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), American Library Association, 2011.

Professional Competencies for Reference and User Services Librarians. Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), American Library Association, 2003.

Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services. Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), American Library Association, 2004.

Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers. Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), American Library Association, 2013.

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, 2012.

The following, although not necessarily exhaustive, are essential:

  • research and consultation services;
  • online instructional and informational services in formats accessible to the greatest number of people, including those with disabilities;
  • reliable, rapid, secure access to online resources;
  • consultation services, including interaction as an embedded librarian;
  • a library user instruction program designed to instill independent and effective information and digital literacy skills, while specifically meeting the learner support needs of the distance learning community;
  • reciprocal or contractual borrowing, or interlibrary loan services in accordance with both Section 108, Reproductions by Libraries and Archives, of the Copyright Law and using a broad application of  Section 107, Fair Use;
  • access to reserve and other instructional materials in accordance with Section 107, Fair Use, and Section 110, Exemptions for Certain Performances and Displays;
  • reliance upon copyright training and legal counsel;
  • institutional support for librarians providing clearance/compliance on copyright issues;
  • recognition of the importance of copyright for institutional administrators;  
  • adequate service hours for optimum user access;
  • promotion of library services to the distance learning community, including documented and updated policies, management of information resources, and regulations and procedures for systematic development;
  • marketing of distance learning library services directly to distance learners;
  • prompt delivery to users of items obtained from the institution’s collections, or through interlibrary loan agreement via courier or electronic delivery system;
  • point-of-use assistance with and instruction in the use of print and non-print media and equipment;
  • provision of appropriate open access publications.


Documentation must be maintained in order to indicate the degree to which the originating institution is meeting the Standards. The library and the distance learning librarian should have ready access to the following:

  • user guides and other library instructional materials;
  • statements of mission and purpose, policies, regulations, and procedures;
  • statistics on library use;
  • statistics on collections;
  • facilities assessment measures;
  • collections assessment measures;
  • needs and outcomes assessment measures;
  • data on staff and work assignments;
  • institutional and internal organization charts;
  • comprehensive budget(s);
  • professional personnel vitae;
  • position descriptions for all personnel;
  • formal, written agreements;
  • library evaluation studies or documents;
  • evidence of involvement in curriculum development and planning.  

Appendix A

The Standards Provenance

Today’s Standards are the culmination of the expansion and revision of the following series of documents, the first of which originated in processes initiated in 1963: ACRL Guidelines for Library Services to Extension Students, 1967; ACRL Guidelines for Extended Campus Library Services, 1981; ACRL Guidelines for Extended Campus Library Services, 1990; ACRL Guidelines for Distance Learning Library Services, 1998; ACRL Guidelines for Distance Learning Library Services, 2000; Guidelines for Distance Learning Library Services, 2004; Standards for Distance Learning Library Services, 2008.

2016 Standards

The DLS Standards Committee was returned to standing committee status in 2012, and Harvey Gover, Washington State University Tri-Cities, was asked to return as Committee Chair in order to lead a revision of the 2008 Standards. Committee members who have actively participated in this revision include Dr. Monica Garcia Brooks, Marshall University; Stefanie Buck, Oregon State University; Rachel Cannady, University of Texas at San Antonio; Moushumi Chakraborty, Salisbury University; Heather Dalal, Rider University; Jack Fritts, Benedictine University; Jane M. Hutton, West Chester University; Michelle A. Kowalsky, Rowan University; and Stephan Macaluso, SUNY--New Paltz. In addition, Robin Deich Ottoson, Tabor College, as the ACRL Standards Committee (SAC) Liaison to DLS Standards Committee, monitored the final stages of the revision. Valuable technical assistance was provided by Stefanie Buck, in her simultaneous role as Section Secretary, and by Karla Aleman, Chair of the Section Web Committee.

A highly successful and well attended Hearing, seeking input for the revision, was held at ALA Annual 2013 in Chicago. Many valuable ideas for revision emerged from this Hearing. Two subsequent meetings of the Standards Committee, one at Annual 2013 and one at Midwinter 2014 yielded additional valuable suggestions. At the suggestion of the Committee at Annual 2013, Harvey Gover set up a Google Docs file of the revision draft and further valuable suggestions resulted from the editorial notations made by Committee members using this draft.

The resulting draft was presented to SAC for approval at Annual 2014. Although the wording of the draft was approved and commended by SAC members, the draft was sent back because input on the draft had not been widely enough sought during the revision processes. SAC requested that reactions and responses to the draft be more widely sought beyond the membership of the Distance Learning Section. David Free, Editor-In-Chief of College & Research Libraries News (C&RL News) and Marketing and Communications Specialist for ACRL was attending the SAC meeting in his capacity as advisor and volunteered to offer whatever assistance was necessary to satisfy the requests of SAC members. David Free subsequently made postings in late October 2014 to C&RL News, ACRL Update, and ACRL Insider.

