Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My heart's the bitter buffalo

The 2015 ACRL environmental scan was published this month. The timing of the publication of this document is excellent, given that ACRL's biennial meeting is set to take place next week. In fact, there will be a panel discussion on this document on Thursday, March 26 at 8am. If you're going to ACRL and the Future of Libraries is your jam, you should think about going.

I'm not an expert on the future of academic librarianship, but it seems to me that the authors have a good grasp on both the higher education landscape and the place of the library within it. But I'll be honest when I say that the conclusion to the environmental scan is what has me feeling forlorn.

With higher education under increased scrutiny to demonstrate the value of a post-secondary degree, it is incumbent upon academic libraries and librarians to document and communicate the Library’s value in supporting the core mission of the institution.
I agree wholeheartedly with this notion. It is absolutely the job of the library to both document the value of the library in supporting the core mission of the institution and use the data collected to convey the value of the library to those who we wish to bring along with us as co-collaborators--namely administration and faculty.

So why are you forlorn, you might ask. This sounds like a great opportunity for academic libraries!

Academic libraries are great at generating statistics. We're great at measuring how many new holdings we acquired and how many reference transactions we've done. Basically, if you can quantify it with a tally mark on a piece of paper, we can measure it. But how do we move away from collecting tally marks on pieces of paper to constructing compelling narratives about how academic libraries help support the missions of the institutions they support?

Building these compelling narratives is not just a matter of changing what statistics we collect or the outcomes we assess. We also have to be better at talking about our services to our stakeholders in ways that they find both understandable and appealing. We have to craft elevator pitches that don't have anything to do with jargon.

This, I would tell you, is why I'm forlorn. Moving from tally marks to compelling narratives is a daunting tasks that requires not only libraries open to the cultural shift, but also people to teach us how to build these narratives.

I was heartened to learn about ACRL's Assessment in Action program. This program brings together teams of three people from a university--one librarian and two others people from the institution. These groups of three work in a larger cohort for a fourteen month professional development program that seeks to equip cohort members with the capacity to better measure the library's impact on student success. Each team, lead by the librarian, works on an action project to assess the impact of their library at their institution.

I think that these teams and this program are an example of how librarians begins to craft a compelling narrative about the impact of their libraries on the institutions they serve. Creating these narratives requires buy-in and support from the start by people who are not affiliated with the library. They serve as our partners and our advocates.

I think it will require a change in culture to move from tally mark making to storytelling. But I think the results are more rewarding and have the greatest capacity for impact. Start by crafting your jargon-free elevator conversation, so that you can recruit supporters with ever conversation.

Stay positive,

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