Correlating Library Services, Expertise, and Resources with Student Learning: Identifying Library Behaviors That Appear to Be Connected to Positive Learning Outcomes Is a Realistic Research Goal and a Useful Measure of Value

By Oakleaf, Megan | Information Outlook, March-April 2014 | Go to article overview

Correlating Library Services, Expertise, and Resources with Student Learning: Identifying Library Behaviors That Appear to Be Connected to Positive Learning Outcomes Is a Realistic Research Goal and a Useful Measure of Value


Oakleaf, Megan, Information Outlook


The quest to demonstrate academic library value is not new, but it is certainly resurgent. Since the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) published The Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report in 2010, academic librarians have redoubled their efforts to show that their libraries contribute to the missions of their overarching institutions.

Although institutional missions are multifaceted and complex, one goal is emphasized at nearly all institutions: student learning. As a result, academic librarians nationwide have embraced the challenge of connecting their libraries with student learning. Indeed, many librarians have moved beyond asserting that their libraries enhance student learning and have started using data to correlate student use of library services, expertise, and resources (SERs) with learning outcomes. In other words, librarians are beginning to demonstrate that students who engage more with library SERs may learn more. (see Figure 1)

Although connections between libraries and learning may seem intuitive to librarians, using data and statistics to correlate library use and student learning is not easy or straightforward. In fact, librarians seeking correlations between libraries and learning have a number of challenges to surmount.

Getting the Questions Right

one major challenge many librarians face is the difficulty of designing a workable research question to guide their correlational investigations. Questions of this nature have three main components: (1) Do library SERS (2) correlate with, contribute to, affect, influence, help, cause, determine, or relate to (3) student learning?

Sample research questions might include the following:

* Does the (1) physical and digital/ virtual reference desk (2) contribute to (3) improved GPA scores at graduation?

* Does (1) engagement in library instruction (2) impact (3) students' ability to use information, as measured by student test scores?

* Does the (1) use of interlibrary loan services (2) help students contribute to the (3) use of quality information resources in senior capstone projects and theses?

To build questions with these three components (see Figure 2), librarians need to perform a number of tasks. To address component #1? librarians must identify which library SERs may impact learning. To do so, they need to investigate the mission, goals, and strategic priorities of their institutions and determine which learning goals are most important and valued. Then, librarians need to determine which library SERs align (or could align) with those institutional learning goals. Next, they must identify which students use the SERs under consideration. Finally, librarians need to collect impact-focused data and evidence about those SERs.

For component #3, librarians must identify useful measures of student learning, but finding rigorous and valid measures of learning can be difficult (Oakleaf 2008). Surveys supply self-reported data, and many students dramatically under- or over-report their own learning. Fixed-choice tests are ill-suited for measuring complex and contextualized constructs like information literacy. P6?fo?msnc6-bss6d assessments can be difficult for librarians to obtain, since most are submitted directly to course instructors.

Even when librarians have access to performance assessments, they vary considerably from student to student and course to course. As a result, rigorous rubrics are needed to obtain reliable data. Furthermore, students are not always motivated to complete assessments that are distributed and required by librarians (rather than course instructors). Even when they work with course instructors to collect assessment data, librarians may be confronted with a host of curriculum integration and logistical difficulties.

Finally, librarians must consider component #2--the relationship between library SERs and student learning. …

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