Skip to main content

Library SACS Accreditation 2015: Inside Higher Ed Paragraph

Data and resources for our upcoming SACS review.

Value of Librarians

As for the student-to-librarian ratio: here we’re talking not just a fraction but real expertise, as with the student/faculty ratio that U.S. News does take into account. If you divide the number of undergraduates at a college by the number of full-time, professionally-trained librarians who work there, you will have a meaningful quotient, telling you the relative value each institution places on the human intellectual record and on assisting students to connect with that record. Yes, that ratio would be a proxy and an approximation, but it would be more helpful to serious college-shoppers to include it than to pass over it in silence. The academic library, with its tailored collections and specialized staff, has a more central role in higher education than do most other units on campus. Housing, nourishment, health services, public safety, custodians, administrators, and — I wince to mention it — athletics are all essential to the contented functioning of the institution, but only the faculty, research labs, and library distinguish a college from a resort, or from a minimum security prison.

 

http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/keywords_from_a_librarian/late_summer_rantings

 

The point should be made, once again, that the library and its collection, librarians, and staff are not here as a “luxury” item on campus. It is a critical service and critical collection of resources for students and faculty who are engaged in this great experiment called Higher Education.

Whole article

Late Summer Rantings
August 23, 2009 - 8:52pm

I know vacation is over when the U.S. News “best” colleges issue hits the fan — I mean the newsstand — followed in a nanosecond by stories on the home pages of the most favored campuses, followed in a millisecond by objections about methodology from those who deplore the very idea of rating institutions (and whose employer or alma mater didn’t make the cut), and Schadenfreude disguised as aw-shucks disclaimers from officials whose institutions came out to their satisfaction. This annual farce amuses me no end, although the actual commentary gets tedious.

What doesn’t amuse me are an exclusion and an omission in the categories U.S. Newsuses. The exclusion is library resources, the omission is a student-to-librarian ratio.

I don’t much care how anyone defines library resources these days, as long as pollsters state their meaning when they collect data, analyze numbers consistently for each type of institution, specify the weight they give to various factors, and report their findings clearly. I have never believed that volume or database counts (about which parents of prospective students sometimes ask) or the size of the acquisitions budget (about which only senior scholars coming to interview ever inquire) have qualitative significance on their own. Before such figures could be useful for comparing institutions, they would need to be correlated with, for instance, how many students major in a field and the college’s requirements for independent research. These would be difficult calculations, but are certainly worth the effort to offset the hyperbole one finds in admissions literature and on institutional Web pages.

As for the student-to-librarian ratio: here we’re talking not just a fraction but real expertise, as with the student/faculty ratio that U.S. News does take into account. If you divide the number of undergraduates at a college by the number of full-time, professionally-trained librarians who work there, you will have a meaningful quotient, telling you the relative value each institution places on the human intellectual record and on assisting students to connect with that record. Yes, that ratio would be a proxy and an approximation, but it would be more helpful to serious college-shoppers to include it than to pass over it in silence. The academic library, with its tailored collections and specialized staff, has a more central role in higher education than do most other units on campus. Housing, nourishment, health services, public safety, custodians, administrators, and — I wince to mention it — athletics are all essential to the contented functioning of the institution, but only the faculty, research labs, and library distinguish a college from a resort, or from a minimum security prison.

No sooner do I bristle at the college rankings and decide to ignore them for another year, than along comes the Beloit College Mindset List, guaranteed to make me feel both antediluvian and out of touch with the new clientele. Ouch!, I thought, when I saw item #4 for the Class of 2013: “[Students born in 1991] have never used a card Discovery to find a book.” Now that hits home. It’s not the obsolescence that disturbs me—although I’m emotionally attached to anything that measures 3-by-5 inches — but my suspicion: have college freshmen used anything to find a book?

I don’t doubt young students are all literate to some degree (we’ll discuss their writing ability another time) and that they have all read books, but I seriously question where and how they get hold of them. Are they required texts they purchase at a bookstore, or more likely via Amazon? Are they volumes they find at home or receive as gifts? Do they browse shelves in their school or public library, a big box store, used-book shop, or flea market? Do they download a novel to their Kindle? I’m completely in favor of all those tactics, but my experience as a reference librarian tells me that most freshmen and many older students cannot search an online Discovery fluently and don’t know how to proceed when they do spot a book they want.

