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Contemplating Sabbatical Leave

Tiny house in a windstorm by Tammy Strobel

Tiny house in a windstorm by Tammy Strobel on Flickr, aka the cabin where I dream of reading, writing, and thinking for a year.

I’m submitting my file for tenure and promotion to associate librarian this January, so the level of stress, anxiety, and general ARGH is up to Code Red this semester. I’m trying to stay calm, prep for classes, and work on some writing and general library projects, but one task has all of my attention at the moment: My sabbatical proposal. Applications for sabbatical leave for the 2017-2018 academic year are due to department chairs on September 15, so I have approximately 9 more days to read-revise-reread-rerevise my proposal. I’ve been through a number of edits already, and think it might just be in the right condition to submit, but my nerves and fear are stopping me.

Despite the faculty status librarians at my college have enjoyed for the past decade, and our recent Board-of-Trustees-approved move to fold us into the review process by the College Evaluation Committee, this is the first time someone in my library has applied for sabbatical leave. It’s scary being the first to do something, particularly for someone like me who was always the cautious kid on the playground. Adding to the stress is the fact that my husband is also applying for year-long sabbatical leave (we’re at the same college), in hopes that we’ll be able to spend the time reading, writing, and researching in Texas.

Over the summer I received some wonderfully thoughtful advice about sabbatical proposals, leave, and projects from Maria Accardi; read Donna Witek’s amazing sabbatical proposal; and stared in awe at Barbara Fister’s sabbatical proposal and project. I’m a mess of jumbled feelings and thoughts right now:

  • I realize that the project I propose might not be the project I end up accomplishing at the end of this leave.
  • I fear not being granted this time to read, write, learn and hopefully offer my own thoughts and scholarly contribution.
  • I hope that the stress of spending a year away from home with my 5 year-old son in tow will be worth the time spent away from work.
  • I worry that a year of leave time will just make me resent my 12 month, 40 hour-a-week (on paper anyway) administrative-style faculty position, which leaves me with very little time to work on my own scholarship.
  • I’m excited for the possibility of a break from what has felt like a rocky and overwhelming two years of work.

I’ll end by doing something that scares me: Sharing my work-in-progress (but more or less complete) sabbatical proposal. It’s far from perfect and draws a lot on the work I’ll be doing this year, but writing it has me feeling hopeful for the possibility of a year of leave. I’m doing this in large part because it was extremely difficult to find existing examples of librarian sabbatical applications, and I’m hoping that I can encourage more people to share. As Tracy Clayton, one of my favorite podcasters says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I want more librarians to see other librarians apply for and be granted sabbatical leave.

I’ll write with an update in the spring about whether or not my sabbatical application was approved. You’ll either get a joyous announcement or a supremely disappointed post, but you’ll hear from me regardless.


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What We Talk About When We Talk About Information Inequality


Photo from the World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr – The Jugaani, Georgia Village School computer lab

I just finished rereading David James Hudson’s recent article — On Dark Continents and Digital Divides — and I think I finally *get it* (insomuch as anyone can really *get* a text once it’s released into the academic wild). I do my best sense-making while writing, so consider this post my attempt at understanding what I think is a really important piece of critical discourse analysis in LIS. There’s so much to unpack, and I know I’ll miss something–or misinterpret something–so I just ask that anyone reading this call me out when I’m wrong (trust me, I need it).

Hudson argues (convincingly, I think) that the narrative of “global information inequality,” otherwise known as the digital divide or information privilege/poverty dichotomy, “operates as racialized discourse in the field” and perpetuates colonial belief systems within LIS (p. 64). Essentially, when we talk about information inequality, we’re talking about race without the guilt? pressure? burden? of having to say the words. Despite our best intentions, we (the royal, librarian “we”) have adopted information inequality as our social cause without acknowledging the racist, colonialist historical and political context that set the stage for and continues to shape this disparity. There’s also an inherent privileging of Western ways of knowing and creating, accessing, and sharing information that needs a deeper critique.

So yeah, I’m a fan of this article.

