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Standards for Higher Education Academic Libraries

Preparing for an accreditation first application or renewal starts years in advance and involves all the stakeholders  - top to bottom.  It needs an attitude of, or desire by, all levels of the institution to commit to the funds, staffing and the job ahead. It is not easy, but it is doable. I have participated in making sure the library and information technology departments of many higher education institutions do not let the greater organization down. I have been in institutions who have gone from zero to regional or national accreditation and programmatic accreditation-in some cases it took almost 10 years. I work to never be the unit of the organization that has Recommendations from the peer-review site committee. But, I think it is attitude and willingness to build a quality higher education institution, more than anything else-and it does not matter if it is private not-for- profit, or private for-profit. Attitude ensures there are funds, a willingness to support all the academic units-and knowledge that it takes many years to achieve the standards of accreditation. I always remember the President of one of my institutions at a meeting putting the stack of reports on the speaker's dias to show how many inches it takes to get to a peer-review site visit.

Earlier in 3 blogs, I discussed comparative library data collected by the NCES. Now lets look at standards for academic libraries. The Association of College and Research Libraries ACRL  publish well thought-out standards for higher education academic libraries. Go to the American Library Association (the parent organization since ACRL is a Division of ALA) by clicking on this link The most current standards are titled appropriately Standards for Libraries in Higher Education, and were approved by the ACRL Board of Directors October 2011.  The .pdf version is free and downloadable. The Standards use accreditation terminologies such as principles, outcomes, performance indicators, institutional effectiveness, assessment and continuous improvement. The Standards also use library terms like library operations, open access initiatives, user-centered and open source.

The Standards are comprised of 9 Principles and each Principle has 8 Performance Indicators with examples for measurement of those indicators. The Appendix has sample outcomes to suggest possible tools to help create measurable outcomes appropriate for the individual library. Both the Principles and the Performance Indicators translate into the virtual library and place at the center the role of faculty partnering with the library-regardless of where they might be located.

On the ACRL homepage (retrieved March 7 2013) ACRL states:

ACRL is a division of the American Library Association, representing more than 11,500 academic and research librarians and interested individuals. ACRL is the only individual membership organization in North America that develops programs, products and services to meet the unique needs of academic and research librarians. Its initiatives enable the higher education community to understand the role that academic libraries play in the teaching, learning and research environments.

In the late 80’s early 90’s, the ACRL standards were more prescriptive than they are now. You could determine core collections, ratios of book holdings to enrollment and other tactile examples to measure your effectiveness. For example in 1995, you could state that you met or did not meet the ACRL Formula A collection size, or exceeded or not the ACRL recommended 5% annual growth rate. In retrospect those were comforting facts to work with, that you could place in a self-study report as part of your review of the library. But those days are gone.

This move to broad principles, leaving the institution to demonstrate appropriateness and adequacy at the local level and in alignment with the mission and goals of the institution, aligns with the changes within the six regional accreditation commissions.

These bodies in the late 90’s began to move to less description of standards and more to broad principles to be supported. This move to demonstrate how you meet the accreditation principles, means more writing, more assessment and more thinking goes into the self-study report. The writer strives to demonstrate how the institution assessed and demonstrated that their resources and services meet their institutional mission and goals-or how they did not and how the institution changed course to adjust. In one self-study report, I wrote 6 pages on the word “ensures” so that will give you an idea of the depth you may have to go to.

The ACRL Standards are not part of the regional accreditation principles. They can be ignored or embraced, but to the wise library administrator they should be viewed and at the very least, acknowledged as having been reviewed. 

My website under Accreditation Links has links to the library core requirements, standards or criterion of three of the regional accreditors. Email me if you need help with your library accreditation process.

Melody Hainsworth, MLIS, Ph. D.