The fashionable thing in academic libraries today is to overlay the Discovery with a Web 2.0 interface. Implemented well, such software can reduce the number of frustrating searches, those that retrieve nothing relevant, and allow researchers to succeed with their own terminology, but it will not help students judge the items they find. But then neither did the card Discovery when that was the sole means of discovery. It’s just that now alphabetical order and a grasp of standardized/stilted subject headings are less important, while spelling, synonyms, and typing skills are more so. So this year’s Beloit list reminds me that when it comes to exploring the library’s collection, the challenges remain the same, both for me as a teacher and for freshmen as learners.

Comments

stevenb • 5 years ago
While I agree it would be nice to see libraries somehow reflected in the USNWR rankings, I don't expect that would ever happen. But rather than call for the rankings to include library data, given that there are already any numbers of flaws in the rankings process - and given the debates about the value of these rankings for the students and their parents - wouldn't we all be better off to just ignore the rankings all together (admittedly another difficult thing to expect in our rankings-crazed world).I pointed out that there are more holistic rankings[see:http://www.libraryjournal.com/...] being experimented with and that some of these may benefit from library data. Then again, I'm not so sure a student-to-librarian ratio is the best measure to use. To me that piece of data favors the better resourced institutions that can afford more librarians. An institution with a lower student-to-librarian ratio may in fact have a better integrated information literacy initiative and it may have fewer, but better connected (with students and faculty) librarians. Do we want to lead students to believe that a higher student-to-librarian ratio equates to a better library and a better education - and that should be one more basis for making an college decision? I'm not sure that giving students and their parents a student-to-librarian ratio is all that better than telling them how much the institution spends on materials. Until we can better articulate in what ways those librarians help students to become academically successful or to help them persist to graduation can we really point to the value of librarians in any sort of ranking system. Again, admittedly, not an easy thing to quantify.
• Reply•Share ›
Avatar
Mr Punch • 5 years ago
There's a further, more basic problem with using library ratios in ranking -- the library is an area in which there are real economies of scale, so the measure favors well-resourced smaller institutions. Large public campuses with excellent libraries (Berkeley, UCLA, Illinois, Michigan, etc.) would always come out looking much worse than smaller independent institutions; this would exacerbate what is already a perceived problem in the US News rankings.We've actually seen this happen, very clearly, in the law school rankings. Harvard Law School is generally regarded as having the best law library, but at one time it was ranked below Yale and Stanford entirely because, having a larger enrollment, it fell short on the per-student library resources criterion.
• Reply•Share ›
Avatar
Yo Yo Ma • 5 years ago
While I agree that library holdings are often misleading in the production of academic recruitment literature, I also think that undergraduate students don't really need many resources in order to cut their teeth on research. They're not producing real publishable articles; they're simply producing work that shows thought and an understanding of this form of inquiry.
• Reply•Share ›
Avatar
camillab • 5 years ago
How many times have we heard or read the term 'comparison shopping' applied to a college education? Ranking systems of all stripes play to this tune. Students aren't just students anymore, they're consumers. And, like all consumers, they want the most bang for the buck. The corollary phenomenon is the student who feels, because tuition of whatever amount has been paid, that they are owed at minimum a passing grade. U. S. News' ranking is the Consumer Reports of higher ed.And it's not just students. IHEs, for decades, have considered students marketable product. I found myself thinking of this as I was walking from the furthest reaches of the parking lots to my office in the library this morning. I felt some longing for my undergraduate days, when I was not even allowed to declare a major until the end of my sophomore year; our students declare theirs on their applications. Majors in high school, at least for college preps, used to be unheard of. College students take few to no classes that aren't required. Core curricula are bloated past recognition, because academic departments use it to market themselves, and the turf wars waged over the core are among the fiercest in academe. Maybe that's always been so, I don't know.Whatever happened to the love of learning for its own sake? And yes, I know that sounds whiny and dark and not in step with the times, but I've learned, post-menopause, that whining can be very liberating.
• Reply•Share ›
Avatar
JAM • 5 years ago
Perhaps "library resources" are excluded and the student-to-librarian ratio omitted because neither US News nor anyone else, for that matter, including the regional accrediting associations, have figured out what they mean or, more importantly, what they say about how "good" an institution is. In Kim Cameron's groundbreaking study of the markers and predictors of college and university organizational effectiveness, libraries, library holdings and staffing are nowhere to be found. At some point, we librarians are going to have to make some empirically defensible studies of exactly what we and our organizations contribute to student learning success. Right now, we haven't much of a a clue and neither does the US News.

San Antonio College Library, 1819 Main Ave., San Antonio, TX 78212
Located in the Moody Learning Center (MLC) building, floors 2 - 5
Reference Desk: (210) 486-0554 * Send Email
Library interior & exterior photos by: Leonard Ziegler, SAC photographer

Copyright © 2015 San Antonio College