Monday, 30 April 2012

Cut to the quick

"To cut to the quick" literally means to trim (cut) a fingernail down to the nailbed, the living tissue that bleeds - the "quick" is the living flesh.

Today it was pointed out to me that Harvard is scrabbling around trying to rationalise its 73 libraries. On the one hand there was a slight sense of relief in me that it is not just the UK that is feeling the pinch in its academic libraries; on the other hand bemusement as I read about the process that they are undergoing. It was a bit of deja vu as, once again, communication skills seem in short supply, and it appears that the financial and administrative sectors of the university are of more importance in their considerations than their users or employees. I'm not overly convinced from what I have seen reported that the Harvard mangement know how to keep their employees on board.

I started wondering about what might happen in the forseeable future when Cambridge libraries have all been affiliated and denuded of experienced library staff - I am guessing in the name of sensible re-structuring and saving money for those all important e-journals. I wondered what might be the impact of this on the Quickstart for Part 1 dissertation session that Isla and I taught this afternoon.

1. I guess it couldn't possibly have been given using two members of staff (irrespective of the unique contribution each brought to the table)
2. I suppose it probably wouldn't have been worth doing as the room wasn't full and it might have been deemed a waste of time
3. A handout would have done - surely - after all they took away handouts summarising the key points (note I have been reading up about 'learning styles' and have understood that theorists and reflectors like stuff to take away with them...but on the other hand does doing away with a session like this help the activitists and pragmatists?)
4. Surely we could just pop an online tutorial up on CamTools and they could all do that?
5. The students would only have missed a vew vital things like the fact that MLA International Bibliography is very useful, that JSTOR is not the only store of online journals in the university, that managing your information, backing it up, making use of Zotero is sound advice, that Zetoc provided the life saver article for this week's essay, that they can now figure out when they have a journal title where to go to find print or online. Surely they could pick all this up somewhere else.......
6. No face-to-face interactions with us  - this will probably mean that they wouldn't want to ask us, so they would just muddle by, ask their friends, their supervisor, their DoS, their Mum, Google. That'll be ok won't it?

So - in the future what would happen to our Quickstart sessions - well, bottom line is I suspect that we couldn't possibly have run the session above. Which, to my mind is more than just a case of 'what a shame'! The impact of the Quickstart session we ran today on these students will be measured and I can guarantee that I will prove that it had a positive impact on their academic development. I cannot guarantee anything of the sort in the bright, shiny new future we face.

When all the libraries similar to ours are reduced in size, amalgamated with other libraries, manned by a pool of people who know nothing about the subject, and can no longer help the students in similar ways to our Quickstart session, then the combined impact on student learning will be terrifying. I wonder if both Cambridge and Harvard are forgetting, to their cost, the impact that library facilities (resources and services) have on their worldwide research and teaching status.

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.