Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rethinking the Library Annual Report, Part II

“Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.”  (Mark Twain)

So I had a bit of a temper tantrum in my last post, and declared the Annual Report was a complete waste of time.  Of course, this was about 4 hours in to my 16 hour AR marathon.  If you have Keynote, you can download the final result here.  It's interactive and multimedia, and looks pretty cool, if I do say so myself; unfortunately,  most of the data is unimportant to anyone but me.

As I see it, there are three main problems with the annual report in its current form:
  • No one reads them
  • They're too long
  • They gather all the wrong data
You can see that the first problem probably stems from 2 and 3, so I'll ignore that for now.  Length is a problem, but it's secondary to my main point, so I'll save it for the next post.
So here's my big take-away from all that hard-thinking I've been doing:  Who, besides librarians, needs collection statistics?  If you look at any examplar, whatever else they include, a large portion of them relates statistical data: # of books circulated, # of database hits, # of lessons held.  That's certainly important information for a librarian, and we need to gather that data.  What we don't need to do is share it with our administrators.

The library's raison d'etre is to facilitate student learning.  Whatever else we do, whatever programs we run, if we don't  first and foremost help the little darlings learn, we are failing in our mission.  I think the rationale behind all those earlier statistics runs something like this: if they're checking out books, they're reading (and learning); if I'm teaching 30 lessons a week, they're learning.

Except, of course, those statistics prove nothing of the sort.  I have shelves of books at home that I've never even cracked open, and I suspect plenty of students check out books and never read them.  Moreover, ask any teacher if just saying "Hey, I showed up for class!" counts as evidence.

We've been sharing those statistics for decades, and it has done us no good, if thousands of lay-offs are anything to go by.

In a response to my earlier post, Doug Johnson says "The key to a successful report its direct correlation to district goals."  He's absolutely right, but for someone faced with putting that document together, it's not all that helpful.  How do you DO that?  What kind of data do you need to gather?

Just as importantly, what if the school's goals aren't yours?  I left a completely wonderful school, partly because my principal and I had completely different visions of what a library should be, and mine didn't involve green lampshades.

The answer, of course, goes back to every school's primary mission: student learning.  Of course if you are helping the school meet its goals, that needs to be an integral of your report.  Its driving focus, however, should be not just your impact on learning, but on hard evidence.

As I said, I've been thinking about this for a while, and as I was sitting having a pedicure the other night, I ran across an article in the December, 2012  teacher | librarian (I'm a little behind on my reading!) that reached out and smacked me in the face.

In it, Mark Ray, teacher librarian in Vancouver, Washington states,
"In an age dominated by assessment scores, benchmarks and data dashboards, it is essential to...present compelling data connected to your instruction and program. General circulation numbers are not enough. The data needs to be tied to learning outcomes and linked directly or indirectly to student achievement and growth." 

Of course, what that looks like is what all the education battles the last few years have been arguing about, but I have a few ideas.

Basically you will need three types of information: Data, examples and stories.  Here's how I plan to gather that.

DATA: Most of my library instruction sits in either the science or history departments.  I'm going to create a series of short, specific pre-post quizzes on various aspects of information literacy and collate the data.  I'll do exit surveys after the series of extended essay workshops.  I'm fortunate in that I have 100 or so grade 12s every year being externally assessed on a 4,000 word research paper, and the school can pay to get that data. We will.

EXAMPLES:  Display examplars of excellent student projects on your library blog or display, and either link to them. Or include them in your report in other ways. For example, in this year's report, I included photos of some of the better student infographics.

STORIES:  I've always include short quotations from students and teachers about the library program in my report.  It both promotes our services and adds visual appeal.  This year I took that a step further and embedded short  30-60 second interviews with students and teachers talking about the library's impact on their learning and curriculum.  One student shared how the infographic really made him think in different ways and to discriminate among his choices of data.  His teacher related that she'd come to me asking for help with a poster assignment, and it turned into something far more meaningful.

These are powerful testaments to the direct impact of the library program, and a meaningful complement to your data.

The key to all of this, of course, is that you must have it in place at the start of the year. It's not information you can gather retroactively, so you need to make it part of your strategic goals and plans.

And none of this is any guarantee it will be read if you turn in 15 typed, single-spaced pages.  Doug's post implied an underlying pooh-poohing of my concerns over design and medium.  I think he's dead wrong there.  Stay tuned for the final installment in the Annual Report Epic.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jeri,

    Great post. And yes, I've been dead wrong on many an occasion and need to be called to account.

    Design and medium are important. I believe the colloquial is "gilding the turd." ;-) Been known to do it myself a time or two.

    Your data, examples and stories is genius (seriously). Anecdotes are absolutely necessary for putting a human face to dry numbers. And you will have decision-makers who want numbers; and those who need storied.

    Keep at this nut. You WILL be the one to crack it!

    Thank you for this post,