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Beginning with Tuesday temperatures soared in the 90’s for a Seattle high. The Student Union building where the sessions are held lacks sufficient air conditioning and opening the windows just didn’t get it. Being without air in my office for the last couple of weeks I guess I should have felt right at home. Nonetheless conference attendees seemed cheerful and committed to continuing their library assessment discussions. As with each day we began with having to choose which one of the three tiered assessment tracks to attend. For me Qualitative Methods won out over Information Literacy and Management Information. First up was Zsuza Koltay and Kornelia Tancheva sharing their work with “Personas and a User-centered Visioning Process.” This presentation outlined a fast track process Cornell University Library staff used to develop a user-focused vision. A consultant was hired to conduct local interviews with faculty and students exploring work habits and needs. They used these conversations to create shall we say imaginary little friends. Each friend represented a type of user and was used to invite empathy and foster understanding. They created ten different type personas. Among their findings were; Cornell is not the world, streamline website, single point of entry and local content should be made available in the same information delivery as all other data.

Syracuse University conducted a similar type study also using interviews as their foundation. Nancy Turner shared her story of “Patterns of Culture: Realigning Library Culture to Meet User Needs.” Librarians listened to and observed how faculty did their work. Each faculty member was asked a series of questions and here are a few I managed to capture:

Tell me about a recent article or piece of information you read?

Where did you find it?

What did you do to prepare for a recent class?

When you started work in you office today, what was the very first thing you did?

A total of 291 quotes were captured and uploaded into a project management tool. Brainstorming sessions were held and quotes were categorized. Themes that surfaced were: tools, daily life, relationships, worldviews, collections and resources.

Todd White from the University of Rochester was last up sharing findings from interviews and observations of graduate students. His findings were interesting and I wondered if Wake’s graduate population if polled would share similar results. “In Mixing Methods, Bridging Gaps,” White shared findings suggesting that grad students don’t use endnote, they don’t have time for social networking applications, are Mac oriented and are most protective of their time. They find a path and continue on it. For Rochester the study clarified areas of disconnect between Librarians and doctoral students.

For the next set of parallel sessions I choose to hear more about organizational assessment. John Harer of East Carolina University spoke on using “Employees as Customers Judging Quality.” This study sought to discover if current practices in employee assessment in academic libraries address employee’s perceptions of quality. Employee satisfaction and climate surveys, employee exit interview forms, employee self assessment forms and manager/dean evaluation instruments were obtained from ARL libraries and analyzed for possible avenues and measures of quality related to employee assessment instruments. This is the first part of an on going research project. Next steps include content analysis of employee satisfaction instruments from other industries.

Lisa Hinchliffe’s session was a little more practical and was most appealing to me. The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign used staff reflections on organizational goals, culture and leadership for organizational assessment and development. This experience gave staff a chance for renewal, refocusing and re-energizing. It also required high levels of trust, valued and appreciated diversity and regarded conflict as natural. People who work in an organization continually observe it, they analyze it and they judge it. Some of the six questions posed to staff were; what would be your top three issues to resolve successfully in three years; if you had all the votes, what would you do?; identify your leaders weaknesses and strengths; what do you need to be successful and finally, given your strengths and skill sets, what would you consider to be your role in improving the culture?

Afternoon sessions continued to stress the importance of conducting some form of organizational assessment. Here are a few notable statements taken from the afternoon sessions:

Promote a culture of assessment at every opportunity.

Communicate assessment within your library as well as to your user communities.

Use staff newsletters and blogs.

Create interactive student/faculty/staff learning communities.

Let assessment become part of everyday work process, part of the decision making loop within the library.

Collaboration improves library user experiences and builds interactive relationships.

The last session featured assessment pioneers Duane Webster, ARL; Amos Lakos, Waterloo University and Shelley Phipps , University of Arizona offering reflections on the first couple days of the conference. They advised Librarians not to get hung up on the tools but move towards the means, share their findings and their processes with other libraries, spend time redefining goals, understand and measure the impact of new roles. How can we change from competing with other libraries to collaborating. Leadership should be focusing on redefining libraries and librarian roles in research, learning and instruction within today’s educational communities. Remember we assess so that we can improve.

On Wednesday I asked myself if there were really more to hear. Could there be other angles not discussed. And yes there were. The track entitled “From Planning to Action” featured three sessions with each focusing on ways to take assessment findings and link them to goal setting, strategic planning and even to business planning. Raynna Bowlby, a Library management consultant described the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting method. Well designed goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound. I see an advantage in writing goals in this manner and plan to review my own personal ones for possible revisions using those standards. A team of presenters from the University of Arkansas illustrated the value of pursuing an approach to improved library effectiveness that integrates strategic planning, performance measurement and organizational flexibility. Susan Bailey and Chris Palazzolo of Emory University discussed how Rick Luce’s arrival there brought in new challenges. One of which came about when staff were asked to develop a business plan that included a set of activities, processes, and tools to keep the strategic plan and progress on it in front of staff members in an ongoing and systematic way. Keys to their approach included creating a business plan for each strategic initiative and scheduling monthly meetings where reports on progress were given. I found the term “issue owner” a little disturbing. Especially when the presenter explained that this person was the one held accountable for resolving the issue that prevented adequate process towards completing a particular initiative.

Afternoon sessions changed focus from general to a little more specific with concentrations on “Webpage Usability.” A University of Louisville representative filling in for absent Mark Paul whose name I missed, suggested that library assessment services can and should take advantage of the outsourcing mentality in such areas as usability studies, focus groups or statistical analysis. Creative uses of these groups can allow for better facilitation and more targeted usability studies.

“If They Build It They Will Come” featured a story from Carnegie Mellon University where students were invited to create their own version of the Library’s web page. Graduate and undergraduate students began the brainstorming sessions by identifying all the components of the current web page they loved and wanted to bring over to their new design. Equal time was given to document all the components that they wanted to remove. Each student used poster boards to outline their web page of choice. One suggestion from the students was to eliminate so many words. Just give us boxes that take us directly where we want to go. Also they asked for rotating pictures of actual students and asked if possible to feature success stories by those same students.

Research libraries are facing among other challenges the fact that their catalog interfaces have not kept pace with other technical search innovations. Choosing to focus on next generation OPAC’s, Kathleen Bauer Yale University Librarian shared initial findings from early stage investigation of VuFind . Yale has chosen to rename the product YuFind. In preparation for this project they examined log files from their current Voyager system. Findings showed that the most popular search was by title (41.8 %), which was also the library search default. This was followed by keyword searches coming in at (31.4%). The average search phrase was 2.5 words long. The most common hit rate netted zero search results. (21.4%) They found that very few people availed themselves of call number searches. From the audience came questions about the validity of these numbers. As always the trail of discussions ended up on Google. From those in the audience as well as those on panel several admitted to beginning their searches using Google as the discovery and then on to the Library’s catalog for fulfillment. Perhaps these type studies along with such products as VuFind will prove to aid users in effectively using an OPAC to discover appropriate material in the library’s collection.

The final session was to offer advice for those beginning assessment planning. Four case studies were presented. The result of which was a storytelling session revealing the library climate when the decision to create a plan was begun. The emphasis was on more of a here’s why we did it versus here’s what we did to begin. Thursday morning I’ll attend one last class; “Getting started with Learning Outcomes Assessment: Purposes, Practical Options, and Impact.” The post conference workshop is intended for Librarians considering, commencing, or retooling a plan for assessing student learning outcomes.

I am eager to explore assessment opportunities for us at ZSR. I am sure you’ll here more as we begin to strategize on ways to revisit current assessment activities and explore options for growth and development within this arena.