Response to ALA Task Force Recommendations

 

Office for Accreditation
American Library Association
50 E. Huron St.
Chicago, Illinois. 60611

 

June 22, 2009

 

In response to the ALA Committee on Accreditation (COA) invitation to comment on the recommendations of the Library Education Task Force in their final report issued January 13, 2009 to the ALA Executive Board for referral to COA, the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) Board has prepared this statement. In particular we have sought to represent the interests of our institutional members who have ALA-accredited programs or who may seek ALA accreditation in the future. The programs vary along many dimensions, including size of faculty and student body, institutional context, location, mode of delivery, and student recruitment and placement patterns. In seeking accreditation, these programs are guided by point I.1 of the 2008 Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library & Information Studies:

 

I.1 A school’s mission and program goals are
pursued, and its program objectives achieved, through
implementation of an ongoing, broad-based, systematic
planning process that involves the constituency that a
program seeks to serve. Consistent with the values of the
parent institution and the culture and mission of the
school, program goals and objectives foster quality
education.

 

Furthermore,

 

I.3 Within the context of these Standards each
program is judged on the degree to which it attains its
objectives. In accord with the mission of the school,
clearly defined, publicly stated, and regularly reviewed
program goals and objectives form the essential frame of
reference for meaningful external and internal evaluation.
The evaluation of program goals and objectives involves
those served: students, faculty, employers, alumni, and
other constituents.

 

As faculty members and administrators at ALA-accredited schools (and in several cases as past members of the Committee on Accreditation and/or External Review Panels), members of the ALISE Board can attest to the rigor of the current accreditation process and the thoroughness of the Standards. As the Introduction to the Standards states, “Accreditation serves as a mechanism for quality assessment and quality enhancement with quality defined as the effective utilization of resources to achieve appropriate educational objectives and student learning outcomes.” Further, “institutions seeking accreditation of master’s degree programs in library and information studies have an obligation to use the results of their evaluations for broad-based, continuous program planning, assessment, development, and improvement.” Programs must continually monitor and be responsive to both their institutional context and the professional practice contexts where their graduates seek employment.

 

The Office for Accreditation compiles information about each of the schools, showing accredited degrees and other degrees offered (e.g., other Master’s, School Library Media, Post-Master’s Certification, PhD), but many schools offer only a single master’s degree (http://www.ala.o rg/ala/educationcareers/education/accreditedprograms/direc tory/pdf/index.cfm) Depending on program goals and objectives, students pursuing that degree may have quite varied career goals, both within and outside of libraries.

 

Given this context, we have compiled a response to the various Task Force recommendations. As the ongoing discussion on jESSE (http:// listserv.utk.edu/archives/jesse.html) and the Committee on Accreditation Standards Review blog (http://www.oa. ala.org/accreditation/) demonstrates, ALISE members hold a range of views. This response reflects a number of concerns raised by institutional members with which the members of the ALISE Board concur.

 

Task Force Recommendations

  1. That the Association adopt the Core Competences of Librarianship as redrafted by the Task Force.
  2. That the Association incorporate those core competences and ALA’s Core Values of Librarianship into its Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library & Information Studies together with the recommendations on those standards listed below.

Discussion
As reported to our members in the Spring 2009 issue of ALISE News (p. 3) (http://data.memberclicks.com/site/ali/spring20 09newsletter.pdf), ALA Council approved the Core Competences on January 27, 2009. The 2008 Standards specifically include statements regarding the need to consider such policies when developing the LIS program curriculum, and the Office for Accreditation now includes the Core Competences in the Educational Policy Guidelines section of its web site along with statements from various ALA divisions and other LIS professional associations (http://www.ala.org/ala/abou tala/offices/accreditation/edpol/educationalpolicy.cfm ).

 

Response
We concur that programs should consider all of these guidelines rather than giving primacy solely to one.

 

Task Force Recommendations

  1. That the standards be revised to be written using imperatives and in the active voice—stressing that adherence to them is required for accreditation.
  2. That the standards be stated to be prescriptive, not indicative—mandates not suggestions.

Discussion
The Introduction to the 2008 Standards explains: “The Standards are indicative, not prescriptive, with the intent to foster excellence through the development of criteria for evaluating educational effectiveness. Throughout the Standards, the requirements for evaluation include assessments, not only of educational processes and resources, but also of the successful use of those processes and resources to achieve established objectives expressed as student learning outcomes.”

 

Response
We endorse this emphasis on framing the wording of the Standards as indicative so as to “foster excellence through the development of criteria for evaluating educational effectiveness.”

 

Task Force Recommendation

  1. That the standards use the terms “program” and “school” with exactitude to make it crystal clear that they are concerned only with programs and not with schools, except in areas in which the activities and policies of the program are inextricable from those of the school.

