March 16, 2018

ACRL White Paper Recommends Ways for Academic Libraries to Demonstrate Value

The Value of Academic Libraries

The Value of Academic Libraries white paper

Among the top ten trends in academic libraries in 2012, “communicating value” was at the top of the list, according to the Association of College & Research Libraries’ Planning and Review Committee. This is a direct result of the intense pressure academic and research libraries are under to clearly align their priorities with the overarching institution’s goals and also to provide data-driven documentation of the library’s impact.

The ACRL further drove the point home today when it released a white paper that presents five recommendations for librarians to help them demonstrate this value, which is one of the association’s strategic priorities and a necessity in the culture of assessment that has now taken root in postsecondary education.  In a nutshell, the report says:

The library should recognize that it is but one constituent group among many and must articulate its unique contribution to the institution’s goals in a compelling way. Libraries can benefit by partnering with other campus units and developing assessment activities in tandem with existing campus systems and data centers.

The white paper arose from a two-day summit held in Chicago late last year as part of ACRL’s multiyear Value of Academic Libraries Initiative, which aims to help libraries show how they contribute to student and faculty recruitment, retention, and success. The event was co-sponsored by the Association for Institutional Research, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges.

The paper was co-authored by Karen Brown, an associate professor at Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and Kara J. Malenfant, a senior staff member at ACRL.

The white paper builds extensively on the major 2010 report by Megan Oakleaf, an assistant professor at the iSchool at Syracuse University and an organizer of the Chicago event, which was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  In addition, the recommendations in the white paper dovetail with ACRL’s recently revised “Standards for Libraries in Higher Education,” which emphasize an outcomes-based approach that articulates “expectations for library contributions to institutional effectiveness.”

The new paper asserts that “the higher education assessment movement provides a unique opportunity for library leadership. Academic librarians can serve as connectors and integrators, promoting a unified approach to assessment. As a neutral and well-regarded place on campus, the academic library can help break down traditional institutional silos and foster increased communication across the institutional community.”

The five recommendations are meant to foster a professional development program, as Oakleaf’s report recommended. The recommendations are:

  1. Increase librarians’ understanding of library value and impact in relation to various dimensions of student learning and success.
  2. Articulate and promote the importance of assessment competencies necessary for documenting and communicating library impact on student learning and success.
  3. Create professional development opportunities for librarians to learn how to initiate and design assessment that demonstrates the library’s contributions to advancing institutional mission and strategic goals.
  4. Expand partnerships for assessment activities with higher education constituent groups and related stakeholders.
  5. Integrate the use of existing ACRL resources with library value initiatives.

“We expect the report will serve as a resource for academic librarians and others on campus who are committed to helping their colleges and universities assess and advance their missions,” Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, co-chair of ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries committee and associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said in a release.

At the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim there will be a “Forum on ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries Initiative” from 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 24.

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley ( is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.

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  1. Some times I catch my self thinking: Shouldn’t we be spending time and money to add and/or improve our services to the scholarly communities instead of trying to PROVE that air is important, that clean water is important, that a healthy diet is important, that reading is important, that providing resources and access to information is important and greatly contributes, at the end of the day, to the betterment of society in its many facets?

    Please, look at my CV (if you could) and you will easily find out that I’m not against evaluations and assessments, on the contrary. But one thing is to determine “scientifically” what are the needs of our scholarly community and plan and direct our energies and resources to best satisfy those needs, and another totally different thing is to use these scarce resources to try almost the impossible – measure impact….or how my efforts contributed to the life-long learning experience of a student or “success” (what ever that means) of a faculty member.

    Yesterday, in an assessment/strategic planning committee, I asked our Dean of Libraries: You’re a successfull and accomplished professional, afterall you are the Dean of Libraries of a respected American University. Tell me, how did the libraries at the elementary and high school schools and College you attended contributed to your sucess in becoming the Dean of Libraries at this fine Institution? Can they trace their contribution to your sucess?

    What am I missing here?

    Do we really need to scientifically show/demonstrate that libraries have value? Really? (1) I think we can do a wonderful job measuring, in many different ways, how well we are serving our community; (2) We will show that we have value when we improve our image, …period. How to do that? Simple – be more pro-active, and less passive; partner with faculty in developing their syllabus and course programs, in their research, in info literacy initiatves and etc.; never use the term “collaboration” again for describing the library’s relationship with its community…and so on. And I haven’t even mentioned how we can partner with students…

    For many, assessing outputs is enough, otherwise we will be spending more time and energy trying to assess outcomes/impact then actualy developing useful services and assisting our patrons.

    We should sit down with our staff/faculty and with the university community and be up-front about what is reasonable and feasible and what is not, so they can more accurately know what to expect from us.