Academic Libraries, Information Literacy, and the Value of Our Values
ACRL has embarked on the important, even urgent, initiative to support academic libraries in articulating and demonstrating their value to their institutions at a time in which higher education in general finds itself constantly defending its value. Accountability at numerous levels, from our federal government to our university boards of trustees, is the clarion call of the day. Assessment, accountability, and value have been inexorably linked over the past several decades. Assessing the impact of [information literacy instruction, freshman seminars, general education, fill in the blank] on student learning and achievement is both a means of being accountable to our stakeholders (parents, policy makers, tax payers, etc.) but also demonstrating our value (Why should we continue to exist?). For many academic librarians, specifically those invested in information literacy (IL) instruction programs; the assessment movement has been beneficial insofar as it has meant that IL has become central to many college and university assessment efforts. It has been very satisfying to have our work validated as core to the undergraduate curriculum. However, like many aspects of the curriculum, the value of IL instruction programs is in question, as are the many other services, contents, and processes of the academic library. Assessing the value (financial, impact, or otherwise) of these services, use of contents, and efficiency of processes becomes our means of proving (being accountable) our relevancy in higher education. For instruction librarians this has meant a move from simply recording how many students we’ve reached (whether through classroom instruction, online tutorials, research appointments) to developing IL learning outcomes that are assessed at the course level as well as the institutional level. While we appreciate the growing adoption of IL learning outcomes in core curricula, it is worrisome that it may be simply to satisfy external pressure (i.e. accrediting agencies). Because ultimately the pressure from both external and internal stakeholders is framed in economic terms—return on investment. As educators, the value of assessment should be because it informs our practice (and praxis).
Published in 2010 the Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report prepared by Megan Oakleaf claims that academic library stakeholders “tend to focus on two” particular ways of defining value: financial and impact value (p. 22). The report takes as a given that academic librarians will need to prove that we manage our financial resources well and somehow bring money into our institutions (p. 22). However the report also recognizes that the more meaningful piece for librarians may be in demonstrating “impact value:” “This position posits that academic library value is not primarily a financial concept; rather the value of information is its contribution to making improvements in users (Wilson, Stenson and Oppenheim 2000, 3-4)” (p. 24). Nonetheless impact value as described in the report still pivots on a conception of value as an economic construct of sorts, a return on investment embodied by an improvement in the user. The term “improvement” suggests that information has increased the value of the individual. Information, as object and commodity, and teaching and learning may indeed increase the market value of the individual, but for many information literacy instruction librarians the value of teaching is not measureable in economic terms but is instead that which “transforms”. In other words the transformative value is that which develops critical consciousness, a broadening of one’s worldview in order to appreciate the multiplicity of perspectives and the complexity of any given issue or situation. Transformation may alter but not necessarily improve or increase impact value (i.e. retention, graduation rates, career success, GPA, etc.).
A recent follow-up to the 2010 report, Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summit (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2012) does attend to some transformative values, for example “academic intimacy” (p. 12), yet seems to ignore these in their “Actions for the profession” items. In the spirit of action item 3.3, “to “Build a community of practice to engage and sustain professional dialogue about library value,” we’d like to consider the integration of our understanding of library value with our professional values.
Some of the foundational Core Values of librarianship (American Library Association, 2004) include free access to information, democracy as it hinges on an informed citizenry and the First Amendment’s mandate to free expression, the public good, and social responsibility. Is the concept of value as articulated in the ACRL value reports antithetical to these core values expressed by ALA?
In a recent post from In the Library With a Lead Pipe, Emily Ford asks us to consider the “why” of what we do as an intervention in what she sees as failed attempts to demonstrate our value. Ford recommends that the library community develop a philosophy of librarianship. She suggests that engaging with philosophy will enable the library community to move from practice to praxis—professional practice informed by theory, or a philosophical framework. Perhaps we need only look to our Core Values to articulate a philosophy of librarianship.
Barbara Fister emphasizes the importance of Ford’s recommendations (Fister, 2012, August 28) and also shares thoughts on value and values in a recent post (2012, September 19), stating that:
“We librarians seem anxious to prove our value these days, but what we really should articulate more clearly and loudly is our values. When we focus on defending our existence to our administrators, we end up…with a focus far too narrow, too parochial, too myopic to ensure that our values inform what libraries should be.”
We’d like to see this conversation grow on the apparent disconnect between articulating our value with our values, especially in relation to information literacy instruction. We have submitted for consideration a proposal for an ACRL Instruction Section Current Issue Discussion Group at ALA Annual with the hope that other instruction librarians are also concerned about the apparent disconnect between our value and our values. However, it is likely that the proposal is too philosophical to be accepted, so we’d love to get your feedback here, at the Library Juice Blog, or via personal email.
Can we articulate our Core Values while also demonstrating our value in economic terms? Do we risk losing our value as defenders/providers of equity of access, free speech, intellectual freedom, and the public good if we concede to the narrative of crisis fueling the value initiative? How do we fit our Core Values into our information literacy learning outcomes? Is it possible to re-orient the conversation in order to re-value conceptions of value?
Lua Gregory & Shana Higgins
American Library Association. (2004). Core values of librarianship. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/offices/oif/statementspols/corevaluesstatement/corevalues.
Association of College and Research Libraries. (2012). Connect, collaborate, and communicate: A report from the value of academic libraries summits. Prepared by Karen Brown and Kara J. Malenfant. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.
Fister, B. (2012, August 28). The self-centered library: A paradox. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library-babel-fish/self-centered-library-paradox.
Fister, B. (2012, September 19). What libraries should be: A values proposition. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library-babel-fish/what-libraries-should-be-values-proposition.
Ford, E. (2012, August 8). What we do and why we do it? In the Library With a Lead Pipe. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2012/what-do-we-do-and-why-do-we-do-it/.
Oakleaf, M. (2010). The value of academic libraries: A comprehensive research review and report. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.
Wilson, R. M. S., Stenson, J., & Oppenheim, C. (2000). Valuation of information assets. Loughborough: Loughborough University.