I will admit to jumping on the end-the-digital-divide bandwagon without much critical thought early in my career, in large part because I am a librarian and this seemed to be an easy, non-controversial cause that librarians could easily get behind. Who doesn’t want people to do or be better? Why shouldn’t everyone have access to the current knowledge and technology economy? What Hudson really hammers home (to me) is this idea that the framing of information inequality (and its connection to poverty and “lack of progress”) places the deficiency squarely on the shoulders of individuals in the developing/majority world, rather than on developed/minority governments and cultures which are active participants in the shaping of economic and educational disparities. The current Western information-communication-technology model is presented as what all individuals and governments should aspire to attain, but we, as a profession and a discipline (LIS) do not take the time to really unpack and analyze why exactly this is “fact.” In doing so we “reproduce…racialized difference…implicitly” (pg. 74).

Earlier this week I led a small group discussion for a subset of our college’s orientation leaders on the novel Americanah. We quickly began talking about the American tendency to not want to talk about race, as though by not acknowledging a person’s racial identity, which doubtless has shaped every aspect of their interaction with the world, we are somehow rising above racism. Yet in doing so we just find other, coded ways of giving voice (and action) to our own biases. The racism isn’t eliminated, it’s just given a new suit. This narrative of information inequality that Hudson so compellingly dissects is steeped in racial politics and racist history we do not acknowledge. (I’d also venture to guess there’s some sexism / patriarchal bullshit in there too). It deserves critical attention from all of us and I so appreciate the space this article opens up for these conversations.






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Summer is Slipping Through My Desperate Grasp

I wrote an email to a friend/former colleague this morning, and along with the obligatory “I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to respond” statement, I included, what I thought at the time was a funny, albeit melodramatic line:

Summer is slipping through my desperate grasp!

After I wrote it I sat and stared at it for far too long. I realized it was not so much funny as just sort of true.

At the end of the spring semester my interim library director and I agreed that I would work from home on Fridays. It would be a chance for me to work on  writing projects, do some much needed reading and research, think about teaching and pedagogy in a deeper way, and begin work on my tenure file. It worked exceedingly well in June. Coffee in hand every day, I managed to submit a chapter proposal, write some blog posts, devour Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction (which is amazing, btw), and finally take the time to actually read all the critlib writings I’ve been wanting to read.

Then July happened.

I took a vacation. I fell behind on my writing. New projects started to pile up, and suddenly the things I wanted to do–the things that helped me recharge–were no longer the most pressing. I started letting others add Friday meetings to my schedule. In short, I stopped protecting my time.

Now it’s August 2 and I am living in a mild state of paralyzing panic. I know what needs to get done and I know I will get it done, but I also know that what I love–the research, the writing, the reading and connecting with others–is taking a backseat at the moment.

How do I bring it to the forefront again? How do you do it?

My new library director is certainly an ally in my efforts to make time for meaningful work, but I struggle to find that time for myself. I know I will not wake up at 4am to exercise or write. I know I will not work on research or interesting library projects after I do dishes and put my son to sleep and take a shower in the evening. How then, can I find space for personally meaningful work in my existing day? How can I recharge and bring the same excitement I had at the beginning of the summer to the start of the fall semester?

Answers are welcome, as always!

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Joining ACRLog

I’m so excited to announce that I’ve joined the ACRLog blogging team! My first post was just published this morning, so please check it out and let me know what you think! I will absolutely continue to write here on my personal blog and already have a few new posts in the works. More to come…

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Names, Identity, and Inclusive Practice


me, my sister, and my cousin at the zoo

I’m the one with the amazing Batman shirt. The other two kiddos are lil’ sister and lil’ cuz (who really is a lil’ sister, too).

Fair warning: This post is way personal, but it comes back to librarianship eventually.

When you grow up along the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexican surnames, like mine, are the norm. The teachers, classmates, doctors, customer service workers, or really anyone I interacted with there never had a problem pronouncing my name: Veronica Inez Arellano. I took that name with me on a slight move within Texas (Houston) and later, on a big move to the Mid-Atlantic (Southern Maryland). The further I got from the border, the harder it was to say. Every sound in the name is a sound you find in the English language, and yet the variations on pronunciation were vast.