Discussion
The Introduction to the Standards makes it explicit that COA is responsible for accrediting “graduate programs of library and information studies leading to a master’s degree.” Library and information studies “is understood to be concerned with recordable information and knowledge and the services and technologies to facilitate their management and use. Library and information studies encompasses information and knowledge creation, communication, identification, selection, acquisition, organization and description, storage and retrieval, preservation, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, synthesis, dissemination, and management.” This definition incorporates a “field of professional practice and associated areas of study and research.” Assessment of the program is considered in the context of the school’s mission; “when the school offers other educational programs, the contribution of those programs is also relevant.”

 

Response
While it is possible that the revision of some statements in the Standards could clarify that it is the program seeking accreditation that is the primary focus, the overall intent of the Standards in this regard is already clearly stated.

 

Task Force Recommendation

  1. That it is made clear to programs seeking accreditation that the Association is not interested in prescribing a “core curriculum” (though it should be clear that the Core Competences are the bedrock of the curricula of accredited programs). Accordingly the standards should be written to concentrate on the outcomes of the education received in accredited LIS programs and that these outcomes not only be achieved but documented in the accreditation process.

Discussion
Standard I.2 explicitly states: “Program objectives are stated in terms of student learning outcomes.” The need to document outcomes is already emphasized at various points in the standards. For example, Standard II.7: “Evaluation of the curriculum includes assessment of students’ achievements and their subsequent accomplishments” and Standard IV.4: “Students receive systematic, multifaceted evaluation of their achievements.”

 

Response
The need to document student learning outcomes is consistent with trends in higher education accreditation in general and is already emphasized where appropriate in the Standards.

 

Task Force Recommendations

  1. That ALA’s accreditation standards prescribe that a majority of the permanent full-time faculty teaching in the program are grounded in librarianship by virtue of their educational background, professional experience and/or record of research and publication.
  2. That ALA’s accreditation standards prescribe that the full-time faculty of ALA-accredited programs are sufficient in number and diversity of specialties to carry out the major share of the teaching, research, and service activities required for accreditation.
  3. That ALA’s accreditation standards prescribe that temporary and part-time faculty of ALA-accredited programs are appointed to balance and complement the teaching competences of the full-time faculty, not to replace them in their teaching activity.

Discussion
Embedded in these recommendations is the assumption that a particular mix of faculty is required to ensure a quality program. The diversity of accredited schools in faculty size and composition is evidence that this is not the case. Also “grounded in librarianship” is operationalized in terms of “educational background, professional experience and/or record of research and publication.” These criteria are neither always necessary nor sufficient. Faculty from diverse disciplinary perspectives can develop a deep awareness of and appreciation for aspects of librarianship relevant to the courses they teach. And faculty initially “grounded in librarianship” must continually maintain and update that awareness.

 

Response
An entire section of the Standards is devoted to expectations for the Faculty, beginning with “III.1 The school has a faculty capable of accomplishing program objectives.” Already through the accreditation process, schools must be able to demonstrate that those involved in teaching in the program, full-time and adjunct, collectively enable the accomplishment of program objectives. Given the varied institutional contexts in which programs are offered, it is not reasonable to prescribe a particular faculty composition to accomplish this.

 

Task Force Recommendation

  1. That the standards make it inescapably clear that assessment processes must be such as to show that the outcomes dictated by the standards are achieved demonstrably—that is, with sufficient objective evidence to show that those outcomes are achieved by all graduates of the program.

Response
See discussion above under recommendation 6.

 

Concluding Observations

 

It should be emphasized that practitioners play a vital role in the accreditation process. They are the alumni and employers who are among the stakeholders engaged in providing feedback on the program. They serve as members of external review panels and the Committee on Accreditation.

 

Practitioners also participate directly in the education of master’s students in numerous ways: as guest speakers in classes, sources of class projects, supervisors of practicums and internships, and adjunct faculty. All these forms of collaboration contribute to the preparation of our master’s students for careers in the 21st century workplace, which will demand lifelong learning.

 

As faculty we recognize the value of research studies that enhance our understanding of graduates’ preparation for the workforce and of how their careers develop over time. As one example, the Workforce Issues in Library & Information Science (WILIS) study, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is a collaborative research project designed to study the educational, workplace, career and retention issues faced by library and information science (LIS) graduates (http://www.wilis.unc.edu). Members of the ALISE Board serve on the Advisory Committee and are contributing to the next phase of the study that will gather data for several more programs beyond the six North Carolina programs that participated in the initial study.

 

In conclusion, we note that the Afterword of the Standards emphasizes that they “stress innovation, and encourage an active role and concern for future developments and growth in the field.” This is an important stance to preserve in any discussion of standards revision.

 

Linda C. Smith
President, Association for Library and Information Science Education
On behalf of the ALISE Board of Directors

 
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