Working as an information literacy coordinator means I am often communicating the value of library instruction on many fronts via various formal and informal marketing campaigns. For example, as part of my work at Washington University in St. Louis, I talk to library colleagues who teach and to library administrators about the number of classes that take place in the library. I talk to faculty about the impact our instruction has on student research output, and I talk to students about how working with a librarian might help them get better grades. Oftentimes, this is a two-way communication, or something that involves assessment.
I use data I gather from assessment to communicate the value of library instruction with my stakeholders on all levels. The communication might go like this: “We can do X for you in order to enable you to achieve Y.” The assessment that informs the communication might go like this: “Since we did X for you, were you able to achieve Y?” Essentially, what I create is a feedback loop that allows me to understand the impact we’re having through assessment, and I can communicate this back to my stakeholders by using that assessment data. This process allows me to better communicate library value.
Communicating Library Value
I define communicating library value (CLV) this way: Integrate planned strategies into current workflows to allow all library staff members to tell a compelling story of the library’s value, supported with assessment evidence, to targeted audiences. Let’s unpack this lengthy sentence. What this means is that you are intentionally and strategically integrating the communications process into your day-to-day workflows. This allows you to steer communications, always talking about the value your library brings to the table. CLV involves all library staff. It isn’t an admin- or director-only activity; rather, the dean or director, middle managers, and even students and volunteers should understand not only the values of the library but also the library’s value.
Everyone should be able to have value conversations with patrons. In order to do this, we need to be able to tell compelling stories that convey the good we are doing or the impact we are having. Our stories should be supported with assessment evidence. If we are making a claim about our services, expertise, and resources (SERs), we need to be able to back it up with evidence. We’re targeting our value messages to specific people, in specific ways, in order to build relationships.
Data Empowers Us
For me, assessment data is the component that sets this apart from regular marketing communications. Collecting and analyzing data are important because that data empowers us to monitor our progress toward achieving outcomes, to define problems or gaps in SERs and find solutions, to identify areas that need further investigation, to make evidence-based decisions, and to communicate impact.
One way I do this is by collecting data from faculty and students in the introductory college writing course. Each semester, I send a survey to both faculty and students asking them about their experiences working with a librarian in library instruction sessions. I ask the faculty about the SERs the librarian discussed and about how well they think their students grasped the information literacy concepts needed to complete the research assignments. I ask students similar questions, including what they think having a librarian in their course enabled them to do.
I analyze this data each semester and use it to make decisions about the library’s involvement in the research assignments and to give feedback to the librarians who work with instructors about the value of specific SERs to the faculty and students. I share the results with the faculty as well. By communicating about the data we’re collecting, we increase the visibility of our SERs, build trust between the faculty and librarians by talking about our successes and failures, and increase transparency by showcasing the impact (or lack thereof) of our SERs.
To ensure that we’re providing a full picture of library value, we triangulate our data collection using quantitative, qualitative, and anecdotal evidence. Quantitative data comprises numbers or statistics. These library-focused measures, which you are probably already collecting in some way, are easy to gather and digest, and they represent library output. Qualitative data is patron-focused. It is a part of the feedback loop we have with patrons in which they tell us, in their own words, the impact the library has on them.
Qualitative and anecdotal data put a human face on the numbers, allowing us to tell stories of how the SERs made an impact on specific patrons. Both the quantitative and qualitative data are collected formally. The anecdotal piece is collected from our conversations with patrons during routine interactions.
Time is often a factor when gathering data. One way to get around this problem when you do not have time for formal assessment is to explore national data sources.
The Process of Developing a Story
It is important to communicate library value because it lets you create the narrative around your SERs. You are able to develop the story about why patrons should interact with the library, how the library makes an impact, and what the library is bringing to the relationship. Here’s the process I use to design my communications in order to develop the stories I want to tell my stakeholders:
I start with the end in mind by writing a few communication outcomes. I ask myself: What do I want to happen as a result of communicating about SERs with stakeholders? This could be a strictly informational interaction. I might invite them to act by asking them to participate in an SER or to advocate for the library.
I identify my stakeholders and understand how my SERs align with their needs, goals, and pain points. I create a stakeholder profile or develop a stakeholder register that includes demographic variables, goals/needs/pain points, library SERs that help them achieve their goals/relieve their pain, and preferred communication styles.
Next, I document impact and/or identify where there are gaps in assessment evidence. What do I need to discover about my SERs in order to communicate their value successfully? (We are putting our reputation on the line by making a claim about the impact of our SERs, so there must be some evidence to back it up.)
Finally, I come up with messages, stories, elevator pitches, positioning statements, value propositions, and value statements.
Three Tools for Road Maps
Here are three tools I have used to create the road map for communicating the value of our SERs using library data.
1. A Data Audit will help you think through what data you collect, who collects it, where it’s stored, and what data you’re missing. This will help you get clear on which data is usable, who has it, and whether you need a new plan for collecting it. It might show you that you don’t have time to collect what you need, so you will have to seek outside sources or help.
2. A Stakeholder Audit will help you think through various stakeholders. If you have “regulars” you promote to, think about these populations as a group or as individuals. Who are they, what SERs do they regularly need, which SERs could benefit them, and how do they like to communicate? Tools such as customer relationship management (CRM) software (for instance, LibCRM; www.spring share.com/libcrm ) can help you track interactions with specific people and allow you to build profiles of similar people. (One thing to note here is the potential for bias—racial and ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, etc.—to enter the profile. Getting to know people and interacting with them on an individual level, which you may be doing already, will help you build better relationships than making assumptions will.)
3. A Communication Plan Template can serve as a guide for building your messages. Start with your desired communication outcome—what you want to happen as a result of telling a specific stakeholder about a specific SER. Then, for that audience, identify the data you’ll use and the message you’ll create with it. Based on what you know about the stakeholder from your audit, you can decide what medium to use and what type of message will be most effective. Indicate the time frame this should be delivered within, and include the amount of time and money it will take to complete it. Finally, decide who is responsible for delivering the message.
How I’ve Done This Myself
When I was a distance learning librarian at Kennesaw State University, I was able to leverage evidence from a needs assessment to communicate the value of library SERs to the distance learning faculty. By asking them about their needs, I was able to build a profile of the faculty and align library SERs with their needs and pain points. I understood how they communicated and what messages would be most effective. This allowed me to better serve the distance learning population.
Now, at Washington University Libraries, I have been successful in using this strategy to communicate with my external stakeholders. My primary example is the College Writing Program. After sending out the biannual survey, I am able to communicate with the administration and faculty about the library. By closing the feedback loop, we discuss what SERs are most beneficial and how the library is having an impact on student learning. We’re able to deepen our partnership by making decisions based on my data.
Assessment and communication are activities that I have planned into all of my projects and workflows. It’s important to me to continually communicate the value of library SERs in all of my conversations because it allows me to build a reputation and brand for my department while deepening my relationships with stakeholders and helping them see us as a reliable, effective partner.