Posted 7 a.m. Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Reference Librarian Michael Current and UWL student using a book in the Reference Collection

Recent article discusses tracking learning outcome engagement at the reference desk

By Michael Current 

While the Library Department at UW-La Crosse is not responsible for an undergraduate academic program in the traditional sense, we have long maintained an information literacy teaching and learning agenda. In 2018, we completed an effort to develop and adopt a new set of departmental student learning objectives (SLOs), informed by the new national standard from the Association of College & Research Libraries (ARCL) known as the Framework for Information Literacy. A key aspect of this move was the premise that all areas of specialization within the discipline of librarianship contribute to the library’s efforts to effectively teach students these concepts. That includes the library’s Reference unit, where librarians are available to assist library patrons (primarily students) as they utilize the resources, tools and services of the library and beyond. We view each reference interaction with a student as a potential teaching and learning moment.  

In fall 2018, I, as Murphy Library’s Reference Librarian, slightly extended our existing database where we anonymously record reference interactions so the librarian working can associate each interaction with one or more of the departmental SLOs they felt they addressed. With several years of this data collected, I was able to quantify which of our SLOs were addressed most and least frequently. I noted that the distribution of SLOs addressed was relatively consistent over time, and certain SLOs are more likely incorporated into interactions of longer or shorter duration. A real concern developed when I noticed that the distribution of SLOs incorporated into reference work varied greatly by librarian. Was this a real variation of teaching? Were we associating our interactions with our teaching consistently? Further analysis provided some reassurance that the patterns were real and thus potentially actionable. 

Michael Current, Reference Librarian

By knowing how reference contributes to our overall program of librarianship relative to our SLOs, we can make strategic decisions about what SLOs to emphasize in reference and what SLOs to focus on elsewhere in the library. We can also strategically develop and implement assessment projects that can guide advances in our librarianship as measured by improved learning relative to our SLOs. While libraries typically measure their own success in terms of quantity of resources, visitors and resource usage, we can further transition toward measuring the success of the library in terms of student learning. 

Full background, project description, findings and suggested applications for results from this project are detailed in my article, “Tracking Student Learning Outcome Engagement at the Reference Desk to Facilitate Assessment,” published in Reference Services Review in 2023. UWL faculty, staff and students can request the article from Murphy Library via the Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts database.