Friday, 20 April 2012

Impact - 'In God we trust - all others must bring data' (Megan Oakleaf, LILAC keynote)

Just when I have been chewing my finger nails down to the quick about how to prove how much impact our library service has, two rather startling (even impactful) things occurred.And one further related coincidence. I could say that it was all down to the excellent presentations at the recent LILAC conference , but it wasn't quite.
Impact 1. I was attracted to a blog post - and a related article on understanding what impact we have on learning which really made enormous sense to me. The gist of the article said that if we are trying to prove how impactful we are in libraries that one way of doing this is to consider the academic pinnacle of student achievement and consider whether the library, as resource and service, have had an impact on student learning goals. For me this means - forget information literacy, forget all the goals that WE make up and WE think the students need to know. Look instead at the actual learning aims and outcomes that our Faculty sets the students and find out from the students whether we have had any effect on them achieving those learning goals (that's what we're here for - right?).
Impact 2. I heard an excellent keynote at LILAC by Megan Oakleaf. ( In many ways what was said was not revolutionary but the way it was presented created a wake-up-call 'oh I get it' type of reaction in me. Essentially it chimed with the article I had just read (above). She said - quite forcibly - look at what the institutional goals are for our students and work out whether the library service is having any impact on those goals (again this to me says it is not OUR goals, or information literacy goals, but our institution's goals that matter - which is a really important distinction).

As put in her IFLA paper 2010:

 "Value is defined in terms of institutional, not library, goals. The purpose of this research is to help academic libraries demonstrate their value to the institutions in which they are embedded. Libraries need to identify institutional goals (e.g., increasing student retention and graduation rates; increasing student achievement; increasing faculty research output) in order to communicate value in terms that institutional administrators will appreciate." [Full article available here]

Megan had two tangible ways of visualising all this - firstly a Library impact map, ( and secondly a grid which I'll be using in staff meetings for working out whether we have sufficient evidence to support our beliefs that we support institutional goals. My regular harping on institutional mission seems a valid 'harping'. By providing the institution with evidence of our impact on THEIR goals we are demonstrating our importance and usefulness.

Coincidence no. 1. and impact 3. A book on quality of student learning in HE that I was dipping into had a word in the index that I would not have noticed, apart from the fact that it was mentioned in the article referred to in the blog post above. The authors talked of a student's 'capstone' experience which in my Faculty means the dissertation. It seemed a peculiar, though rather exciting coincidence.
So what? Well, I am shocked that I have not done this before, but I have finally have in post-it notes all around my desk reminders of what it is that the Faculty expect our students to have achieved in writing a dissertation (it's not that what we want them to learn is unimportant, it's just not the best way to go about proving our worth!!). Now I have this, I can explore ways of gathering evidence to prove that the Library service contributes and has an impact (ie without us they would not progress as they are expected to do so) on student learning. Starting from this perspective means that when the service comes under threat I have clear evidence that says without us student learning (Faculty goals) will be impacted negatively.  


  1. Great post, Libby. Any chance you could run a training session/workshop for librarians on assessing impact?

    1. Well we certainlly need to make sure we're doing better than we are currently so anything to raise the profile......