The COVID-19 pandemic has meant reevaluating approaches to, and the underlying goals of, assessment in academic libraries. Shifts to remote and hybrid work have accelerated digitization efforts and led libraries to rethink assessment, especially as perceptions of the library’s role and overarching purpose change. The academic library community has also needed to pivot its assessment needs and goals to highlight the significance of the physical space for stakeholders. Against this backdrop, the biennial Library Assessment Conference provided an important opportunity to take stock of how the field continues to evolve.

Aligning the university’s DEI-related goals with the library’s assessment strategy

Although a number of equally compelling and important topics spanned this year’s program—ranging from the value of collections to usability to wider organizational issues—the theme of how library practices can be made more diverse, equitable, and inclusive cut across the conference.

As Denise Stephens explained in the keynote address, “Elusive Measures,” barriers, limits, and challenges to assessment strategies continue to emerge for today’s library leaders (e.g. staffing, capacity, budgetary constraints, etc.). This is also the case with respect to DEI assessment strategies that shape stakeholder and organizational outcomes, especially at a time when many of us work in environments with increasing skepticism about higher education, in general, and DEI efforts, in particular. Throughout the remainder of the conference, presentations, papers, and workshops focused on three aspects of DEI: data collection, analysis, and visualizations; library services, tools, and collections; and student representation in assessment.

A sizable number of conference sessions and presentations focused on the importance of taking critical approaches to data collection, analysis, and visualization, and specifically, its relationship to diversity, equity, and inclusion in effort to prevent stereotyping and oppression. In some sessions, attendees had the opportunity to think through what it might look and feel like to take a critical approach to working with data in real time. Notably, in Alisa Rod, Marcela Y. Isuster, and Tara Mawhinney’s Assessment Accelerator workshop, DeMystifying Qualitative Coding, attendees engaged in discussion in breakout sessions via Zoom on how to use qualitative analysis tools, like NVivo, with an eye toward creating a DEI strategy or plan.

The big takeaway from this workshop was focused on the subjective process of data collection and analysis and how to keep larger questions about the library and university’s DEI imperatives in mind at every stage. Given the subjectiveness inherent to coding qualitative data, those of us who work with data need to be mindful of our biases—both conscious and unconscious—and be intentional in building the codebooks we create.

Other presentations looked at how to shape library services, user tools, and collections in ways that foster inclusion. Jayne Sappington and Ester de León’s presentation on Educating and Empowering a Diverse Student Body emphasized how using mixed methods—and including members of the campus community—aids in building diverse collections. This resonates with the methodological approach that Ithaka S+R took in the Indigenous Studies project; that is, building robust and diverse collections requires meaningfully working with the communities that these collections seek to include.

Throughout the conference, there was a lot of conversation on the value of including students from underrepresented groups and backgrounds in assessment, particularly for assessment projects that hope to learn more about library perceptions. This approach to assessment echoes some of our work at Ithaka S+R, such as the project on Community College Academic and Student Support Ecosystems (CCASSE), which included student advisors and their perspectives from across the United States. At the conference, we heard from several sessions the importance of including students in assessment, from Jung Mi Scoulas, Elena Carrillo, and Linda Naru’s presentation on Black Undergraduate Perceptions of Inclusion and Engagement in a Public Research University to Emily Daly, Ira King, Angela Zoss’ presentation on Assessing the Needs of Users with Disabilities in Pursuit of More Accessible, Inclusive Libraries.

Leveraging library assessment to be responsive during a global emergency

Creative solutions that libraries developed during the early stages of the pandemic continue to have a positive impact on the ways in which library services can shift to meet the user needs of a diverse patronage. Ongoing assessment on what worked—and what didn’t work—during the pandemic can help libraries understand how to expand and shift their services to meet the ever-changing space needs, and teaching, research, and learning needs of their patronage.

Lisa Levesque and Sonny Banerjee described how the library’s contactless access and scan service at Toronto Metropolitan University provides an ongoing useful tool in delivering materials to faculty and students with long commutes, experiencing health problems, and those who prefer to learn with different material formats. In this way, other sessions focused on the library’s role in helping students, and especially first-generation students, to overcome barriers to basic needs such as access to technology, software, and the Internet during and in the aftermath of the pandemic.

We also saw a clear interest in including library staff and student voices in assessments on reimagining and repurposing the library space. While some presentations alluded to the need to assess library staff on their perceptions and experiences of their work as it relates to virtual, hybrid, and in-person formats, others focused on assessment on library space and place more generally.

Looking ahead

Many of the topics at the conference resonate with work that  Ithaka S+R is pursuing. We are continuing to explore how library strategy can be as responsive as possible to the support needs that emerged through the pandemic. Our local surveys program partners with libraries to take the pulse on student and faculty needs. Additionally, we are developing a new project that will take a deep dive into understanding how learning space needs are evolving, and the assessment work needed to refresh space allocation processes and design accordingly. And, we are collaborating with academic libraries and their parent institutions to analyze and assess their overall impact in addressing DEI on their campus and within their community, through projects geared towards antiracism strategies.

We encourage you to be in touch if you have questions or would like more information on any of these initiatives. Please reach out to Danielle Cooper, director of libraries, scholarly communication, and museums (

Special thanks

We’d like to thank the Association of Research Libraries, the University of Washington Libraries, and the conference steering committee for organizing this year’s Library Assessment Conference. We appreciate all the hard work you did to prepare for this year’s conference, bringing the assessment community together for thoughtful discussion on the ways in which library assessment continues to grow and evolve.