Correct: Ah-reh-yah-no


  • Aye-rel-ah-no (forgivable)
  • A-rrrrrrrrr-el-a-no (because I had to have a rolling ‘r’ in there somewhere)
  • Ariel-anoh (thanks, but, no)
  • Aye-ray…”I’m just horrible with names!”
  • *a look* followed by, “I’m not even going to try”

That last variation was always the worst. As women are often socialized to do, I’d respond with a shy, polite smile, say “that’s ok,” and hope I hadn’t inconvenienced anyone. When their unwillingness to pronounce my name was followed by a “Where are you from?” I’d respond in the usual way–Texas. Houston. South Texas?–eventually share what the asker really wanted to know, and watch their faces fall as they learned my “beautiful/exotic/unusual” last name was Mexican, not Portuguese or Italian or some other ethnicity that didn’t evoke images of border crossings.

I kept my name well into 5 years of marriage, never bothering to change it, never feeling pressured by my husband, family, or friends to change it. Then I got pregnant. Then I lost my full-term baby during his delivery. Then I got pregnant again. I felt a strong need to connect with husband, with my lost son, and with my son-to-be, all of whom shared the last name “Douglas.” So, in the emotional hellhole that is grief and the hormonal turmoil that is pregnancy, I changed my name.

Inez was erased. Arellano was minimized to a middle name. Douglas was the new family name.

I’ve kept my name this way for 5 years, never thinking too much about the change. It’s sort of a minor thing to focus on when you’re living on minimal sleep, nursing, potty training a toddler, trying to carve out time with your partner, and attempting to jump through tenure hoops at work. But over the past year it’s become a sore spot. It feels like a self-inflicted dis. I know it’s a stretch, but it makes me feel a bit like those people who didn’t even pretend to pronounce my original last name. I think of them every time I’m forced to type “Veronica A. Douglas” on a conference registration because “Arellano” doesn’t fit on the name tag. I think of them every time I say “Veronica Douglas” when I call my son’s preschool, or when I’m speaking to a customer service rep who I know won’t be able to understand Arellano. I think of them whenever I anglicize the pronunciation of “Veronica” so that people aren’t thrown off when the “Douglas” follows.

I’m changing my name again this summer, to Veronica Inez Arellano-Douglas. Doing so is a guarantee that I will never again have a reference desk name plate that anyone can read from a distance of greater than a few inches, that my conference name tags will be a jumble of initials, and that any speaker intros I receive will leave the facilitator tongue-tied. But it feels right. I never thought that a name, my name, would make such a difference in my identity, in my sense of myself, of my sense of self in relation to others.

It does. It makes a big difference.

I think about names a lot now, especially when I teach and meet with students, faculty, and staff in the library. I’ll usually ask a person’s preferred name. If their name is not one I can readily pronounce, I’ll ask the person if they feel comfortable stating it for me so that I can repeat it back. I acknowledge their name, because it’s an extension of who they are, of their general personhood. I don’t assume that someone will be ok with me “not even trying to say that” because it’s not ok to deny that basic part of a person. Libraries and classrooms should be a place of belonging and rightness for people. That starts with a simple effort to say a person’s name correctly, or as best as you can. It’s a simple act, but it matters to people. It’s an expression of respect, an acknowledgement of their inherent human dignity, and a demonstration that you are ready to engage in communication with empathy and decency. It’s something we should all do at our libraries, on our campuses, and in life.



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Who I am & What I do (and why those are not the same)

beach blanket and bucket in the sand overlooking a shoreline at the beach

One big part of who I am: relaxer at beaches

In a not-so-rare event of not-quite-epic but highly relevant proportions, two of my Twitter communities crossed streams today. I try not to hide my love for popular romance novels and the amazingly smart, talented women who write them. Many of them are brilliant academics, so I shouldn’t be surprised when they write about or link to others writing about higher ed and academic culture. Yet it’s always a nice surprise when it happens, as it did today.

Sandra Schwab, a wonderful romance author and literature professor, shared a post by Katrine Smiet, PhD candidate in philosophy and gender studies at Radboud University and blogger at Feminist Nuances. Take a few minutes today and read her post, How to Become a Prolific Academic Writer, Or: How to Become a Model Neoliberal Academic SubjectIt’s an insightful critique of productivity/efficiency advice models for academic writing and the structural inadequacies of the neoliberal university in supporting writing/scholarly activity. What resonated most with me was her dissection of the classification of academic work as “vocation” rather than a “job,” and its implications for the academic worker.