A special page requesting further input on the draft was posted at the Distance Learning Section Web site by the Section’s Web Committee.  Additional postings were also made to the Section listserv and to the OFFCAMP listserv. Members of the Standards Committee contacted the following the third week of October 2014: ULS, CLS, CJCLS, ILI, LITA-L, LITA Discussion Group, Collections groups, EBSS, and Chapters Council.

Harvey Gover made further revisions of the draft in the spring and summer of 2015, based upon the additional input and email deliberations of the Standards Committee.

The management issues associated with change in the delivery of distance learning courses and programs, and the globalization of distance learning were addressed and further ideas generated at the Annual 2015 meeting of the Standards Committee. Harvey Gover then incorporated those ideas into a final draft in July 2015. The draft was approved by the Standards Committee in late July and sent to the Distance Learning Section Executive Committee for review and approval in September 2015. The draft was unanimously approved by DLS Exec on September 30, 2015. The draft was then approved by SAC in February 2016 to move forward to the ACRL Board of Directors for their final approval and subsequent publishing in C&RL News, and posting to the ACRL Guidelines, Standards, and Frameworks site.  

2008 Standards   

With completion of the 2004 revision, which had included only changes to the Introduction and the Revising the Guidelines section, the need for a new, major revision of what was still essentially the 1998 document had become evident, and members of the Guidelines Committee began the initial work toward making the transition from a guidelines document to a standards document. At that time, Rob Morrison, at Utah State University and later National-Louis University, served as Chair of the Guidelines Committee and set out to lead these efforts. Harvey Gover from Washington State University Tri-Cities continued to contribute to the new revision processes as Consultant to the Guidelines Committee.

Rob Morrison set up and led revision activities for three years. Under Morrison’s leadership, three major revision hearings and two revision discussion groups took place. The first hearing was at the 2004 ALA Midwinter conference, in San Diego on January 11, the second at the 2005 ALA Annual conference, in Chicago on June 25, and the third at the 2006 ALA Midwinter conference in San Antonio on January 21. One discussion group took place at the Twelfth Off-Campus Library Services Conference in Savannah in April 2006, and the second was a roundtable discussion at the Thirteenth National Conference of the ACRL in Baltimore, March 31, 2007.

Further opportunity for outside participation in the Guidelines revision has been provided through a wiki, since it was first made available in 2005. The wiki has been used by members of the Guidelines committee to post proposed changes for consideration by other committee members and to request email participation from individuals not on the committee and not eligible to write to the wiki. Michelle (Shelly) Drumm, Emergent Technology Trainer at BCR (Bibliographical Center for Research) and a member of the DLS Web committee, was instrumental in setting up the wiki and has both moved and maintained it since.

Members of the Guidelines Committee, who participated actively with Rob Morrison in the revision activities while he was Chair, were Betty Brice, University of Alabama; Marie Jones, East Tennessee State University; and Melissa Koenig, DePaul University.

Axel Schmetzke of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point provided valuable input on Americans with disabilities issues at the Chicago 2005 hearing. The former Guidelines had neither acknowledged nor addressed these issues.

David L. Bickford of the University of Phoenix participated actively in the roundtable discussion at the ACRL Thirteenth conference, making a number of valuable suggestions. Bickford later became a member of the Guidelines Committee.

Rob Morrison left the committee in 2007 and Jessica Catherine McCullough of ARTstor User Services took over as Chair. Harvey Gover continued to work actively on adding new content, rewriting, restructuring, and refining the final document for submission to the ACRL Standards and Accreditation Committee (SAC) and the ACRL Board for approval at the 2008 ALA Annual conference. Gover also served as Acting Chair of the committee in 2008 in McCullough’s absence.

New members of the committee, Daniel Gall of the University of Iowa and Jan H. Kemp of the University of Texas at San Antonio, provided valuable assistance to Gover in preparation of the final 2008 draft.

An editorial discussion leading to further revisions took place during the online approval process by the DLS Executive Board in April 2008. Specific editorial suggestions were provided by Ruth Hodges of South Carolina State University, Jessica Catherine McCullough of ARTstor User Services, and Allyson Washburn of Brigham Young University. The draft was approved on April 17, 2008.

2000 Guidelines

When reviewing the publication history of the Guidelines, one readily notices the short span in editions from 1998 to 2000. The 1998 Guidelines were approved with the proviso from SAC that efforts be undertaken immediately upon their final approval to make the Guidelines more outcomes oriented through a minor rhetorical revision that would not require as complete a subsequent approval process as would a more thorough revision.  This minor outcomes revision was actually initiated during the 1998 approval process, when the Guidelines Committee members began reviewing the draft document for possible outcomes additions and then Chair, Harvey Gover, prepared an additional precept for the then Guidelines Philosophy section acknowledging the importance of instilling lifelong learning skills through information literacy instruction for students in extended academic settings. With the approval of SAC, that precept was incorporated into the final draft of the 1998 Guidelines.

