A faculty librarian recounts how an assessment project was rejected by key stakeholders, revealing a cultural divide between library and departmental faculty regarding assessment, status, and the dangers of overvaluing a service orientation.
Type of Library
cultural divide, stakeholders, assessment
These Are Not Your Students: How Service Orientation Doomed a Library Instruction Assessment Project and What It Took to Bring It Back to Life
I was new to campus, a faculty member in the library in charge of overseeing our instruction program, and--in pursuit of building my tenure portfolio--I had partnered with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to develop a terrific research project: in order to assess whether our first-year composition students retained their one-shot library orientation instruction, I designed an online Blackboard module to be delivered in “flipped classroom” style. Some classes would see a librarian in class for the traditional lecture-style session, as had been the case for years, while some would complete the module, a series of four short narrated PowerPoint presentations and a brief quiz, before having their session in the library. All students would then receive a survey three weeks out from the library session to assess how much information they retained. Implementing this project would require almost no extra effort either on the part of librarians or the composition instructors. But in spite of conversations about and demonstrations of the module, when it was time to execute the project, the composition coordinator balked. She said, “These are not your students, and you are not allowed to assess them or give them homework.” Efforts to renegotiate failed. My project was rejected, my research agenda was stalled, and the module went into mothballs.
However, this episode revealed much about campus culture, faculty status, assessment, and the library’s traditional and long-held service orientation. Even having faculty status, librarians were not considered peers, even among those departments with whom we had the longest working relationships. And having said “Yes of course,” for so long, the librarians’ ability to exercise that equal status, their power to negotiate, in fact, their very sovereignty as faculty instructors, was now at risk. Further, without a broad culture of assessment on campus, assessment projects—even ones concerning a single session of instruction were easily feared and rejected. From the perspective of failure, it was clear to see why the hard work of reform had been so long in coming.
This presentation will discuss the dangers of the service mindset in academic libraries and how long-held traditions—unevaluated--can chip away at authority and stagnate programs. But it will also present how entrepreneurial efforts and new energies can forge new paths, and how broader campus initiatives can bring mothballed projects back to life.