The Joys of Assessment: Working with Student Employees & Library Interns

As I prepared for the launch of the fall semester, I spent some time brainstorming about assessment projects I’d like to get to during the forthcoming academic year. This activity led me to reflect on past assessment projects, such as what was enjoyable, what was impactful, what might I build on from past activities, etc. One theme percolating through this reflective exercise was: students are fantastic as assessment partners.

There is an extensive body of scholarship and publication that indicates student research experiences are valuable, for graduate students as well as for undergraduate students. Academic libraries typically employ large groups of students on campus, giving those students transferable skills in public service, team work, workplace technologies, historical research, preservation techniques, etc. It’s great to capitalize on that wonderful workforce: library assessment projects are a fantastic way to involve students in an experiential learning opportunity while achieving library goals around data collection and decision-making, around service and/or collection improvements, or around space use and design, to name just a few directions. Student employees and library interns involved in assessment projects have a chance to learn about, and practice, gaps and needs measurements, research techniques, interviewing, and data analysis as well as time management, project planning, presentation techniques, and public speaking. 

Why I Partner with Student Employees & Library Interns

Why do I enjoy working with student employees or library interns on small and large assessment and evaluation projects? My top reasons are:

  • Assessment is fun! Really, really fun. I love to be not only the educator or project lead, but also a learner and collaborator in an assessment activity.

  • I get to learn something every time. Working with students who aren’t typically steeped in doing things a certain way brings fresh perspectives to my assessment approach and practice. 

  • Mentorship opportunities are powerful growth opportunities. Building relationships with students is an important part of being a faculty member. Getting to know students throughout their academic career, whether they continue to practice assessment techniques or not, brings me chances for personal and professional growth.

  • Student engagement and experiential learning around library-related stuff is multi-disciplinary. Students who work with library employees get to witness the interdisciplinary nature of research and scholarship, and can apply a variety of research techniques. With a sustained opportunity for engagement – beyond the 50-minute “one shot” – I can actively participate in the student learning experience. And, more importantly, the student voice can be represented in the results of library assessment projects as well as future directions the library might pursue. 

  • Showcasing the variety and impact of the library through these types of projects is just one method of outreach. Additionally, I see the possibility of recruiting future members of the library profession.

  • And finally, we get some information we can typically act on, or information we can connect to other assessment projects, or can build data stores for future decision making. 

I know we can be creative with the duties of student employees to include assessment experiences in their daily work, but I also look for other avenues to bring these experiential learning opportunities to assessment projects. For example, many course curricula or degree programs have requirements where students have a field experience or a semester-long project with a client. Many students are looking for summer internships that are related to their disciplinary interests, or want to participate in undergraduate research programs with faculty. And some libraries sponsor competitive programs for students that seek engagement with research efforts.

My Lessons Learned

Because student employees and library interns bring a variety of personal experiences with libraries and/or research techniques, and because libraries always have a need to assess 15 different things but never have extra time to engage in those ideas, the main lesson I have learned over the years is to create manageable but real assessment projects that might interest a student collaborator. 

Some examples of assessment projects I have successfully completed with students include:

  • Services and programs for transfer students

  • Web sites and internal content creation processes

  • Library-hosted events and marketing efforts

  • In-depth online resource product evaluations
  • Internal collection development processes to support access to undergraduate-focused print collections

  • Undergraduate student use of print collections

  • Reference services aimed at undergraduate students

  • Undergraduate research recognition programs and undergraduate journal publishing

I’ve also learned some things about planning and implementing. Here are a few of my personal “best” practices for successful assessment and student learning:

  • Scope the assessment project to match student interests and capabilities. Small scale activities are okay! Outline the learning outcomes in advance, but be prepared to adjust as the project progresses.

  • Provide background materials, identify readings/tutorials/videos etc. to fill in knowledge gaps or skill needs, and then discuss those together. I found that the Sage research methods series is great for this. And as a follow-up to conversations and structured learning, share examples of past successful assessment projects.

  • Build in reflection points so that the student can visualize their learning progress.

  • Involve key experts in the library and/or on campus, as this is a chance for the student partner to understand higher education and the role of libraries. Talk to other assessment colleagues, and talk to stakeholders as a team.

  • Document the project, with timeline and deliverables, mostly for the student’s benefit and their learning, but also as the basis for the next part of the project, likely being done by another student. Ask the student to suggest next steps in the assessment process.

  • Connect the assessment work with reality in the library, in the scholarly literature, and in the profession for context, and sometimes for individual motivation.

  • Allow enough flexibility and agency for the student to direct and influence work and timelines. This effort is empowering, collaborative, and representative of how academic libraries’ work.

  • Serve as a partner in the work, including getting the results out (either in a library presentation, blog post, internal report which can be deposited in a repository, or better yet, in a conference presentation or library publication). Students like to see themselves in the scholarship. Even better if they can get academic credit somehow for their efforts. Don’t forget about IRB approval if you intend to co-publish assessment results!

  • If possible and agreeable, offer to serve as a professional reference for the student.

When student engagement and participation is emphasized in assessment projects, student learning is front and center. And bonus for me: my collaborative effort is rewarded with professional growth, student connections, and great assessment data!