The conflation of work with personal fulfillment, of labor with purpose, of meaning with productivity, is (I think) a dangerous one. I want my work to be meaningful because I think there are genuine opportunities for academic libraries to make a significant impact on the educational experiences of students. I also try to do my best work at all times because secretly I’m still the kid that wants all the gold stars. That said, I don’t derive my meaning from my work. I once had a colleague tell me that even if she wasn’t working as a librarian, she would still be a librarian. At the time I found that statement admirable. Being a librarian was who she was; what she was, was a librarian. I’ve since heard variations on the same theme from academics of all stripes: I am always mathematician. I am a neuroscientist. I am first and foremost a scholar. 

Now, those declarations make me tired.

I can understand them within a professional context. We all try to make sense of the world around us through categorization. At work that often means we define ourselves by our job titles–archivist, instruction librarian, dean–but in life we are whole people. Being a librarian is not who I am; it’s my job. And just because I enjoy the work that I do as a librarian does not mean that it does not feel like work. I worry sometimes, as I dig into critical librarianship and pedagogy, that there is this expectation that the work that I do must be a part of some higher calling/purpose, that it should be done at all times, or that I should be “on” at all times. I don’t want to do that. Sometimes I just want to sit on my couch and watch Thorgy Thor lipsync for her life. Sometimes I want to have a dance party with my son. Sometimes I just want to obsessively online shop for a new pair of clogs.

The point is that I don’t think deriving personal worth from my job, or viewing librarianship as a vocation rather than a job is helpful to me. I think it sets me, and likely many others, up for exploitation (Yes! I will be on yet another committee), disappointment (because work doesn’t always go well), and an unhealthy attachment to this thing that I do, not this thing that I am. I also wonder if it’s not just a neoliberal Trojan horse sent in to make me feel guilty about all the late evenings I’m not spending working on scholarship.

I’m about to start reading Maria Accardi’s Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction, which a colleague informs me centers around an ethic of care. I’m excited to learn more about it and how I can extend the notion of students as whole people (important!!!) to librarians as whole people, and to myself as a whole person.


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This Conversation is Not About That

Two people sitting on a bench talking

Conversation by Francois Bester via Flickr

St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s commencement ceremony was on Saturday, and although I was home sick instead of at the college, I did spend some time this weekend reflecting on the spring semester. Of course my thoughts immediately focused on the recent acts of bigotry on our campus, including Confederate flags at basketball games, the pick-an-“ism” Natty Boh hunt, and the almost brushed aside Trump-campaign-slogan graffiti on academic buildings–“Build a wall,” being the most prominent statement. I’ve been thinking a lot about our college’s responses to these incidents, as well as the conversations we do and don’t have about race, racism, ethnicity, and bigotry on this campus.

After the racist/sexist/homophobic Boh incidents (which you can conveniently read about on the Washington Post), there was a flurry of campus conversation. People were talking at faculty meetings, student groups were hosting discussions, and all students, faculty, and staff attended a college-wide open forum. At each of these points of interaction one thing was clear:

There was never just one conversation going on. 

This is best illustrated by example.

The scene: Post-Boh faculty meeting. A rough summary of the conversation follows:

White faculty members: “Confederate flags are racist. Racist jokes are racist. Racism is bad.”

All white heads nod heads approvingly. 

Senior black faculty member: “I don’t actually want to talk about confederate flags or symbols. I want to talk about the deeper implicit biases I’ve encountered my entire career that are still happening now. The symbols are a distraction from the deeper issues of racism, bigotry, and bias on this campus that we don’t discuss.”

Junior white faculty member: “I think we should all just respect one another. It’s really just about civility.”

This, of course, only repeated itself on a grander scale at the all-campus forum, which really just turned into an Airing of Grievances by people who didn’t want to talk about racism. That conversation was even more troubling. To summarize:

All students of color: We aren’t surprised that these incidents happened on this campus. We feel smaller versions of this everyday. The St. Mary’s you experience isn’t the St. Mary’s I experience. We aren’t responsible for educating you about racism. We are on a college campus. Read a book.

