Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Planning to Plan: Middle States Draft Standards

You may or may not know that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education is about to issue new standards for accreditation. The draft is available and voting will happen this month. As coincidence would have it, we are also getting ready to write a new strategic plan for the library. Rather than base our strategic plan on the current standards, I'm use the draft standards, even though they won't take effect for a while. I know our next accreditation will fall under the new standards, so this is a strategic planning version of cutting to the chase.

Yes, I read the whole document. It's not long and I wanted to see where the library falls in relation to other units on campus. You might want to invest the time yourself, but if you just want the library pertinent bits, you've come to the right place. I know there are plenty of people who read this blog who don't work in higher ed, or if they do work at academic libraries they don't necessarily work in the geographic areas where colleges and universities answer to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (from their website: "Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including distance education and correspondence education programs offered at those institutions."). However, if you are in that small group, you definitely should care.

(In the interests of not overwhelming you, I'm going to break this into two different parts. Standards I-IV this week and V-VII next week.)

Standard I: Mission and Goals

Criteria 1, d: The school has "clearly defined mission and goals that guide faculty, administration, staff, and governing structures in making decisions related to planning, resource allocation, program and curricular development, and the definition of institutional and educational outcomes."

This means that the library's mission and goals have to be informed by and be a reflection of the parent institution's mission and goals. We need to be able to prove that we make our decisions in accordance with the same. You can't just point to the end product; you've got to document all the planning and decision making in a way that shows how you are working in accordance with and in support of the schools where we are. An example of this is how my library's new mission statement reflects the aims of the institution, and the process we followed to create the new mission.

Standard II: Ethic and Integrity

The standard itself is important: "Ethics and integrity are central, indispensable, and defining hallmarks of effective higher education institutions. In all activities, whether internal or external, an institution must be faithful to its mission, honor its contracts and commitments, adhere to its policies, and represent itself truthfully." The first criteria is especially pertinent to the library: "a commitment to academic freedom, intellectual freedom, freedom of expression, and respect for intellectual property rights."

Do we treat our students ethically? Sure, most of the criteria deal with money handling and transparency about costs, but there is a theme of doing right by students and other constituents. One thing I can do is point to our training procedures about privacy and library records. I can also talk about the intersection of information literacy instruction and IP and intellectual freedom. Finally, I'm spearheading an effort to revamp our copyright and intellectual property policy. But again, it's not just about doing the things. It's about being able to prove the things.

Standard III: Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience

This is where you will find the bulk of what is pertinent to the library on a college or university campus.

Criteria 2 calls for "student learning experiences that are designed, delivered, and assessed by faculty (full-time or part-time) and/or other appropriate professionals who are: a. rigorous and effective in teaching, assessment of student learning, scholarly inquiry, and service, as appropriate to the institution’s mission, goals, and policies; b. qualified for the positions they hold and the work they do; c. sufficient in number; d. provided with and utilize sufficient opportunities, resources, and support for professional growth and innovation; e. reviewed regularly and equitably based on written, disseminated, clear, and fair criteria, expectations, policies, and procedures."

We must assess our education efforts. We must. It's important to assess for the right reasons, but how we need to see if what we are doing to teach information literacy and other skills is working. it's important not to do these things in a vacuum. Talk to faculty and other stakeholders. Ask things like, "How well did your students use the resources? Were there any problems? What could we do differently in future sessions?" Further, we need to have the assessments inform how we move forward.

Criteria 4 points out the need for "sufficient learning opportunities and resources to support both the institution’s programs of study and students’ academic progress." 

This isn't just about libraries, but it does still relate. One issue here is that sufficiency is a flexible term, but there are best practices and research practices you can use to judge. Are we able to support the info lit needs of the institution? Are we providing enough opportunities for students to learn the skills? Are we open sufficient hours?

Criteria 5, a and 5, b are also important. 5 is about the general education program, and a. states that it's important an institution "offers a sufficient scope to draw students into new areas of intellectual experience, expanding their cultural and global awareness and cultural sensitivity, and preparing them to make well-reasoned judgments outside as well as within their academic field." 

There are a lot of ways this can apply to the library, but the thing that occurred to me first is to look at what kind of resources the library provides that support the curriculum. When I first showed up here, we had some gaps in our database coverage. I've managed to address most of them, and I can document the process I used to make those decisions.

5, b is dead center for libraries: the institution "offers a curriculum designed so that students acquire and demonstrate essential skills including at least oral and written communication, scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical analysis and reasoning, technological competency, and information literacy. Consistent with mission, the general education program also includes the study of values, ethics, and diverse perspectives. (Emphasis mine.)

Information literacy must be part of the general education efforts of an institution. Full stop. (I love this.)

Finally, criteria 8 requires "periodic assessment of the effectiveness of programs providing student learning 

Yes, it's a bit redundant. To me that just tells me how important assessment is to CHE.

Standard IV: Support of the Student Experience

This standard gets at recruitment and retention and graduation rates. I've written before how we are all in this business, from the admissions folk to the professors to the cleaning staff to the library. People a lot smarter than I am have produced clear evidence of how the library contributes to these efforts. So criteria 6, which calls for "periodic assessment of the effectiveness of programs supporting the student experience," means the library, too.

I've been talking to admissions people about tracking how often prospective students and their families ask about the library, and what kinds of questions they ask. I've also changed the library related questions on the exiting seniors survey to parse out how well the library supported their efforts while they were here.


I'll write about the other half of the criteria next week, but so far I like the new standards. How about you?

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