The outcomes revision continued through Annual 2000, when it was approved by SAC and the ACRL Board of Directors.  Those Guidelines Committee members who participated actively in the outcomes revision throughout this time included Committee Chair Jean Caspers, Oregon State University; and Geraldine Collins, University of North Florida; Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University Vancouver; Lisa Hinchliffe, Illinois State University; Mae O’Neal, Western Michigan University; Bill Parton, Oklahoma Tech University; and Bernie Sloan, University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign.  Susan Maltese, Oakton Community College, then liaison from SAC to DLS, and Barton Lessin, Wayne State University, Chair of SAC, also contributed suggestions and guidance.  Harvey Gover, then DLS Chair and Consultant to the Guidelines Committee, monitored the entire outcomes revision process, and prepared the final revision draft submitted to SAC just prior to Annual 2000. The final revision draft was based upon a draft insert that had been prepared by Jean Caspers and submitted to the Guidelines Committee for review on June 6. Gover’s final draft consisted largely of an incorporation of Caspers’ insert throughout the entire 1998 Guidelines text and was forwarded to Susan Maltese, SAC liaison to DLS, on June 9 for submission to SAC.

During the approval process for the outcomes revision, it was suggested by members of SAC that the Guidelines Introduction needed strengthening and recommended that an additional minor revision be prepared, rewriting the introduction.  During the process of revising the introduction, it became evident that the Revising the Guidelines section would also require some corresponding strengthening and revision. These efforts, which led to approval of the 2004 edition, were initiated and prepared by Harvey Gover, then Consultant to the Guidelines Committee, with input from members of the Guidelines Committee, Linda Frederiksen, Chair, Washington State University Vancouver; Betty K. Bryce, University of Alabama Libraries; Deborah F. Cardinal, WiLS OCLC; Catharine Cebrowski, ITESM – Tec De Monterrey; Geraldine Collins, University of North Florida; Marie F. Jones, East Tennessee State University; Melissa H. Koenig, DePaul University; Debra Lamb-Deans, Cornell University; and Bernie Sloan, University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign.

1998 Guidelines

From the beginning, those undertaking preparation or revision of the Standards have sought the widest possible input from everyone involved in all aspects and on all levels of distance teaching and learning in higher education. For example, the decision to revise the 1990 Guidelines was made initially by DLS Guidelines Committee. Then the official mandate came from the DLS Executive Board at its final 1996 Midwinter meeting. The revision of the 1990 ACRL Guidelines for Extended Campus Library Services, which produced the 1998 ACRL Guidelines for Distance Learning Library Services, was prepared by Harvey Gover, then Chair of the DLS Guidelines Committee. The revision was based upon input from members of the Guidelines Committee, members of the DLS Executive Board, the general membership of DLS, and other librarians and administrators involved in post-secondary distance learning programs from across the nation and around the world.

Members of the Guidelines Committee who initiated or contributed to the revision process for the 1990 Guidelines included: Stella Bentley, University of California at Santa Barbara; Jean Caspers, Oregon State University; Jacqueline A. Henning, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; Sharon Hybki-Kerr, University of Arkansas, Little Rock; Gordon Lynn Hufford, Indiana University East; Ruth M. Jackson, West Virginia University; Chui-Chun Lee, SUNY--New Paltz; G. Tom Mendina, University of Memphis; Virginia S. O'Herron, Old Dominion University; Mae O'Neal, Western Michigan University; Bill Parton, Arkansas Tech University; Mercedes L. Rowe, Mercy College; Dorothy Tolliver, Maui Community College Library; and Steven D. Zink, University of Nevada, Reno.

Others outside the Committee who contributed significantly to the cycle of revision of the 1990 Guidelines included: Thomas Abbott, University of Maine at Augusta; Janice Bain-Kerr, Troy State University; Nancy Burich, University of Kansas, Regents Center Library; Anne Marie Casey, Central Michigan University; Tony Cavanaugh, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia; Monica Hines Craig, Central Michigan University; Mary Ellen Davis, ACRL; Tom DeLoughry, Chronicle Of Higher Education; Jill Fatzer, University of New Orleans, ACRL Board, Task Force on Outcomes; Jack Fritts, Southeastern Wisconsin Information Technology Exchange Consortium (SWITCH); Barbara Gelman-Danley of SUNY Monroe Community College, Educational Technology, and the Consortium for Educational Technology for University Systems; Kay Harvey, Penn State, McKeesport; Maryhelen Jones, Central Michigan University; Marie Kascus, Central Connecticut State University; Barbara Krauth, Student Services Project Coordinator for the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunication of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE); Eleanor Kulleseid, Mercy College; Rob Morrison, Utah State University; Kathleen O'Connor, Gonzaga University; Alexander (Sandy) Slade, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; Mem Catania Stahley, University of Central Florida, Brevard Campus; Peg Walther, City University, Renton, Washington; Virginia Witucke, Central Michigan University; Jennifer Wu, North Seattle Community College and College Librarians and Media Specialists (CLAMS).