Most (but not all) white students: We should just love one another and say hi to everyone. I think that there needs to be more school pride and camaraderie. We should respect our college.

White faculty member interjects: Can all the white male students just sit down and can we focus on issues of race/ism?

As you can guess, that last comment became THE TAKEAWAY from that campus-wide forum. Not the pain expressed by students of color, not the need to acknowledge our own biases, not a questioning of the structures of our institution that create an environment in which racist actions continue to occur. Suddenly voice was taken away from a group that always has a voice, and that group didn’t like it very much. It happens time and time again–most recently as documented in April Hathcock’s excellent post about the ALA ScholComm listserv “blowup“–and suddenly it becomes THE CONVERSATION.

It’s switchtracking in action. 

I first learned about switchtracking from NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast. It’s a super-common occurrence in which person/group A gives person/group B feedback, and person/group B’s reaction to the feedback is to change the subject. It happened at our faculty meeting–a gathering of lots of liberal-minded, well-meaning, mostly white folks. Conversations about race get transformed into conversations about civility. A faculty member is stating the harm she has experienced because of bias and bigotry and the response is not to address and acknowledge the harm, but to shift the topic completely towards a discussion of respect in the classroom.

I get that it’s uncomfortable. Conversations about race and racism usually aren’t soothing and heart-warming. No one likes to get called out on their behavior and beliefs. But if a group of faculty, who facilitate classroom discussion on a day-to-day basis, can’t have a meaningful conversation without switchtracking, what hope is there that we’ll be able to engage students in productive, critical dialogue? There is power in discomfort, in sitting with awkwardness and questioning why a statement just made you uncomfortable. What use is all the lip service we pay to diversity and inclusion if we can’t pose difficult questions and expect to have even one conversation specifically about those questions?

My hope is that discussions about the deeper issues surrounding diversity and inclusion at St. Mary’s continue throughout the summer and lead into the fall semester, but I’ll admit to a healthy dose of skepticism. Out of sight out of mind is the mantra for most people, but perhaps things have gotten just uncomfortable enough that they can no longer be ignored.





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What’s in Your Notebook?

I have a small steno notepad that use I take notes on at work. The usual to-do lists are always present, but so are notes from research consultations with students. I always want to make sure I understand their needs and research areas, so I scribble away as I listen. Recently I went back and looked at my notes from these conversations, and am so happy that there is no cell-phone tapping equivalent for said notebook. If not, I’d be, like so many librarians, on some kind of federal watch list.

Notes include:

  • race representation and legit*
  • what makes a government legitimate? trustworthy?
  • restorative justice
  • acknowledge harm!!! who gets to speak?!?!?!
  • terrorism and torture
  • anti-choice legislation and TRAP laws
  • who has a voice?
  • police shootings (murder or brutality or excessive force) in the U.S.
  • gun control and gun access
  • sex work* and legal*

What’s the most intriguing research request you’ve received today?


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How Should We Respond?

On Sunday, March 27, 2016, non-college-sponsored tradition became a vehicle to demean and belittle students of color, women, and LGBTQ students. Every year around Easter our students hold what’s affectionally known as the “Natty Boh Hunt.” Students paint cans of National Bohemian beer in Easter egg motifs and hide them around campus for others to find (I know, Natty Boh is AWFUL, but, well, college).  This year’s fun was ruined by several cans found painted with the confederate flag and extremely racist, sexist, and homophobic “jokes.” This comes on the heels of an incident earlier in the semester where a student wore a confederate flag to a home basketball game. The student claimed it was in answer to an assignment on violating social norms.


There of course have been other incidents, much like those at colleges and universities across the country–swastikas on vehicle dust, highly offensive anonymous comments on yik yak, “are you a student here?” questions, microaggressions both in and out of the classroom, etc.  It’s constant, oppressive, and completely antithetical to our public, liberal arts college’s code of conduct. This latest hateful incident has proven to be one too many for our students, faculty, and staff, who, in wave of conversations, emails, and classroom discussions have decided to stop, critically examine our role at this college, and figure out how we can make our community safer, more inclusive, and better able to support those who have been targeted by recent events.

