How Libraries Contribute to Student Learning

Barbara Fister over at Library Babel Fish on InsideHigherEd recently posted about  a new report out from the Association of College and Research Libraries summarizing the findings of the second year of a project called Assessment in Action, an ambitious attempt involving over 200 institutions to see how libraries contribute to student learning and how we can measure that contribution.

The cumulative findings of these projects are these:
  • Libraries play an important role in helping students survive their first year at college. A number of projects showed that students who received some kind of instruction from librarians in their first year do better in their courses than those who don’t.
  • Students who use libraries tend to stay in college and get better grades than those who don’t. (Of course, these findings tend to be correlation rather than causation. Still, good to know.)
  • Many of the institutions participating found that students benefited when libraries partnered with other offices that support students such as writing centers and academic enrichment programs.
  • Some of the participating libraries looked at specific general education learning outcomes such as critical thinking, problem solving, and civic engagement, finding that information literacy programs in libraries can positively affect those goals.  
The librarians involved in this massive project offer a trove of ideas about how we can assess a library’s contributions to learning, and it’s all available online, including survey instruments, rubrics, and more. Each team devised their own question to focus on, one that reflected institutional goals, and summaries of what they learned are available in a searchable database. If you’re a librarian doing assessment of learning, this is an amazing resource.

The study notes that "to reach a high number of students and to establish a foundation of information literacy competencies for students as they progress through their academic careers, many academic libraries put a priority on instruction for students in general education, core curriculum, and required writing or English composition courses."

As Fister points out, "while it’s important to help students get an introduction to using sources for academic work in their first year, there are serious limits to how much they can learn when so much is new and overwhelming, when they have so little context for the sources they’re looking at."

And this is where we, as law librarians, find ourselves. There is a core 1L curriculum in law schools that allows librarians to give a foundation of legal research skills. But there are practical limits to how much a 1L can learn. So we must establish research across the law school curriculum to ensure that law students can practice research in context. 

And if you find it difficult to get enough face time with students in doctrinal courses, you might consider creating a law library administered legal research program


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