Mall Musings: Library Assessment Conference 2018

To kick off the beginning of December, I spent almost of week of it in a mall. Granted, that mall was connected to a hotel and a hotel convention center for a conference I was attending, but I did spend a lot of time with recycled mall air and the sounds of people shopping for holiday gifts. I was attending ARL’s Library Assessment Conference down in Houston, TX. A big reason for my attendance was to co-present on a participatory design project I helped with at Penn State (and was a parallel design project with our collaborators at Montana State). I co-presented with Scott Young and it was a great opportunity to talk about our work with Native American and first-generation students at our institutions. At Penn State, we worked with six, first-generation students over a five week period in spring 2018 to discover their perceptions of our library and services. I had a chance to be the lead facilitator on this project and I think it has been the most exciting and meaningful projects I had a chance to contribute to in 2018. It seemed appropriate that I got to close out the conference season sharing this work.  

Beyond our presentation, I tried to soak in as many assessment ideas as I could. While assessment is part of my job, it’s not the thing I do on a daily basis. It was interesting to hear about the role assessment plays in others day-to-day, and projects they have worked on. I got a lot of good ideas for assessing space (watch out Leisure Reading Room!) and also spent a fair amount of time grappling with ideas around student privacy, learning analytics, and the role of the library in student success.

In the first concurrent session, I learned more about effect size, a co-created policy on the ethical use of student data, and a meta-analysis done on library learning analytic studies. In the meta-analysis presentation authors M. Brooke Robertshaw and Andrew Asher had a lot of interesting things to say but the one that has stuck with me the most is what I tweeted from Brooke below:

In the learning analytics game, institutions want to use student data to make decisions to help optimize learning and make interventions when needed. Units need to prove “their value,” and that might be putting data in the learning analytics machine or having something quantitative to show success. In proving our value, all the units within the institution want to be able to say, “We helped that student succeed.” That successful student(s) helps units secure funding, start new projects, hire more people, etc. all in the name to help more students succeed in the future.

But it is silly to say that only one unit helped a student succeed. To say that the library is SOLELY responsible for a student doing well in college, staying until graduation, and securing something after graduation is doing a disservice to all the other units we work with each day that also support our students. We are definitely part of the puzzle, but we aren’t the only piece.

Now I know this isn’t new or a groundbreaking idea, but that conversation, what I tweeted has really got me thinking. I’ve spent a lot of this year trying to convince my colleagues across the institution that the library is important. That the library does help with student success, that we have services, resources, ideas, and opportunities to offer. That we have expertise and are good collaborators in new programming. And in getting so caught up in that pitch, and frustrated with the slowness of change, I might have lost track of this bigger idea. My hyper-focus on gaining supporters took me away from that holistic picture that we all contribute in some way. That our students are going to experience Penn State in a variety of ways and the library has a variety of roles in those journeys. There’s no ideal journey, and that’s how it should be.

Sure, it’s important to get my colleagues to know and speak confidently on the library, but I also should be trying to understand how those units are contributing to the student journey. That understanding goes beyond just knowing what services they offer, and gets to how the unit is connected within the university, how students find and use that unit, and stories of students who have found success with that unit. I want to better know and understand the landscape around student engagement and our students, not to make a correlation or suggest causation, but just to know about how we are all connected and where we can make change.

I’m still unpacking it all, but it definitely has created some new waves in my research ideas, a stack of articles to read, and a few books to start making notes in. While I’m still recovering from all that mall time,, I’m real happy I made the trip to Houston.