Library Standards: Evidence of Library Effectiveness and Accreditation

By Ebbinghouse, Carol | Searcher, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Library Standards: Evidence of Library Effectiveness and Accreditation


Ebbinghouse, Carol, Searcher


It seemed like a simple request from my editor, 'Carol, you are the only person I know to have two accreditation teams visit you in one week. I want an article about accreditation in the new millennium. I want to know what questions they asked, and what questions they didn't ask that they should have. Oh, yeah, include something about those online schools without a campus. What about their libraries and accreditation?"

So why an article about accreditation standards? Who cares? Well, academic law librarians care, of course, because they all must face an accreditation body if they want to keep their institution accredited. State, court, and county libraries have created standards and used them effectively to establish a core collection, or essential list of resources, that any good law library should have. Law firm librarians should care because they get our graduates and have to 'bring them up to speed" quickly. Law firm librarians would love to know what foundations of understanding every law school graduate whom they have to train should already possess about legal materials, databases, citation form, etc. They certainly expect that summer clerks and young associates can recognize a code volume from a set of reporters. All librarians who hire new librarians want to know the foundation on which they can build in-house training.

These are the benefits of accreditation standards for law school (and, for that matter, standards in accredited library and information science programs). One should expect a certain knowledge level one from graduates of an accredited school. Higher skill levels are outlined in the MacCrate Report, [1] and even higher skills and knowledge elaborated upon in the AALL Core Legal Research Competencies. [2] To be sure, I would love to believe that every librarian I hire from an accredited school of library and information science would have such "core competencies." I am sure law firm librarians would kill to have new associates all arrive with a deep foundation and rich research skills.

Accreditation processes and standards matter for other reasons. The ways academic law libraries demonstrate their quality and effectiveness can help law firm and other librarians assess their services, collections, etc. In other words, this is not an idle exercise. Some day you will likely be asked to prove the value of your library's contribution toward the mission of your organization. What makes you think that the services you provide are the ones your users want or need? What value do you or your librarians, books, databases, etc., add to the institution? What culture of evidence proves anyone needs you or your library at all?

In one of the better survey articles on the subject [3] (as the amount of literature on quality assessment in libraries grows), Sarah M. Pritchard points out:

Few libraries exist in a vacuum, accountable only to themselves. There is thus always a larger context for assessing library quality, that is, what and how well does the library contribute to achieving the overall goals of the parent constituencies?... The micro-evaluation of libraries has given countless opportunities for detailed studies, yet still lacking are agreed-upon and objective ways to measure and incorporate library value into such processes as academic accreditation, educational assessment, and ratings of graduate programs.

The Accreditation Process

Accreditation is a grueling ordeal, which involves every individual at an educational institution: faculty, administration, staff, and even students. The physical facilities (classrooms, buildings), faculty and staffing levels, educational program, computing and library resources and services, student services, financial aid- literally every department, service, and physical resource is reported and documented. With the help of department heads and staff, the faculty creates a self-study of the entire academic institution. …

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Library Standards: Evidence of Library Effectiveness and Accreditation
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