Proposed Change to ABA Standard 601: Written Assessment of Law Library Effectiveness

The recent proposed change to ABA Standard 601(a)(3), calls for the removal of a written assessment of the effectiveness of the library in achieving its mission and realizing its established goals. 

Standard 601. Library and Information Resources, General Provisions

Explanation of Changes:

The current version of Standard 601(3)(a) was developed during the Comprehensive Review as a method of involving a law library in the process of strategic planning required of a law school. It was envisioned that the planning and assessment taking place for a law school (under what was then Standard 203) would incorporate the work done by the library under this new Standard. To ensure that incorporation, it was decided that a written assessment should be completed by the library. However, when the requirement for strategic planning for a law school was removed during a later phase of the Comprehensive Review, no change was made to the new Standard 601. As a result, the library community has been left confused as to what is required to comply with 601(a)(3). For example: Does a written assessment require an annual report? Must a survey of user satisfaction be conducted to develop an assessment? How often must the written report be prepared?

It is appropriate for a law library to engage in the process of planning and assessment. This process helps the staff to achieve the goals set out in the rest of Standard 601. However, the requirement that the assessment be written is excessive, not required of any other unit of the law school, and has led to confusion for both library directors and the Accreditation Committee. This can be resolved simply by removing the requirement that the assessment be “written.” By making this change, a law library and a law school can determine how best to develop a method of assessment that meets the needs of the institution.

Redlined Draft:

(a) A law school shall maintain a law library that:
(1) provides support through expertise, resources, and services adequate to enable the law school to carry out its program of legal education, accomplish its mission, and support scholarship and research;
(2) develops and maintains a direct, informed, and responsive relationship with the faculty, students, and administration of the law school;
(3) working with the dean and faculty, engages in a regular planning and assessment process, including written assessment of the effectiveness of the library in achieving its mission and realizing its established goals; and
(4) remains informed on and implements, as appropriate, technological and other developments affecting the library’s support for the law school’s program of legal education.

(b) A law school shall provide on a consistent basis sufficient financial resources to the law library to enable it to fulfill its responsibilities of support to the law school and realize its established goals.

Both the Society of Academic Law Library Directors (SALLD) and the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) have provided comments advocating that written assessment not be removed from Standard 601.

From SALLD's comments:
SALLD argues that the requirement for a written assessment be retained, regardless of the law school strategic planning process. The omission of questions relating to library collections, personnel and services in the Annual Questionnaire makes a regular and written assessment of library operations and functions crucial to establishing whether our libraries comply with the Standards, especially in the years between site visits by the ABA. These assessments have the ability to show whether and how our libraries are complying with the Standards and meeting the needs of our faculty and students. SALLD posits that “written” assessments can take any form that works for these purposes, whether through regular surveys, focus groups, annual reports or any other method that is appropriate to each law school library. Without the requirement of a written assessment, changes in personnel, both in the law libraries and in their law schools, budget and funding changes and trends, law school and library demographic changes may be lost, hidden or simply not available.

From AALL's comments:
While a law library and law school should be able to determine what method of assessment meets the needs of the institution, it is important that all final assessments and outcomes be documented and preserved in writing for the following reasons:
• A written assessment best captures the state of the library at any given period of time, including contributions to the curriculum, instruction, and scholarly services. A regular process that includes written assessment creates benchmarks, a standard or point of reference to measure success and failure over time. Such written assessments are invaluable tools for effective, knowledgeable, and responsive change.
• An unwritten assessment can become inaccurate, muddled, or irretrievable. Oral communications are fraught with the tendency to be easily forgotten, misinterpreted or misconstrued.
• A written assessment of the law library is most effective in documenting the not readily discernible but important work that the library performs to maintain appropriate cost-effective resources and services in the rapidly evolving environments of law, legal education, and information management. A written assessment also serves to ensure that the law school is informed about the value of the library to the program of legal education.
• Finally, a written assessment facilitates transparency and can be shared easily with all stakeholders, including faculty, students, alumni, the university community, accrediting bodies, and other interested parties.

With the continued watering down of the ABA's law library standards, it's wonderful to see these two groups advocating to maintain the standards. Instead of removing the need for written assessment, it seems more important to clarify the nature of the written assessment. For example, the written assessment could mean explaining, in detail, how the law library supports the law school's program of legal education.

Providing written assessment of this kind would ensure that changes are not lost, hidden or simply not available. And it would also ensure that the law school is directly informed about the value of the library to the program of legal education.


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