At the DeWitt Wallace Library at Macalester College, formal and informal assessment has been going on for a long time, and this year’s CLIC focus on assessment is giving us a good opportunity to reflect on all that we have been doing over time. One of the strengths of the library has been that assessment is not something for which only one person has responsibility. The library has a group of staff involved in assessment planning, bringing expertise and varied perspectives to our approach to assessment. This has broken down many barriers that other institutions may experience, in that there is a spirit contribution from all staff, using a variety of strategies. The following are some examples of the various ways we have captured information to assess our activities and inform ourselves and our communities.
The library's dashboard offers a wonderful visual perspective on key areas of use. The statistics allow us to communicate specifically about the library's stable and strong relevance in a time of constant change for how information is collected and absorbed. With the dashboard snapshot, our reports become much more than a list of titles and authors; it's clear that students and faculty rely on the library as a vital and integral resource for advancing their scholarship.
- Overall grades
- Grades/performance in capstone and honors projects
- Critical thinking skills
A less formal feedback mechanism we use is our Ask & Tell comment board. While we provide an online comment “box,” the regular pen-and-paper box is used the most. Through this tool, we receive a mix of collection purchase suggestions, comments about space use, and other random questions or comments. We usually receive about one comment per week; our goal is to respond within 24 hours. Responses are posted on the comment board along with the original question. Informal information collection strategies such as this one have helped us choose furnishings and evaluate iPad check-out services. Not every assessment tool has to be a “formal” one to be effective; it just needs the right attention and mindful reaction.
As we are developing our assessment plan for the next couple of years, and are looking across our various activities, it’s exciting to see all the things we’re doing and what we’re learning. Assessment is about asking questions in order to learn and then acting on what we learn; in many ways, isn’t that the heart of a liberal arts education?