So what is the library’s place in all of these events? What is our role? 

You’ve no doubt seen the recent emails from ARL’s Director of Diversity and Leadership Programs, Mark Puente, sharing short articles on what ARL member libraries are doing to advance diversity, inclusion, and equality at their home institutions. Libraries are doing everything from archiving and sharing activist tweets to creating videos, to hosting workshops on social justice (if you explore nothing else, please visit the Washington University at St. Louis’ Documenting Ferguson project).  Recently, the ZSR Library at Wakeforest University issued a statement of their commitment to diversity and inclusion in response to the North Carolina House Bill 2.

Our own library’s response was directly inspired by the Amherst Library’s Amherst Uprising Information and Source Guide, which was a wonderful resource not only about the event at hand, but about the larger issues underlying the Amherst protests. I’ve tried to do the same with our Support & Solidarity website,  because this latest event at St. Mary’s is just a symptom of larger issues of implicit bias, prejudice, and unacknowledged privilege in our college community. As one of our student leaders so eloquently put it: Events like the Natty Boh hunt make us focus on the smoke instead of the fire. I don’t want our library’s response and reaction to begin and end with this one event. I’d like create a library that is inclusive; I’d like to have difficult and awkward conversations with my colleagues about our unacknowledged biases and prejudices and how they impact the community we serve.

Not surprisingly, when I shared our library’s response on Twitter, I got one troll of a response, stating that “I guess all libraries have gone PC.”

  1. I don’t feed trolls.
  2. If “going PC” means responding to my community’s needs then I fully embrace that. It’s what libraries at their best can and should do.

To ignore what’s going on on our college campuses isn’t an option. As a librarian, a Latina (specifically a light-skinned Latina who often benefits from white privilege because of other people’s assumptions based on my appearance) I feel obligated to renounce any semblance of neutrality. I think that asking librarians and libraries to embrace the path of detached neutrality means that we’re being asked to negate important facets of our own identities (shout out to Fobazi Ettarh’s excellent article on intersectionality) as well as those of our communities. Our students of color are our students and they deserve our attention, respect, and focus.

I’m not sure how to end this post, as I’m still processing recent events, statements made at yesterday’s faculty meeting, and disappointing comments shared at an all-campus meeting earlier today. I think I’d like to learn more about other libraries’ responses to similar issues, particularly those from non-ARL libraries, since we often don’t hear about efforts at smaller schools.

Share what you can.

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On Assessment (and our practice of it)

My thoughts on the Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium continue, this time with a focus on assessment. Carolyn Caffrey Gardner and Rebecca Halpern facilitated an enjoyably contentious discussion on assessment and critical praxis that encouraged us to not only question our personal and institutional assessment practices but also our motivations for conducting assessment. During the discussion Gr Keer posed a question to the room that I think has the potential to help us rethink and, in many cases, reshape our own relationship to assessment.

The Question

Within academia, why do so many librarians toe the assessment line? Why are so many of us assessment advocates and practitioners? 

I won’t say all librarians fall into the assessment advocate category, however, the preponderance of literature, professional development opportunities, courses, and grants related to library and information literacy assessment would seem to indicate that as a profession, academic librarians are (for the most part) IN IT. We often know our college or university’s assessment coordinator on a first name basis, can write learning outcomes in our sleep, and are sometimes the first ones to volunteer for institution-wide assessment work. While many of our colleagues outside the library issue the oft-heard hue and cry against number-crunching, standardized testing, and other stereotypical practices, we often try to defend assessment as a means of improving teaching and learning.

But why? Have we been effectively indoctrinated while in library school? Is it a meaningful practice to us? Do we see it’s value and understand it’s importance?

I think (like all things) there’s a multi-layered answer to Gr’s question that I’ll attempt to parse below.

The Noble Answer

This answer was one of the first responses issued during the conference discussion, and I have to say it’s one I’ve used on a number of occasions (as recently as one month ago).

