On March 27 I attended a town hall feedback session in Philadelphia about the draft Middle State Accreditation standards. I wrote about my concern about these draft standards in an earlier blog post. I was astounded that Middle States removed all mention of information literacy and libraries from the standards.
The facilitator for the town hall meeting gave an update on the standards before receiving additional feedback from the attendees. He stated that librarians were organized and were heard loud and clear. He stated that the removal of information literacy was an “oversight” and done because the board thought information literacy was well embedded into curriculum. Frankly I feel this explanation is a bit disingenuous. It took actual effort to remove a standard, so it was not an oversight but a deliberate action. The good news is that information literacy will be added back to the standard, although he could not say exactly how or where at this point.
Several librarians spoke eloquently about the need for information literacy to be in the Middle States Accreditation standards. Based on the facilitator comments, I have reason to believe that information literacy will appear in some form of the revised standards.
My biggest concern now is the presence of librarians and libraries in the new standards. My cynical self wonders if libraries were removed to accommodate for-profit online schools, most of which do not have adequate library services or information literacy instruction. In fact, a literature review about libraries in for-profit schools found that “the driving force behind attaining certain levels of library resources was the accreditation requirements…” (Davis, Adams & Hardesty, 2011).
I spoke about this concern in the town hall meeting. In particular, I mentioned the unintended consequences that could result if librarians and libraries, particularly in regards to collaboration with faculty for information literacy instruction, were not added back to the standards. The removal of librarian and library requirements from JCAHO Standards in 2007 has directly led to an epidemic of library downsizing and closings, even in the midst of the rise of evidence-based medicine. Many health care professionals no longer have access to information professionals who can help them find and access the best evidence to guide medical care decisions. Because librarians are not mentioned in the standards, however, they are the first to be cut in tight budget situations. I fear the same may happen to academic libraries, regardless of how important librarians are to student information literacy skill development. This would have devastating effects on student learning outcomes, as we are currently seeing in K-12 schools which are closing libraries or staffing them with nonprofessionals.
For this reason, I urge Middle States to not only include information literacy as a critical skill, but to require evidence of faculty collaboration with librarians in developing this core competency. Failure to do so will negatively affect student learning outcomes.