Unlike traditional college and university faculty, we don’t give grades. We only see our students sporadically throughout the semester/quarter/term so we need some way to determine a) what we are learning and b) how we can improve as teachers. Practicing meaningful assessment give us the opportunity to determine both. 

With this answer assessment is portrayed as the practice of doing good. We might evaluate essays with IL rubrics, examine search exercise worksheets, or read through minute papers to help ourselves better serve our students and improve our own information literacy education programs. Assessment is about improving our professional practice and helping our students. This answer seems most in line with assessment philosophies found in professional development programs like ACRL’s Immersion Program.

The Practical Answer

We do it because we have to do it. 

Whether it’s statistics we need to report to ACRL, data we need to feed into our college’s assessment management system, or reporting we need to do to satisfy reaccreditation requirements, assessment is often the thing we all know we have to do but don’t really want to do. We don’t want the library to be singled out for failure, so we do what we have to do in order to keep in the higher-ups good graces.

Many of the faculty at my liberal arts college are deeply suspicious of assessment initiatives and would readily answer with this perfunctory response. It’s something higher education accrediting bodies are now requiring, so we’d best get to it in the most painless / easiest way possible.

The Answer Revealing an Ulterior Motive 

We do it to demonstrate the value of academic libraries within the teaching, learning, and research practices of our institutions. 

The Value of Academic Libraries Initiative’s Assessment in Action Program makes strong use of this answer. Through assessment, we can tell the story of our library. Spoiler alert: In that story, we are the hero. We are integral to everything our faculty, students, and staff do and we should be funded and respected accordingly. Yes, assessment is good for learning how to better serve our campus community, but it’s also really good for showing those in positions of power that we are, indeed, important.

The Answer Revealing Professional Insecurities


Depending on how it’s expressed, the “ulterior motive” answer can sometimes come across as librarians protesting a bit too much. On my more cynical days I wonder if our commitment to “meaningful” assessment practices is us sort of staking our claim in academia. Information literacy education and assessment is our “thing.” Being knowledgable in this area can make us experts on campus. We suddenly become the ones our colleagues turn to for help drafting learning outcomes, developing rubrics, or writing assessment plans.

I also can’t help but question whether assessment has become a scholarship default. For academic librarians published research is often a requirement of tenure, promotion, continuing appointment, or career advancement. Yet depending on where our graduate education takes place, we may not possess the intensive research methods knowledge and experience of our faculty peers. For many of us, conducting assessment and writing up our findings serves to validate our existence as teachers and scholars. Are we really doing assessment for the good of our students and institutions or for ourselves? Can we be doing both?

The Cultural Answer (a slight return to altruism) 

I shared my idea for this blog post with a colleague whose professional career started off in cataloging, and her answer to the assessment question surprised me. Her take on our profession’s assessment advocacy is informed by her experience in our profession as one in which we share information freely and encourage others to do the same. Librarians advocate making information available to others, so perhaps our strong interest in assessment is an extension of this value/philosophy. We want to know what our students are learning and we want to share that information with others in hopes that it will not only improve our own teaching and instruction programs, but those of others as well.

Extending this explanation, or perhaps digging down to its root, I suspect that we could also say that librarians are deeply curious people. Perhaps assessment is our attempt to satisfy our curiosity about teaching and learning? If so, do we run the risk of simplifying a complicated practice–educating students–by developing questions that will ultimately give us manageable answers? Or can we learn to be ok with the ambiguity that accompanies assessment practice?

The Non-Answer

On any given day I may feel any of the above responses more deeply than another, but it doesn’t change the fact that assessment is woven into my professional practice. What I seek to do then is to assess learning in ways that are personally meaningful to me, helpful to my library, and not alienating to my students. I think that in doing so I manage to satisfy the external pressures that so often force us to assess before we are ready to do so (and as a result, do it badly). I don’t want to be a slave to assessment or so inflexible to serendipitous opportunities for teaching and learning that I miss a chance to really connect with students because it’s not the result of a pre-determined learning outcome. The tension between assessment as requirement and assessment as meaningful practice still exists in my day-to-day work life.

If you get a chance, I highly encourage you to examine the questions Rebecca and Carolyn drafted for their discussion and perhaps try to answer them with your colleagues. I’d be interested in hearing your responses.